The Best and Worst of Seminary

This is another post in a series I’m doing of questions that some of you asked. If you would like to add your question, go here and do so.

Today’s question is from Joel Mayward. Be sure to go and check out his blog. He asked:

What have been the greatest benefits of attending seminary? What have been the biggest frustrations or disappointments?

To me, seminary has had 2 major benefits. First is that it is a perfect combination for learning a long with working in Christian ministry. What is learned through ministry experience and what is learned at seminary are two very different things, but they both work together to provide a solid base of shepherding, Biblical knowledge, and theology. The second major benefit is relationship building. The connections I’ve made and continue to make with students and professors are many in number. And many of these connections will last a long time.

Seminary, for me, also has 2 major frustrations. First would be that I came in with very limited Biblical and theological education and knowledge. Even now, 3 years into seminary, I still feel like I am behind where I should be. Seminary isn’t a great place to play catch up because there is so much to take in right from the beginning. Second is that I don’t live on campus, and much like undergrad, the key to getting the full seminary experience is living on campus. There are many events, meetings, etc, that I can never make because of how far away I live and how busy I am with my job. Seminaries need to work on allowing students to stay connected even if they aren’t on campus much in a week.

Any of you who are in or have been to seminary have anything to add?

  • Paul Fowler

    My experience in seminary has been somewhat different in that I am in my late 40’s and had to work full-time, minister part-time and attend classes part-time for the first few years. I am finishing in another month (woohoo) and transitioned to full-time student in the past 2 years of my degree.
    I have enjoyed the experience, although many times I have been frustrated by individual profs who don’t appear to be current or prepared to teach what is necessary for 21st century ministry. However, I will be eternally grateful for the profs who have poured out their knowledge and their friendship. I am even considering another degree (after the shock of holding my diploma wears off).

  • Robin

    Hey Tyler, it’s my second semester now onlline, and it’s stil such a struggle to embrace community. You go to church and people have no idea what your talking about. I get a little relief when I post and share, especially a prayer request in the forums, but there has to be a better way to get seminarians together and connected during this season of learning and growing together.

  • Joe Donaldson

    Interesting post. Thanks Joel for asking the question. I studied the level of community at Bethel’s St Paul campus several years ago. One would think that with five student housing apartment buildings clustered together in a beautiful lakeside setting that there would be a high level of commuity. Not so. Much like Paul’s comment everyone was super busy with school and work and ministry. (I was in ministry part-time and worked nights while living in Bethel’s seminary student housing!) Not much time left over to hang out around school. And like Paul’s situation, today he is the typical seminary student and Tyler is not. Many students work to pay of school loans before pursuing advanced degrees. So they are often older, married, second-career people. Grad school/seminary is not like college where the majority are single and many do not work off campus. The answer: work to find that community and connect with others wherever you are because your circumstances aren’t just going to somehow magically make it appear. I think its called “balance” and its one of the biggest challenges of life. I’m praying for Tyler, Paul, and Robin as they continue on this fascinating journey of ministry and education that God will reveal much of himself to them at every turn. I look forward to hearing more about their journies and learning from their experiences.

  • Ric Wild

    I’m a student at North Park Theological Seminary. The academic dean of the school just recently wrote an article about the future of theological education and modern day seminaries. She’s advocating for more of an integration between biblical and theological studies, spiritual formation, and learning the nuts and bolts ministry. It’s definitely worth reading!

  • Joel Mayward

    Thanks for addressing my question Tyler! When I asked it, I was in a season of confusion about my future educational plans (go to seminary? go to a “secular grad school? wait a few years?), but now I’ve landed on attending Multnomah Seminary’s brand new online program. I’m intrigued to see what a part-online, part-classroom theological education will require (likely a lot more discipline on my part), but I’m grateful that I can pursue a graduate degree while also shepherding students in my church in the Phoenix, AZ area.

    Also, way to be in ministry in the local church while also being a full-time student! I have no doubt that your experience will be far richer having both the classroom and praxis elements to education.