Hacks. Tips and Tricks. Shortcuts. We are inundated with a wide variety of ‘helps’ designed to make our lives easier. Many people provide a myriad of ‘life hacks’ or other tips showing how to use existing things in new ways or offering methods to streamline tasks. We have become so advanced that we can accomplish twice as much in half the time (as compared to our forebears).
Shortcuts and efficiency are valuable, but where does hard work and perseverance come in? Would I want a doctor, dentist or pilot to know all the tips and tricks – or have experience and knowledge from effort expended through their education!
If you are starting your journey through Seminary, here are eight (old-fashioned) ways to make your experience great:
Proverbs 29:18 says without vision, the people perish (KJV). Vision makes all the difference; without it, you will wander aimlessly, but with clear vision, you will see your goals and always work toward them. Why are you attending Seminary? What is your vision for ministry? What obstacles will you need to overcome in order to attain your goals? How is God directing your path (Proverbs 3:6) – and are you doing your part (Proverbs 3:5)? Your personal vision should include purposeful acts designed to know God on a deeper level and prepare to make Him known more widely and with greater impact. This is the result of two specific components: Devotional Studying and Humility.
Your study for courses should be devotional in nature. You are not seeking to learn material in order to pass a test, you are learning as much as you can about an infinite God (with your finite mind). Seek His glory in every study session. Humility is vitally important because God resists the proud, but gives His grace to the humble (James 4:6). Seminary grads who believe that they know everything will not succeed in God’s eyes!
Chart your course, plan your classes and maintain a good schedule (for personal, study and social time). Students don’t typically plan to fail, but they will fail to plan! The logical follow up to your vision is mapping your course. If you have a specific area of study you want to complete, the path should be clear. If you are unsure about which area of ministry you want to involve yourself with, make sure you take classes that are beneficial for multiple disciplines. Planning does not necessarily require a single goal; planning can keep you from losing ground!
This one sounds obvious, but it bears amplification: put in the effort to learn as much as possible (see “devotional study” above). You are there for a specific purpose, never lose sight of that (vision). The students that God blesses are the ones who put in the effort. This is NOT cause/effect – God blesses whom he will bless. This is the cold weather/snow principle (cold weather won’t guarantee snowfall, but it won’t snow without cold weather). Old fashioned hard work never killed anyone – and the older generation put in much more effort than you will!
Self-discipline can be an unpopular topic in today’s culture. But Jesus’ call in Matthew 16:24 should ring in your ears daily. Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him. He will strengthen your steps as He reveals His plan for your career. Perspective allows you to keep your vision in front of you; focus keeps your attention there. This means removing distractions and attention thieves that will reduce your ability to put forth your best effort. Self discipline includes self sacrifice, and that pleases God (see Romans 12:1-2).
5- EARS OPEN MOUTH SHUT
As with item 3, this should be intuitive. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Your role is to learn; learning comes from hearing, not speaking. Don’t be “that guy” in class! Yes, you should ask questions and seek clarity in your acquisition of knowledge, but do not monopolize the time or ask “for the benefit of others.” In short, you must learn before you contribute.
6- PRODUCTIVITY and LEADERSHIP
When you have a good grasp on items 1-4, the progression will lead to productivity and leadership. You should take initiative at every opportunity – within classroom discussions, study groups and peer interactions – not to feed your pride but to seek that counter-iron to hone your own skills (Proverbs 27:17). Respect is earned via productivity (and effectiveness) and your growth will be sharpened through discussion, debate and shared ideas. Please note that the proverb does not differentiate between the irons – they are equals – and they help each other along the way. Leadership stems from productivity and respect; growth follows along the way.
7- TAKE PROFESSORS, NOT COURSES
Material is static; professors add their own worldview and biases to their courses. After your first term, you should have a good idea of which instructors present the most bias. In many cases, the teacher is actually more contributory to the coursework than the textbooks. Find out which ones present their material with the least bias and most wisdom or discernment and study at their feet whenever possible.
8- GET INVOLVED IN A LOCAL CHURCH
Local churches have local people with common faults and problems. They are living real life while you are in the cocoon of academia. Getting involved locally will teach you at least as much as you can learn from a course. You will do well to observe the environment and interactions, then look to your studies to see how they go together. Additionally, this is a portion of the body of Christ where you can join in the corporate worship of God.
BONUS- SEEK A MENTOR
On campus or off, a mentor is valuable for guidance, counsel, or just a sounding board for your thoughts and ideas. It needs not be a formal arrangement, and both you and your mentor will benefit from a deeper relationship.