If you want to get people’s attention or have the room go silent, just announce that you’ve decided to go to seminary. Few graduate education fields evoke such a wide range of responses, emotions or flood of advice as does the decision to pursue a seminary education. This article is written from first-hand experience and is a compilation of personal experiences and those of other fellow seminarians. If you are considering this exciting direction for your life, let’s put to rest some common myths that you will have to work through on this path.
1. Seminary is a “cemetery” for your personal relationship with God.
There is a thought that attending seminary will, by its nature, zap the joy and delight you have for God and His Word. Thankfully, while there are those who have such sad experiences—entering seminary full of excitement, only to end up disenchanted and even distant from God—this need not be the case. The heart of the problem with those that grow cold for God while attending seminary is not inherent to attending seminary but can be traced to the potential negative influence of teaching contrary to the Bible, but more times than not is simply a magnification of a problem pre-existent to seminary. Many students substitute their class work for their personal devotional life … big mistake. Others become overly absorbed with the academic study of God and grow cold in their heart affections for God and his Word. Those who think seminary will necessarily kill their affection for God must remember that seminary is simply a place that will reveal both our strengths and our weaknesses. Seminary can be a great time of growing deeper with God and increasing in the knowledge of his Word while warming one’s affections.
2. Seminary is only for pastors.
Years ago this statement may have been true, but today, it is simply not the case. There are many individuals who enroll in seminary never intending to become a pastor or minister. A seminary education, while focused on theological education, can provide an excellent foundation for career fields other than the pastor of a local church. Knowing God and understanding His Word on a deeper level is something that is incredibly valuable to every believer and is something that a Christian should naturally desire. There are many benefits to be gained from attending seminary for any believer, regardless of whether or not they plan on pastoring a local church. Many Christians who have careers in another field feel that a seminary education will enable them to perform better as it will cause them to approach their jobs from a biblical worldview and to think critically about the environment around them. The main purpose of attending seminary is to know Christ, which is something from which every follower of His can benefit.
3. You have to study religion in undergraduate to go to seminary.
This common misconception is just that: a misconception. Nearly all seminaries will accept applicants with any type of bachelor’s degree. Seminaries, like other educational institutions, thrive on diversity and look to enroll people from all different walks of life. Given their preference, many seminaries would actually rather enroll students who have taken courses in the liberal arts and have studied subjects such as literature, history, philosophy, logic and languages. Students who have taken these types of courses are often better prepared for the subjects that they will encounter in seminary. On that note, however, never having taken a literature class will not keep you out of seminary either; really, any bachelor degree will do.
4. Class offerings are limited to Bible, Hebrew and Greek subjects.
Seminary degrees come in a variety of flavors and forms, as do their schools and professors. A seminary degree need not be limited to scholarly book work, or to studying ancient languages and texts. There are many practical programs offered and even required for your seminary degree. Counseling; marriage/family therapy; missions and/or intercultural studies; leadership; education; and psychology are all subjects studied by seminary students. Choosing a degree with an emphasis in your area of interest can open up even more options.
5. You have to go straight from college to seminary
Like myth #3 above, that you need to study religion in college in order to attend seminary, the thought that you need to go straight from college to seminary is a complete misconception. Again, seminaries, like other schools, thrive on diversity. There is something to be said for both the fresh-faced student who enters seminary immediately following college as well as the older and oftentimes more mature individual who goes back to school after many years in the workforce. Waiting for a period of time between college and seminary can offer many benefits. Real world experience is gained during that time and your understanding of the world and how God works in the day-to-day is heightened. Men and women of all ages attend seminary for a variety of reasons—there is no single right way to go about enrolling in a seminary.
6. You have to go to seminary to serve God as a vocational minister.
Generally speaking, it is never a good idea to limit God. While certain denominations do require their ministers be ordained, in God’s kingdom, one need not have his Masters of Divinity in order to serve as a shepherd of the church or even to be paid to do so. God does require much of His ministers, particularly maturity, but a seminary degree is not on the list (see Titus 1:7-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1 -10). That said, there are many benefits to be gained from going to seminary—an understanding of the original language of Scripture, for example, or a thorough knowledge of church history. Many friendships and connections are formed during years of seminary, and humility may be gained in realizing how great God is and much you don’t know. Whether or not someone called to ministry should attend seminary is a matter worthy of much prayer. But to believe that a person must have a seminary degree in order to be a minister is nothing more than a myth.
7. You don’t need a healthy church life or devotional life since you are studying the Bible every day.
This myth was addressed a little in myth #1, but it is such a critical element of seminary life, we wanted to end by focusing on this deadly myth. With all of the time spent studying the Bible and attending lectures with other believers, it is tempting to think that your personal devotion to God or your involvement within the local church can fall by the wayside. This, however, is a fatal mistake. Our personal relationship with Christ is vital to our well-being as a Christian. Growing in Christ and communing with Him involves much more than book work, and our prayer and devotional life is where we learn to love and rely on Christ. On a practical level also, as a seminary student, you are being made ready to serve as a minister of Christ—whether or not your intention is to become a pastor. Real-life ministry experience will prove to be invaluable to you as put into practice what you have learned in the classroom.