Mid-life crisis. Career burnout. Disillusionment. Questions about your ‘purpose’ in life. Considering making a change in your career path? Do you have a spiritual hunger and want to make a bigger impact on the world than adding to your employer’s bottom line? You are not alone. For many people, there is a point in their work career where they have more questions about their purpose than answers.
For many, this questioning leads them to consider a career in the ministry. Sometimes there’s a romanticized perspective involved here. Instead of the “cube farm” or office park, you might envision the idyllic environment of the small country church (ivy-covered, of course). Or, you envision making a big impact and speaking to thousands at large events, book and speaking deals, and a healthy does of fame. God’s blessing is already counted on (after all, He is calling me …) so there is no risk of failure!
The truth is there are very important considerations to keep in mind when reviewing your options for a career change—and particularly entry into the ministry. Not the least important is the requisite seminary degree.
So the obvious question: Does it even make sense to go to seminary now?
Fact: Unless you’re interested in pursuing a lay ministry (or support-type) only, a seminary degree is the most effective way to obtain initial credibility when you enter the field/workplace.
Also, seminaries are eager for ‘mature’ candidates—if you check the website for the seminary of your choice, it will likely be very friendly toward older applicants. Recent polls show that the average age of seminary students is over 30—and these students are typically more motivated, focused and understand the cultural environment better than their younger counterparts. Experienced students are also less naïve than the 20-somethings because of their first-hand experience in the world.
Think of it this way: Who’s teaching on ‘loving your neighbor’ would you respect more—the 25-year-old seminary graduate who grew up in a Christian environment and went straight to seminary and entered ministry as an associate pastor three years ago; or the 50-year-old on his second career after spending 25 years in the workforce (and residential neighborhoods) who knows exactly how hard it is to show love to stubborn, difficult people?
Possibly more important is the need to firm up your doctrinal position.
There are myriad accounts of lay ministers being thrust into the pulpit with disastrous results. Two common areas of downfall are a lack of counseling training to deal with the issues within the congregation and not being able to withstand assaults on doctrine. Both of these will lead to discouragement, burnout and eventual departure from the work. Not that a seminary degree will inoculate against difficult circumstances, but it is always wiser to be prepared for these possibilities (or eventualities) than to be blind-sided by these issues. Most people looking to make a change recognize the value of proper training in advance of starting a new task, and a new career in ministry is no exception to this situation.
Seminary not only provides the education aspect to increase knowledge about church history, language interpretation, and other ‘facts and figures’ (the objective education), it also provides instruction and training in counseling, public speaking and administration to equip the graduate to step into a position as smoothly as possible.
The other side of the discussion is non-ministry vocations. A seminary background can be useful in other areas of life—similar to a law degree being a provider of perspective in non-legal-related fields. Doctrine is always being challenged in the culture, and the background afforded by seminary study can provide a good foundation for apologetics, informed debate and conversation among the population (i.e., at the gates).
In short, there are many reasons to add seminary to your educational background that reach beyond the traditional ministry outlets.
Study at a seminary can be useful for the older student—even one who is still working through a decision about their career path. For people of faith (or desiring to strengthen their faith), seminary can be a worthwhile investment of their time. Many schools offer part-time and non-classroom options to fit around typical (or non-typical) schedules. This means that while you pursue your decision, you can “test the waters” to see if this will be a good fit for you before ‘jumping in with both feet’—a test-drive, of sorts. This can be invaluable to the decision-maker; either confirming that a change is good and proper or preventing the possible personal disaster from making an unwise choice!
So, I am over 40; does it even make sense to go to seminary now? Yes, for a variety of reasons, it does!