6 Lessons I've Learned from Seminary

It is hard to believe that I graduate from Seminary today from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with my Masters of Divinity. It has been a long journey of 3 1/2 years with late night reading and paper writing. Having a family, serving as a full time pastor, and studying full time was not easy. Yet, God was faithful to get me through each day and to make it to this milestone. I’ve learned a lot over the past three years and I want to share with you some of those lessons I’ve learned.

1. The Discipline of Rigorous Study

I’ve always considered myself fairly studious, but Seminary intensified that. A pastor will spend a great deal of time a week in the study of Scripture to prepare sermons and lessons. Seminary helped me cultivate that discipline and deepen my intellectual abilities. With the myriad of diverse responsibilities I've been forced to get organized and efficient with my time, especially my time in study. The discipline developed these past three years to study God’s word even under the pressure of a deadline will be lastingly been helpful.

2. The Joy of Life Long Learning

As I have observed, it is so easy to stop learning after your formal academic education. There are college students who never pick up another book again after they are handed their diploma. One of the things I desire to do is to continue learning for the rest of my life. I want to continue to challenge myself to read challenging books and participate in intellectual endeavors. The exciting thing now is that those endeavors will be of my choosing. Seminary helped me see the joy of learning and studying.

3. The Value of Family

Completing seminary is not something I could have done on my own. Kaitlyn has been by my side the whole way encouraging me and getting me through. There have been many difficult nights where after a long day I have to lock myself away to study or read rather than spend time with my family. During these 3 1/2 years I learned to value my family even more and I love the time I get to spend with them.

4. Theology is for the Church

I learned a ton in seminary. Yet, I’ve learned more about how to care and love God’s people by pastoring in the local church throughout seminary. Although education is vital for pastors to learn how to rightly divide the word of truth, there are certain things that a class room will be unable to teach you. Learning how to communicate with people, counsel them, and pray for them are all learned best when serving a local church. I’m thankful for my church, Forest Hills Baptist Church, for letting me continue to learn how to shepherd as I have served and loved them. It was wonderful to be able to take the intellectual stratospheric jewels in seminary and bring them to messy every day life as I’ve taught them to my church. Theology is for the church and it has been wonderful to do theology within the context of the local church during my seminary education.

5. The Tools I Will Need

I’m convinced that higher education’s purpose is not just to fill you with knowledge, but to give you the tools to succeed. Seminary has done that for me. When I begin a new sermon series or have a deep theological question, I know the resources to take off my shelf. I know which theologians and writers are more beneficial than others. I have learned how to think through for myself and reason when I find myself in a theological quagmire.

6. Love My Savior More Deeply

Many fear that if you go off to seminary, somehow you’ll become all head and no heart. Some think well trained theologians are unable to love Jesus or that formal education can ruin a pastor. I just simply have not found this to be true in the slightest. Over the course of my seminary education I have grown much more deeply in love with Jesus. His wonderful grace and love have grown in sweetness and beauty over the past 3 1/2 years. As my knowledge of Christ has increased so to has my love for him. This above all has been the greatest thing I’ve learned, to richly love my savior and serve him with all my heart.

I’m not sure if my Masters of Divinity is my last stop in the world of academia. Yet, I do know that I am so thankful to have attended such wonderful seminary and to have the privilege and responsibility of a solid theological education.

The Pastor and his Study

I forget who said it first, but none the less it remains true: A call to preach is a call to study

The life of a pastor and teacher of God's Word is a life dedicated to the study of that Word. If you feel called to preach God's Word but have no desire to study theology, hermeneutics, and homiletics than you might want to seriously pray about whether God is asking you to preach His Word. Now by study I do not mean that you have to necessarily go to seminary, although for most it is a good idea. However, it does mean that you must be diligent in your study and understanding of God's Word.

As preachers, our message is tied to God's revealed Words in the Bible. As a result, if we are going to preach the Bible faithfully we must study it diligently. This means picking up a working knowledge of Greek and Hebrew to carefully examine the Bible. This means a consistent and daily habit of reading great Bible teachers and respected pastors from Church History to help you understand the Word better. This means listening to sermons from great preachers to learn the Word and sharpen your homiletical skills.

I'm not talking about just sermon preparation in which you spend hours and hours exegeting the text, creating an outline, and doing the messy work of illustration and application. The life of a Pastor/Preacher is a habitual pursuit of deepening our own minds so we can clearly and more aptly communicate the truth of God. In my own, short experience, I am amazed how often as I'm working on preparing to teach on a text of Scripture, God reminds me of a cross reference or a section of a book I read. My study over the years has created a mental card catalogue of resources that God has used to instruct me. The Holy Spirit simply just pulls out the cards as I'm prayerfully studying for a sermon. In fact, I'm learning more and more that the purpose of my formal education is not necessarily to give me all the answers, but to teach me where to find them. Through a lifestyle of habitual study over time God sharpens our minds and equips us for the task of preaching.

As preachers we have a HUGE responsibility of boldly proclaiming God's Word to our people. This task of preaching is not for intellectual bums and theological charlatans. Lazy thinkers make terrible preachers. The responsibility of preaching is a laborious work and requires painful study. If we want to be faithful to the task God has called us, may we seek to proclaim his Word with excellence.

Study the Word. Preach the Word.

A Word of Advice for Students from Richard Baxter

Many students and teachers are currently getting geared up for school starting in just a few weeks. Many will be starting college for the first time exploring the intricacies of molecular biology, the beautiful rhythmic language of William Shakespeare, or the complexities of philosophy.   Richard Baxter wrote in his book The Reformed Pastor the following quote which hopefully will challenge you to seek God in all areas of study.  It does not matter if the pursuit is science, mathematics, literature, communications, arts, or religion itself.  The pursuit of academic excellence is a great and noble task, however it must be fueled with our desire to know and cherish God.  If not, it is all folly.  Here is the quote:

Your study of physics and other sciences is not worth a rush, if it be not God that you seek after in them. To see and admire, to reverence and adore, to love and delight in God, as exhibited in his works - this is the true and only philosophy; the contrary is mere foolery, and is so called again and again by God himself. This is the sanctification of your studies, when they are devoted to God, and when he is the end, the object, and the life of them all.

And, therefore, I shall presume to tell you, by the way, that it is a grand error, and of dangerous consequence in Christian academies, that they study the creature before the Redeemer, and set themselves to physics, and metaphysics, and mathematics, before they set themselves to theology; whereas, no man that hath not the vitals of theology, is capable of going beyond a fool in philosophy. Theology must lay the foundation, and lead the way of all our studies.