It took me four long years to complete my master’s degree from seminary. During that time, I went to school full-time and then part-time. I moved to a new country and then back again. I got married. I took my first real full-time job. I also took a few semesters off in between. At one point, I didn’t think I would ever graduate.
Seminary definitely turned my life up side down. My idea of “ministry” and my ultimate “dream job” fell apart right in front of me. The whole experience has been one of the most challenging of my life. It was not easy, and I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone. Yet it was absolutely rewarding. I’m amazed that I made it. And the lessons I have learned are invaluable. I wanted to share just a few…
Jesus must be the center of everything.
From beginning to end, the Bible is a story about Jesus. Christianity, the church, salvation, and theology is not about us. It’s about Jesus. Our faith isn’t about making us more comfortable in this life, or having a “god” who will continually bless us, or giving us church friends and activities to participate in, or even providing answers to the hard questions in life…Our faith should be about serving and bringing glory to Jesus. In ministry, everything that we teach must point back to Jesus. In life, every action we take must be a reflection of Him. If he isn’t the center, it means nothing.
Spiritual warfare is real.
If you don’t believe that Satan is at work in our world today, fighting against God’s children, go where God is working. When hundreds of students are attending classes, chapel services, and prayer meetings with the desire to see their world changed, you’d better believe the devil isn’t happy.
I faced major spiritual resistance while attending seminary. The psychological impacts of darkness can be almost unbearable. I don’t exaggerate when I say that I’m amazed I made it through. There were days my mind was so full of doubts, fear, and hate. Days I wanted to abandon religion all together and run so fast in the opposite direction. Days I didn’t understand why trying to serve God could be so difficult. Days I didn’t find support from the people around me. Days I didn’t feel like someone with my personality, political views, and past mistakes would ever fit in ministry.
But those are all lies! Lies the enemy tells us so that we stop pursuing Jesus with all we have. Lies we don’t have to believe. Lies I chose not to believe. Lies you should choose not to believe too!
I’ve gained the gift of evangelism.
When I was younger I was scared to let people know I was a Christian. I thought they would make fun of me. I tried to hide my faith. A turning point happened in junior high when I no longer wanted to hide what I believed, but I also wasn’t very vocal about it. I would wear my Christian t-shirts, write Bible verses on my notebooks, and even invite my closest friends to church. But, if I had an opportunity to talk about Jesus, I’d often shy away and remain silent. I eventually grew comfortable with being vocal about God. Yet, I still never considered myself an evangelist.
Seminary taught me how to build bridges with others in any community or culture that I live. My peers and professors modeled effective ways to relate to others and make faith part of my everyday conversations. I saw just how important Christ was in my life and the Biblical command to share him with the world around me. I could no longer remain silent. When taking a spiritual gifts tests after graduating, I was surprised to see that one of my top gifts is now evangelism. I know for certain this is due to my experience in seminary, and I’m happy to see how God has changed my heart regarding evangelism over the years.
Seminary is really hard. It’s harder when you are a single woman who thinks for herself.
Seminary classes weren’t necessarily hard, but seminary culture was hard. Coming from a liberal university where I was encouraged to form my own opinions, seminary was a bit of a shock. In college, I learned that true education wasn’t being spoon-fed information like I had been in high school. True education was gaining the ability to think critically for myself and come to my own conclusions. Because of this, it was in college that I became comfortable in my own skin. I stopped merely believing what everyone else believed and I developed my own opinions. And I was able to form these opinions on what the Bible said.
I expected this same freedom and view of education in seminary. But, when getting on campus, I felt like I had stepped back in time. My seminary education was not a liberal education. It was a spoon-fed education. It was as if I had finally been given the green light to be independent, think for myself, and be proud of my own convictions, only to start my seminary education where there was once again a “right way” and “everyone else.” And unfortunately, I fell into the “everyone else” category all too often.
When my classmates accepted every idea professors taught, I was the girl in the back questioning everything my professors taught. As other women were quiet and reserved, I was brash and loud. Another woman told me once that if I wouldn’t voice my opinions so much, that boys at seminary might actually like me. Because we as women were obviously at seminary to find a boy. At least that’s what they told me. Because we were supposed to get married and support our husbands in their ministry. Let me clarify…these are not bad things! But, they were not for me. My goal at seminary was NOT to find a husband, my goal at seminary was to prepare myself for ministry. But, when the seminary leaders were always trying to set us up on dates, I found it hard to believe that the seminary leaders had the same goals for my ministry (and other women’s ministries) as I did.
What true ministry is
God’s calling to minister isn’t necessarily toward one particular vocation, or area of ministry, or international country, or people group, or dream. It’s a calling to serve him in all you do. And you don’t have to be a full-time vocational minister, and you don’t need a seminary degree.
At the end of the day, no matter how hard we’ve worked, how well we’ve preached, how far we’ve traveled, how much we’ve sacrificed, how much we’ve prayed, how much we’ve read the Bible, how ‘right’ we think our theology is, if we aren’t pointing people to Jesus, nothing else matters.