The Most Important Lesson I Learned in Seminary

Going to seminary was easily one of the best decisions I have ever made. I recognize that seminary isn’t for everyone, and I certainly don’t think a person must go to seminary to be able to minister correctly. However, as a seminary graduate, I would highly recommend seminary to any aspiring ministers. Indeed, I would recommend that every minister take advantage of seminary insofar as their situation allows. The reason I value seminary is the lessons that the seminary can instill in ministers.

Going through a degree program at a seminary can be like sitting down at a buffet and running a marathon at the same time. In most degree plans, the student takes a wide variety of classes. In one class, a student learns how to parse Greek verbs. Though this sounds boring, a basic understanding of Greek reveals levels of meaning that English simply can’t convey. After Greek, the student switches to a class that teaches leadership principles. In this class, the student learns how to write a biblically based mission statement that can motivate a church to take decisive action for the gospel. Then, the student must wrestle with profound questions from systematic theology. Classes in theology lead to deeper content in sermons and Bible studies as the student learns how seemingly divergent biblical teachings connect in a single, coherent system. All this variety means years of deep, challenging study for students who are usually balancing a job and a family. Seminary certainly isn’t for the faint of heart!

Though I learned many lessons in seminary, perhaps the most important lesson was that I—and all ministers—are totally inadequate. After a few semesters of hard work, I gradually became overwhelmed. There’s simply no way that a single person can always write thought-provoking, challenging sermons that are firmly rooted in the biblical text while also making every correct leadership decision in the church. It’s humanly impossible for the same person to see the budding spiritual gifts in every new believer and guide all new converts to the correct ministry outlet. One person cannot attend to the needs of a congregation, especially when the church begins to grow. Seminary began to show me my inadequacy for ministry by showing me how many things I needed to do right for ministry to be successful.

Fortunately, seminary has the answer for a minister’s inadequacy: The minister was never meant to do it all alone. While ministry is certainly the responsibility of the pastor and of the church, ultimately, ministry is God’s prerogative. Pastors and churches aren’t called to change lives, heal marriages, and save the lost. Instead, we are called to be faithful servants of God and watch in awe as he changes lives, heals marriages, and saves the lost through our meager efforts.

That ministry is God’s prerogative doesn’t excuse laziness in ministry, however. Seminary taught me to give everything I have in ministry. Numerous seminary professors stressed that we owe our very best to the God who saved us and called us. Consequently, we should try to develop perfect systems that promote discipleship. We should work hard to make sure that every sermon is as good as it can be. We should be faithful in caring for the congregation which God has called us to shepherd. However, these things, done in our own strength, will ultimately fail. We are totally inadequate for the job to which we’ve been called.

God, on the other hand, is adequate. He alone has the power to discharge faithfully every area of ministry. Seminary equipped me with the tools and knowledge to be my personal best in ministry. At the same time, seminary taught me that I am an inadequate worker serving an omnipotent God. When I am at my best, God can use my strengths for his glory. When I am at my worst, God can work through my weaknesses. God can even work around me when I become an obstacle to ministry.

The most important lesson I learned in seminary is that I am an inadequate servant of a God who is more than capable to do it on his own. This motivates me in several ways. For one, it challenges me to work my hardest in ministry. Being called to such service leaves no excuses for laziness. At the same time, seminary made me pray in ways that I never had before. Seminary taught me that I am not equal to the task of ministry and that I desperately need God’s help to do anything of value.

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