Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Rolling Discussion: Was Your Seminary Experience Challenging Enough?

Any sort of higher education should be a challenge. There's no question about it. I've had the privilege of going to a school on the east coast, one on the west coast, and now one all the way on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. I'm curious what your experience was going through seminary, specifically whether you found it challenging enough. Here are the three grids I'd like your feedback on: (1) spiritual growth, (2) academic rigor, and (3) professional preparation/development. So, once more, here's the question: Was your seminary experience challenging enough? I can't wait to hear your thoughts.


  1. 1) Yes, seminary fueled my spiritual growth and my passion for discipleship, preaching, and teaching.
    2) Depended on the class/professor. Some classes felt more like busy work. Others were definitely challenging. Once I learned which profs were good/challenging, I tried to take as many classes as I could from them.
    3) Depends on whether you're referring to pastoral ministry or academic pursuits. My seminary was definitely geared toward developing and launching men into pastoral ministry. Those seeking academic pursuits were probably under served.

    1. Thanks, Tom. I have a follow-up for you. What challenged you spiritually in your seminary experience? Was it incidental, like did it just happen as a result of your assignments, study time in God's Word, etc.? Or was it direct and calculated contact between you and your professors? Did they identify areas in your life where you personally could grow and then spur you on in those areas or create opportunities for you to grow in them? Did God do something to challenge your walk with the Lord in seminary that you haven't received (or wish you could receive more of) in your local church? If so, what was that?

  2. I found my experience extremely challenging. I'm thankful to the men that God let me study with while I was in seminary. Of course, every class did not have a sort of "ah-ha" kind of moment or something that caused me to stack up some stones as a memorial. And not every class challenged me to the max in the three areas mentioned in the question. But I was challenged to be more like Christ, to grow as a writer and communicator, to grow in the way that I do research and study, and to grow as a servant, which is most important. I've got a long ways still to go, but I can't imagine my life without those influential persons and the opportunity to study in seminary.

    I had individuals in my life who were not satisfied with just being a professor and giving me quizzes and exams. These individuals were watching my life and looking for places where I needed to grow. They listened to me and the topics that dominated my conversation. They watched the choices I was making in life and they asked probing questions to see how I was thinking through those decision points. They helped me become a better thinker, planting wisdom in my mind and showing me what it looks like to apply that wisdom in thinking biblically. One individual comes to mind regularly. I remember sitting in his office and he told me, "Thomas, I just listened to all of this stuff. And all of it is horizontal. Not once have I heard you think about the things that are above. You have to start taking your mind off of the things of this world--the way you see it down here--and think about the things above--trying to view things from God's perspective." Boy, that changed my life. The truth is Ray had to tell me that over and over and over again because I'm just so hard-headed. But it stuck, and I still hear that message played in my head at very critical moments.

    Another professor comes to mind who would ask me, "Thomas, on a scale of 1-10, how is your walk with the Lord?" I can't tell you how many times he asked me that over the last thirteen years. The conversations that followed with that professor were hugely impactful in my life. He was not afraid to confront areas where I needed to grow. He challenged me to think hard about the way things might be perceived. He taught me what it meant to really ask someone for forgiveness, not just say "I'm sorry."

    1. Ray knew I needed to grow in one area of my life. He'd send me notes as he found things in his own study that jumped off the page, and he'd share them with me. They were challenging to him, and he shared that challenge with me. It became clear to me that growth in my walk was more important than memorizing all the dates of historical events in church history or which use of the genitive was in play in a particular passage of the New Testament.

      I was never challenged more than when I studied with Dave Black at SEBTS. Dave made my walk the most important issue. The strangest thing though is he had the highest bar academically, and that still paled in comparison to how important it was to develop my walk. I could share my heart with him, and I found in him the most gracious support. We all are clay in the potter's hands. We are all being shaped and molded. The bar set by Jesus is surely the highest of all, and we fail miserably, but God's grace is so abundant for all of our shortcomings. But we need to be serious in our pursuit of Christlikeness. Dave would often tell me, "The way up is down in Jesus' kingdom." What made my time studying with him was he didn't tell me what he thought it meant to be living a Great-Commission, the-way-up-is-down-servant life so much as he showed me in the ways that he and his wife served me and my wife and others around us.

      I'm not sure everyone comes to seminary wanting their lives to be challenged spiritually. It's a shame if they don't, but we have no control over that.

      Academic rigor is a tightrope, isn't it? We want our seminary experience to give us the max. Maximum return on investment, right? Like Tom, I was looking for that challenge. I took the most challenging professors because I wanted the challenge. I wanted to grow in those areas. But challenge for the sake of challenge wasn't enough. I needed to know that the bar was high in turning in quality work, and I needed to know that I was going to get to the end of that course mental muscles weak and gasping for breath . . . but I wanted to know that there was something more important than even that challenge. The challenges that Jesus issues for us are infinitely more important and far more difficult, impossible even were it not for the strength that comes from him. I grew so much academically. No question about it.