Why Go To Seminary? Hoop, Hurdle or Vital Necessity?
Published by Jul Medenblik
As both a pastor and now seminary president, I have had the privilege of walking with many who are thinking about seminary. They wonder about finances. They wonder “is God really calling me?” They may be deeply involved in church life with their own fruitful ministry and wonder whether seminary is “worth” it. Isn’t seminary education just a hoop or hurdle to overcome?
From my own personal journey, I know the life-giving value of a seminary education. I keep a growing list of why seminary education is more than merely helpful – it is vital for church leaders and the church. Here are four of my top reasons for attending seminary:
SPREAD THE WORD
Everyone has one solid message or sermon in them. It is their testimony of what Jesus Christ has done for them. But what does a pastor or other ministry leader preach or teach at year ten in the same church? The ongoing work of message preparation for the pulpit or other settings is deepened by theological education and training.
I still remember getting ready to preach on Sunday, September 16, 2001—the Sunday after 9/11, when terrorist attacks took down the Twin Towers and more. In this time of unimaginable tragedy, what do I say was not a theoretical question. Lament and theodicy (the problem of evil in the presence of a good God) are several of the biblical and theological concepts that helped frame my message that fateful Sunday. Seminary training helped me speak God’s timeless Word in a truthful, time-rooted way.
FACING ISSUES IN MINISTRY
Sooner or later, ministry leaders will encounter conflict or crisis or even credibility. But such issues are not new in the body of Christ. Knowing how church leaders before us have faced the same or similar issues and questions can give us wisdom on how to handle such challenges or respond to critics. When you enter seminary, you enter into learning from the grand span of the Christian tradition and you exit knowing you are not alone!
EVALUATING “NEW IDEAS” IN MINISTRY
Fads come and go, but good ideas for ministry can find their footing by uncovering their rootedness. One of the key books that I read as a church planter was written by Mark Shaw, a missionary who served in Kenya. In 10 Great Ideas from Church History: A Decision-Maker’s Guide to Shaping Your Church, Shaw surveys church history and helps place worship renewal, discipleship processes, and other topics within their historical context. It is a great book because it helps a church leader take the lens of history and bring it to bear on the current context of ministry.
COLLEAGUES – BROTHERS AND SISTERS FOR THE JOURNEY
There is an African proverb that continues to shape my life: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” Seminary is a great place to find and cultivate colleagues for the journey. Choosing a community like Calvin Seminary is pivotal not just for the markers of academic excellence like passing a test or writing a paper. It’s pivotal for forging relationships— for finding colleagues from around the world who will cheer you on and lift you up for the marathon of ministry.
As I walk with people wondering about seminary, I say again and again that our goal at Calvin Seminary is not just for our students to survive in ministry. Our desire is for each person to thrive in one’s ministry calling. Part of that thriving comes from running the race with the aid that the breadth and depth of seminary education offers—day by day, year in and year out!
[Jul Medenblik is a former attorney who entered Calvin Theological Seminary to start a second career. Upon graduation, he served for 16 years as the founding pastor of New Life Christian Reformed Church in New Lenox, Illinois. He also served for four years as the Church Planting and Development Point Team Leader for Christian Reformed Home Missions (now named Resonate Global Mission). On August 1, 2011, Medenblik took up the position as the seventh President of Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.]
President’s quote, “I am humbled by the opportunity to move from serving the church as a local pastor and in various denominational settings to the presidency of Calvin Theological Seminary. One picture that we have in church planting in the Christian Reformed Church is embodied in the phrase, ‘Deep Roots, New Branches.’ Calvin Theological Seminary is deeply rooted in and nurtured by the church. We have a great opportunity to use those roots to nourish preachers and church leaders for the ministries and new opportunities that await us in the mission field around each and every one of us.”
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