How to Decide if Seminary School is Right for You
Seminary school isn’t what it used to be. A few decades ago, more than 90 percent of graduate students pursuing a master’s of divinity planned to go into full-time church ministry. But today the number is below 50 percent, according to the Association of Theological Schools.
Students in divinity programs study a broad range of issues relating to humanity, communities, and emotional and physical health, in addition to the classic focus on theology, classical languages, and so forth. Here are nine questions to help you decide if seminary school is right for you.
Tip #1: Do you like going to church?
Perhaps this is obvious, but while you’re in seminary, you should be regularly attending, loving, and working ardently to be involved with the community at a church. Your education is rooted as much in helping the community you build as the knowledge and relationship with God you’re working towards. Your church can also be a wonderful resource for speaking with people who have gone to seminary and can give you the specifics on what worked best for them.
Tip #2: Do you feel the call?
Many people who attend seminary school see it as an emotional — more than a logical — choice. This has been traditionally termed “a call,” understood as an inner urge of some sort, often attributed to a divine being. Since the traditional post-seminary career choice of ministry is not a particularly lucrative or influential on the large scale, no one can consider the seminary a guarantee of riches or fame. The emotional investment is therefore a crucial element to ensuring your choice will be emotionally and spiritually satisfying in the long run. This is not a career based on a desire for a hefty income, but one based on a desire to impact those around you.
Tip #3: Are you ready and willing to do some serious work on yourself?
The curriculum of seminary school is not, as the first question suggests, purely academic. The goal is to work on an individual personally — spiritually, emotionally, and morally — in addition, or perhaps even before, working on your knowledge. You must therefore be self-reflective, willing to dig into yourself and your own life, which can be uncomfortable. But to study an emotionally charged discipline and pursue a career in ministry or a related field, you must deal with your own demons so that you can help others deal with theirs.
Tip #4: Are you open-minded?
Many of your best learning experiences will come when you discuss — debate, even — with people who disagree with you or follow a different belief system. You will learn much more from talking to a Muslim or a Sikh practitioner than by listening to a lecture about Islam or Sikhism, so you must be willing to engage in those conversations with an open mind. Additionally, it’s a great way to educate others on the many ways that other religions can serve as useful ways to unite communities, even if not all following the same beliefs. It is possible — nay, likely — that your thoughts, roots, and foundations will be completely shaken or even shattered more than once during the seminary school process.
Tip #5: Are you ready for the academic rigors?
Once you accept that emotions play a large role in your experience at seminary school, you must remember the academic rigors that will also come into play. There is a huge amount to learn; most seminaries require that you learn difficult languages, such as Greek or Hebrew, and Christianity in particular has had 2,000 years to develop its theology. That is a lot of material to cover, so the learning process is intensive.
Tip #6: Can you be a vulnerable but objective counselor?
If you choose to go into ministry, you will be required to wear many hats. You must connect cerebrally — preaching, teaching — as well as emotionally — counseling, mercy ministry — with your congregation. What sets ministry apart from other types of counseling is that the people you counsel are also the people who form your community. In many cases they will probably be your friends. You must therefore find a way to be vulnerable with them without letting your vulnerability affect your ability to counsel. In other words, you must be able to simultaneously feel empathy and remain objective, which is a challenging situation to navigate. A rising seminary student offers this piece of advice: “Find someone separate from that community to whom you can be wholly vulnerable, someone who is going to pour into you as you pour into other people. ‘Cause otherwise, continuing the metaphor, you’re going to run out of stuff to pour pretty darn fast.”
Tip #7: Can you handle the scrutiny of the public eye?
If you go into ministry, you will find yourself in a fairly public position. As the leader of a community, people are going to watch you to see whether you’re living what you say. Yet another cliché proven completely true: You must practice what you preach. Everyone makes mistakes, but you must be honest about them and willing to seek forgiveness if you’ve wronged someone.
Tip #8: Are you willing to take classes outside your comfort zone?
The standard Master of Divinity program takes about three years to complete and covers a broad range of topics, from history to languages to leadership to communication to traditional theology. One of the best pieces of advice for anyone pursuing any form of higher education is to take classes outside your comfort zone. In seminary school, that means stepping away from what you know about your religion and being willing to be challenged with entirely new ideas. This is where the most open-minded of you will flourish.
Tip #9: Are you willing to accept the unknown?
Your studies, like your religious development, will be filled with questions and doubts. One seminary graduate advises that you must be okay with not getting all the answers; your faith is often your penultimate quality.
Online Seminary Schools and Related Programs
Finding an online seminary school or even an online program from a seminary school can be challenging if you don't know where to look. If your end-goal is to enter some form of ministry though, several online schools do offer programs in religion and ministry. The colleges below are accredited schools that are also Christian universities offering such programs. By enrolling in an accredited degree program, you'll learn the skills necessary to work for a religious organization, lead a congregation, teach others about a specific faith, and much more.
|Religion: Pastoral Counseling (MA) Master of Theology Doctor of Ministry||Liberty University is not only one of the largest Christian schools, with over 70,000 students currently enrolled, it is among the biggest schools in the US overall. Liberty offers a diverse range of theological programs including the Master of Theology and Doctor of Ministry programs. These programs prepare you for Christian ministry in church and organization settings.|
|Seminary Cert - Leadership Seminary Cert - Worship Arts Seminary Cert - Church Health and Revitalization Seminary Cert - Children, Youth and Family||Indiana Wesleyan University is based in Marion, Indiana. The school has a rich history and has been in operation since 1920. IWU offers several certificates in Seminary Studies like Leadership that cover which is designed for students interested in religion, church ministry, Bible studies, or they are pursuing their master's degree.|
|Biblical Counseling (MA) Bibical Studies (MA)||Bob Jones University is a private, non-denominational Protestant university in Greenville, South Carolina in 1927. Bob Jones offers two degrees related to biblical studies. The first is an MA in Bibical Studies program that is designed for students wanting to obtain their degree quickly, and the second is the MA in Biblical Counseling program which focuses more on counseling and psychology from a thoroughly biblical perspective.|
|Divinity (MDiv) Christian Studies (BA) Christian Studies: Biblical Studies (BA)||If you are interested in Christian ministry, Grand Canyon University has several paths you can choose from to get there. If you are continuing your education, the school offers a master's degree in divinity, a BA in Christian Studies, or a BA in Biblical Studies.|
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