I can’t think of a time or place in my life where the ravages of sin attacked more fiercely, training in the faith was so costly, or where my love for God was tested so deeply as my years in seminary.
1. Knowledge Puffs Up
“Let me tell you why you’re wrong,” was often on my lips during seminary. I couldn’t understand why my family grew tired of my “lessons” in following Christ. Regrettably, I burned too many bridges to count by attacking my family with my newfound knowledge. Then I realized what a profound blessing it was to have an extended family thoroughly unimpressed with me.
I’d placed a priority on sets of facts, systems of thought, and propositions, yet hadn’t been aware of how I’d been arrogantly misusing that knowledge in my relationships. The pride in possessing that knowledge built a wall that strained familial relationships and created a barrier that proved more difficult to deconstruct than to build. Though my growing knowledge was a gift from God, I used it to build myself up instead of urging others to Christ.
2. Ministry Flows from Relationships
Ministry flows from relationships, not accolades. My spiritual mentor had been telling me that for years, but I couldn’t hear it; I was too busy trying to become the “theology answer man.” It took me far too long to learn that the the first strategy for deconstructing non-Christian worldviews is listening, showing compassion, and remembering the names of other people’s children. Dropping transcendental “truth bombs” is not the place to start.
Evangelistically, the greatest tool for preaching the gospel isn’t “drive-by blasting” truth at people, but extending an invitation to people—an invitation to come and see God’s truth at work in my life. Perhaps this isn’t surprising to most, but it was refreshing and deeply emboldening for me. Ministry shouldn’t primarily center around turning every venue into a classroom, but in humble conversations that take place in homes, coffee shops, and at work.
3. You Can Get an ‘A’ Sinfully
Can you be a good student and get a “C” in homiletics? In seminary, there’s simply not enough time to do all the assignments, read all the papers, hold down a job, get internship hours, spend time with family, and sleep. One of my professors stressed this point early for me, and it removed the performance pressure to achieve a stellar GPA. The tension of juggling all these duties and obligations simultaneously forces us to make choices at particular intersections: “Will my grade suffer, or will my family suffer?”
If a married man with children is willing to sacrifice his relationship with the kids or his wife to achieve an “A,” he’s sinning. Accomplishing that grade could be a gloss for his failure as a father or a husband. Similarly, students without a family may have all the time necessary to gain high marks in all their classes. The “B” that a married student with kids receives might be a mark of faithfulness, whereas the “B” the unmarried student without kids receives could indicate sinful complacency.
4. Learning the Languages Can Be Perilous
Learning Greek and Hebrew can give a false sense of knowing the Bible’s “true” or “hidden” meaning. This attitude can function as a type of language gnosticism in which we can now comprehend what the verse really means or what some usage really denotes. This attitude can unintentionally detach the layperson from his or her own reading of Scripture.
Studying the languages is truly a joy and does yield insight, nuance, and echoes in the text we were unable to recognize before. But learning Greek and Hebrew doesn’t make us more capable of listening to God’s voice; it is the Spirit who illumines, whether or not we have studied the biblical languages. The possibility of pride taking root within our study of the biblical languages shouldn’t be treated lightly. The Bible is God’s Word for all the saints, not just for the seminarians.
5. Your Supreme Calling Is Not to Ministry
We must never forget that our most important calling is not to be a lead pastor, associate pastor, professor, or parachurch ministry director. It’s not to get an MDiv, MA, or any variation of degree or title. Our most vital calling is to a person. It’s to know and love God ever more deeply through Jesus Christ.
All other observations and insights are inferior to the call we have to follow him. No calling is higher, because no sacrifice was greater than his.