Before starting biblical Hebrew this past summer, I asked a friend how his break between classes was going. “It’s going well,” he said. “I feel like I can finally read my Bible again and not be anxious about it,” he added. We both enjoyed a good laugh at his comment. And then I thought: should I be laughing at that?
If you’re not in seminary or have never been, then you may not understand this interaction. But those acquainted with the seminary struggle can relate. The pressure, stress, and workload of seminary can wear out even the godliest Christian. And sometimes that means that, unfortunately, things like Bible reading and private prayer tend to get neglected. So how can you thrive during seminary?
In no particular order, here are 10 pieces of advice for seminary students:
Sign-up for office hours with your professors regularly
You are studying under men and women who have been walking with Jesus for decades and are world-class experts in their field. They even make times available during the day for you to visit them and chat. Why would you not take advantage of this opportunity?
Some of my most encouraging times as a seminary student have been right after leaving office hours with a professor. I make it my goal to sign up for office hours at least once a week (though I’m not always able to). Sometimes, we don’t talk about classroom material but rather personal issues. I’ve been able to glean pieces of godly advice on my marriage, my future ministry, and my personal struggles. The professors are the best part of seminary. Spend time with them.
Get involved in the local church
God’s plan A to express His manifold wisdom is the local church, and there is no plan B (Eph. 3:10). Go to church, become a member, and serve God’s people. The local church is the best preparation for ministry.
As a seminary student, much of the day you are sitting down writing papers, reading books, in the classroom, or involved in group assignments. Research shows that sitting all day is not good for you. Which means that if you’re not staying active, you can start to cause damage to your body and not even realize it.
Eat healthy foods. Go the gym. Take dietary supplements. Get some sleep. Whatever works for you, be sure to take care of your body.
Stay committed to the spiritual disciplines
This might sound surprising, but spiritual disciplines are harder to come by during seminary. Many of us are so bogged down by the number of pages to read and papers to write that we forget to nourish our own spiritual souls. But daily devotions must be a priority if you’re going to stay healthy. As Wayne Grudem says, “To neglect regular reading of God’s Word is as detrimental to the health of our souls as the neglect of physical food is detrimental to the health of our bodies.”
Make time to read your Bible devotionally, pray, journal, worship, and sit still before the Lord no matter how busy your schedule.
Avoid quarreling with students and professors
One of my professors said something during my second semester that struck me: “Your biggest temptation in ministry won’t be pornography. Your biggest temptation in ministry will be a quarrelsome spirit.”
One of my biggest concerns amongst young Reformed Christians is this quarrelsome spirit. We tend to criticize, minimize, and micro-analyze everything. Sometimes, this carries over into the classroom with professors or outside of the classroom with students. While it is certainly okay to disagree with others, we should avoid a quarrelsome spirit at all costs — especially with those in authority (2 Tim. 2:24).
Don’t try to teach the class
There are some students who never seem to ask questions, but always want to answer them. They are incessantly raising their hand during class to voice their opinion and, often, to try to show the class how much they know.
Don’t be that guy.
Your classmates did not fly across the world to study at seminary to learn from you. Let the professors do their jobs.
Prioritize your family
I once heard a story of a seminary professor who taught summer Greek. He mentioned to the students that their wives would become “widows” for the summer. His point was that they’ll be studying so much that they wouldn’t have time for them.
Friends, it should never be this way.
Every single time, choose your wife and kids over your studies. Of course, don’t be lazy. You should strive to do your best. But make sure your family knows you love them more than your studies. It’s better to get a C+ in a class and be a good husband and father than it is to get an A+ in a class and neglect your wife and kids.
Don’t fret about the future
I’m prone to anxiety and worry. After my first semester, I already started getting anxious about what I’ll be doing after seminary. “Which denomination should I join? Will I even get a job? How do I make connections?” Questions like these can haunt seminary students and rob them of the joy of seminary. I’m still struggling with this one, but by God’s grace, I’m growing. When I trust the Lord for my future, I tend to enjoy seminary more. Try to do the same.
Read and Re-Read How to Stay Christian in Seminary
Before the start of every semester, I make it a habit to glance over my notes in How to Stay Christian in Seminary. You can read it in one sitting. The advice that David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell offer are excellent. But the foreword by John Piper is the best part (sorry, David and Jonathan).
Finally, go out and make friends. One of my regular prayers for seminary is, “Lord, please give Denise and I at least five friends that we’ll make in seminary and maintain for life.” I want some of the brothers and sisters we meet in seminary to be our friends forever. I want them to encourage me through the ups and downs of our future ministries, and I want to do the same for them. I need others. So do you. Make time to make friends.
Seminary might be a waiting season, but it shouldn’t be a wasted season. By God’s grace, you can enjoy a rich seminary season as you prepare for your future ministry. I hope the points above help. May God grant you the grace to flourish during seminary.
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