Because of my public ministry, I receive a lot of questions. One that comes up from time to time is whether the questioner should attend seminary, and if so, where?
I see myself in many of these people. A while back, I was in the same boat. I had just accepted my call to ministry and was ready to go to school to get the entrance requirements into ministry.
Little did I know that my ministry had already begun. You don’t merely go to seminary to get the entrance requirements into ministry; you go to seminary to refine the tools of ministry that you are already exercising.
Don’t expect seminary to help you determine your type of ministry unless you want to go into the parish. Those of us in other ministries have to kind of feel our way around without much help.
Don’t expect that anyone will care about your ministry other than the ones to whom God is calling you to minister. Some churches will be very supportive. However, some will not really care. Sadly, some will go out of their way to demonstrate their lack of interest in the ministry God calls you to.
Paper Without Function
Your diploma is a piece of paper. I remember having lunch with a former classmate about seminary. At some point in the conversation, he picked up a napkin said, “The only difference between this paper napkin and my paper diploma is that at least I can use the napkin to wipe my face." We both laughed.
We must remember that this is simply a piece of paper. It is not the key to open many doors that you didn’t have access to before (that could happen, but probably won’t). There are hundreds of people with the same paper.
I do not, however, want to leave you with a misunderstanding. I think seminary helped me in many valuable ways. The process and the road were both very helpful. What seminary did for me is that it opened the door to interdenominational ministry as well as encouraged me to recognize the gifts that I had before attending.
Did I need the degree to start my ministry? No. But would I have started without the rich experiences of seminary? Probably not. I am only saying that the value of seminary is what you learn, not the piece of paper.
I came to seminary understanding how to read the Bible devotionally or even apologetically (in defense mode), but seminary taught me how to read the Bible in other ways. I came to seminary largely from a particular ecclesial heritage but left seminary with a deeper understanding of my sisters and brothers in other traditions. I came to seminary with a more limited vision of what the church was and what ministry was; seminary gave me a broader vision.
An Enjoyable Experience
At the end of the day, seminary can be valuable. But please don’t expect that it will do what it will not do. It will be a fun time. But remember that your ministry happened before you arrived at seminary—and you perform it long after you leave.
Should you go? It is a personal decision, but if you go, allow it to refine the ministry that God is already leading you in right now—which is what brought you there in the first place.
Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds an M.Div with an emphasis in homiletics and an M.S. in computer science. Visit Sherman at SoulPreaching.com.
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