Dear New Seminary Student,
Welcome to the world of biblical scholarship. I believe you are in for an exciting journey in your life where you will be stretched to read, write, argue, and think on perhaps a new level. If you will, allow me to encourage you on how to view your time in seminary. I have also written about what I learned from my time earning an M.Div, and you can find that article here.
First, enjoy the time you spend at school. There were students I had classes with who would lament and bemoan the fact they are in seminary because they were “ready to do ministry.” What they missed is the fact that they are doing ministry as they sit in the class. Not only does seminary serve as a time of preparation for your life in ministry, it is also a ministry in itself. We are learning, studying, reading, and praying. We are giving ourselves to the ministry of learning. To separate vocational ministry from academic ministry is something I would encourage you to avoid. Even when you are on your third research paper of the semester, enjoy the process because it will be over quickly.
Second, take as many biblical language and exegesis courses as you can. For some reason many pastors seem to wear a badge of honor with “I Forgot How to Use Greek and Hebrew” embroidered on it. Many students view Greek and Hebrew as a hoop to jump through on their way to getting their degree and, once they passed the course, they never again return to the languages. Please don’t do this. There is much to miss when you depend upon an English translation of the original Greek and Hebrew. Inflections and nuances sometimes do not transfer over into our English and key concepts of arguments are missed. You might find them in commentaries, but chances are you will skim them over because you deem them to be overly technical. God wrote a book, and he chose Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek as the language of choice. Honor him by studying intensely the biblical languages. The rewards are immense.
Third, take seriously the things your professors teach you and listen to them earnestly. These men have studies for years and are experts in their respective field. They know their stuff, so don’t try to be “that guy” and attempt to “trip them up” or write off their intellectual abilities because you may disagree with them on a tertiary issue. Show respect. Are you required to agree with them on everything? Certainly not; but it is inexcusable not to respect their opinion because they are not a five point Calvinist. Yes, this happens often.
Fourth, commit to be a lifelong learner. This is such an important task in your ministry. Seminary will not teach you everything. An M.Div, M.A., or even a Ph.D. degree is not meant to teach you everything. These degrees serve to equip you to have the basic tools in order to interpret the biblical text and conduct research. Therefore, seminary really is just the beginning of your education. Buy good books, read good authors, find a dead theologian and devote yourself to reading him, find a specific field you enjoy and pursue an interest in this, and read as widely as possible.
Enjoy the time you have been given in seminary. View it as the training ground for your ministry. Work hard to interpret God’s word correctly, because you will be required one day to give an account for what you have said.