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Surviving Seminary: A Pastor's Perspective

Posted by Matt Postiff October 1, 2012 on Matt Postiff's Blog under GeneralĀ 

Mark and Heather Snoeberger have written a helpful two-part article on surviving seminary as a family (here and here). I greatly appreciated the principles that they promoted, such as unity in their marriage, maturity, spiritual growth and formation of their family, hard work, and frugality. Particularly noteworthy is their testimony of treating the seminary education as a shared task between husband and wife. My wife and I find that pastoral ministry requires the same kind of shared view of things. Trying to carry on in ministry while the husband pulls the load and the wife heads in another direction is a problematic situation. But that is not my point in this post...

In response to the article, a prospective seminary student asked me some questions related to time management and how to "balance" seminary with work, church attendance and ministry, and personal life. He is concerned about providing for the family so that his wife can fulfill her biblical role of keeping the home and working with the children. He is concerned about attending and serving in the local church in a way that he is faithful and not skipping meetings. Finally, he is concerned about maintaining his spiritual/devotional life as well as his physical health.

About work: Mark did not say if he had to work full time or part time during his seminary education. During the M.Div., I had the blessing of being self-employed and working afternoons (not the afternoon shift--just afternoons). Travel for my work was required on only a few occasions. This left my mornings available for classes and evenings and weekends for study. Students who are fully supported are greatly blessed because they can devote themselves entirely to their studies. I think that is a rare situation, at least in our circles. Many students struggle to work about 40 hours a week and then try to divide the remaining time for their wife, children, church, and personal health.

About church: I was able to be fully involved in the ministry of the local church as I went to school. When Fellowship Bible Church called me to be their senior pastor, I was taking the Th.M. During the first months of the pastorate, I took some time off from classes to focus on the initial ministry. As far as the seminarian's attendance at church goes, it is unacceptable for the student to be so consumed with work and seminary that he does not attend all the regular meetings of the church. If it comes down to it, it is absolutely appropriate to dial down the number of classes taken during a semester and take more years to complete the training. It is not very important to finish seminary in three years anyway; there is no need to be in a rush. A good case can be made that taking somewhat longer is better--it gives more time for the material to sink in. I took the M.Div. in four years; the Th.M. in six, with one year of overlap between the two.

About physical and spiritual health: Taking the M.Div. in four years (the majority of it in three with summer classes thrown in to help) was a challenge. It was at once spiritually filling and spiritually draining. Physically I was ill on a number of occasions due to exhaustion and dehydration. Trying to learn while you are dead tired is not the wisest approach. My questioner is rightly concerned about his spiritual health as well. It is easy enough to downplay 'devotional time' for a seminarian--after all, he is deeply in the Word in all his classes, right? What value does a skimpy devotional life have compared to that? To the contrary, the reality is that academic studies are of a different sort than personal spiritual maintenance. You might object that seminary shouldn't just be academic. Indeed! But when there are so many classes, so much material, tests that are looking for specific information, papers to write, etc., it is all too easy to pursue studies in an unattached, academic way that does not fully engage the soul along with the mind.

Seminary education is not to be treated lightly. It is a huge commitment. I fully believe that at the right seminary, it is an investment that is well worth the effort. However, a sense of proportion in the elements mentioned above will help you to succeed. You don't want your program of study to overwhelm the day-to-day concerns of church attendance and ministry, physical and spiritual health, and family. MAP

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