They Didn't Teach me That in Seminary!

Like every other pastor in the country, I’ve spent the last several months navigating the uncertain waters of a global pandemic. We’ve had to learn how to livestream our services. For a while, we did drive-in church. We’ve had to develop a raft of COVID guidelines for all our gatherings. And over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had the unenviable pleasure of self-quarantining and conducting contact tracing after we had a few folks test positive.

As shocking as it seems, I never had a single class on this in seminary! Not. One. If my seminary had a “TH 654: Pastoring in a Pandemic,” I was too busy wasting my time with Greek and Hebrew, theology, and homiletics to take so valuable a class. Now that I think about it, I never took a class on “Pastoring Through Hurricanes” or “Pastoring Through Riots” or “Pastoring Through Crazy Elections.” Shocking, isn’t it? It’s hard to believe that I earned two seminary degrees and was never prepared for any of this stuff.

Except I was prepared. What if the goal of seminary is not to anticipate every possible scenario you’ll face in ministry, but to equip you with unchanging resources to face an ever-changing world? What if the goal of seminary is not to give you a step-by-step tutorial on how to make an awesome Facebook video, but is to instill in you a deep conviction regarding the sufficiency of Scripture and to give you the tools to exegete and apply God’s Word? 

If that’s the the case, then my seminary training equipped me well for this. What pastors need, more than anything else, is a rock-ribbed belief in the sufficiency of God’s Word. They need sound theology that will equip them to respond to life’s craziness in a God-glorifying way. 

So what does this have to do with seminary education?  

If you’re in seminary, learn the Bible. 

Go heavy on Greek, Hebrew, hermeneutics, systematic theology, Biblical theology, historical theology, and ethics. Sure, learn practical ministry, but do so with a recognition that tomorrow’s landscape will be radically different than today’s. As much as I would have benefitted from a class on technology or a lecture or two on how to work with people, I would not have given up a single credit of Greek or Hebrew to make it happen. Why? The ability to exegete Scripture is indispensable in leading a church; an ability to make good PowerPoints is not. If you don’t believe me, look at I Timothy 3:1-7, and you’ll see that godly character and the ability to teach God’s Word comprise the God-given requirements for the pastor. 

After all, even if seminary had taught me all the ins-and-outs of videography and web design, most of that information would already be outdated. It’d be about as useful as knowing Windows 98 or having a great plan for making a church MySpace page. 

Dive in to church ministry. 

At the end of the day, practical ministry happens by being involved in practical ministry. It would be a serious mistake to expect seminary to teach you what only the church can teach you. My mentor, Dr. Mike Davis, often says, “Ministry happens in the context of relationship,” and he’s absolutely right. One of the best parts of my seminary experience was being actively involved in a loving, vibrant, and balanced church family. Before I was regarded as an intern, I was regarded as a church member. Actual involvement with real people, outside of the wonderful world of academic instruction, was refreshing. It helped me consider how what I was learning in the classroom applied to people’s lives. Seminary exists for the church, not in place of the church. Christ ordained the local church, not seminaries, for accomplishing His mission in the world.  

Let the church be the church. 

It turns out that God never intended the pastor to be a relationship guru, Greek geek, motivational speaker, business expert, and a tech wiz all rolled into one. Instead, God has a better way of ensuring that the church is able to do what it needs to. It turns out that He has given people in the church gifts and talents that He has not necessarily given the pastor. I’m not good at technology. I can turn my computer on, and use a word processor, but that’s about it.

Thankfully, God has brought individuals to our church who are good at what I’m not. As a Christian, I need my brothers and sisters in Christ—both at our church and at other churches. I need my brothers and sisters in Christ, not just for the nuts-and-bolts of weekly ministry, but the ups-and-downs of daily life. I need their encouragement, accountability, instruction, advice, and even criticism. 

Learn to trust the sufficiency of Scripture. 

II Timothy 3:16-17 and II Peter 1:3 declare that Scripture is our all-sufficient guide for pleasing God. No, it doesn’t give an eight-point set of COVID guidelines or a rubric for evaluating the quality of our media ministry; but it does tell us, for example, that we must love each other and defer to each other in disputable matters (e.g. wearing masks). It tells us that we, as Christians have an obligation to submit to God-given rulers, so long as they don’t try to usurp God’s authority (Romans 13:1-7; Acts 5:29).  And it reveals God’s character and promises that furnish our foundation for getting through all the craziness of our world today. 

So here’s the bottom line. If you’re planning to go into ministry, go to seminary, not to get all the nuts and bolts about everything that could ever happen, but to learn the timeless truth of God’s Word. This alone will carry you through. 


  1. I enjoyed this article because it graciously grabbed me and urged me to look at concrete hope - God revealed through His Word rather than myself. As a current seminarian, I often fall prey to my desire to be the "relationship guru, Greek geek, etc." rather than fully trusting in the the sufficiency of the Spirit's work through the foolishness of preaching. Thanks for this needed and helpful reminder!


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