I had lunch with one of my former students, one who graduated one month ago, because he wanted to talk about going to seminary. I don’t know why — maybe because I’m accessible through e-mail and this blog or maybe because I’m getting older — but I get asked this question often. So, here’s two considerations that I think everyone thinking of going to seminary ought to think about:
First, the ministry is hard. It’s rewarding as all get out at times, but it is hard. It’s hard on the pastor, it’s hard on the pastor’s spouse, it’s hard on the pastor’s family, it’s hard on the pastor’s friends, it’s hard on the pastor’s seminary teachers. The job doesn’t end at 5pm; it doesn’t seem to bring constant closure. You don’t make lots of money. You don’t often get to spend that much time studying and thinking and praying and pondering. Instead, there are lots of meetings and people to talk things through with. (I’m assuming most are in smaller churches where the buck stops often with the pastor’s energy level.)
Second, before you go to seminary and while you are in seminary be in some kind of ministry. Get a good feel for what it is really like. Forget the idea that a seminary will prepare you to minister and that you’ll wait to minister until you graduate. I have to wonder if “not ministering while in seminary” is a pretty good sign that one doesn’t have the calling. Why do I say this? Ministry isn’t something you “do” but something you are “called to.” It is a vocation, not a job. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong: but if I see a seminary student who isn’t doing anything in ministry I have to wonder why.
Well, those are the two major points I emphasized with Austin. I’m keen on hearing what you might suggest to those who are considering going to seminary.