Anyone who has talked to a seminary student or asked his pastor about his years in seminary will likely hear stories about the many great challenges of those years. The work is often difficult, and the amount of work that is placed before the students can be overwhelming for even the most gifted students. Seemingly every student of the seminary has some story to tell of a painful practice preaching session or a graded paper filled with a flood of red ink.
While those difficulties and challenges are real, they are only a small part of the story. It’s a shame that the “headline” about seminary training that most everyone sees or hears is “DIFFICULT.” And if that is the only thing that comes to mind regarding seminary, that is an incomplete, and therefore, an unfair perspective.
What’s missing from that perspective is the wonderful privilege of studying in the seminary. If the difficulties, challenges, and sacrifices of seminary are great, the privileges and benefits of studying in the seminary are far greater.
Here are just a few of the personal benefits of seminary training:
- As with all education, there is much growth in knowledge, and the knowledge imparted in seminary is of the highest quality, a spiritual, life-giving quality. The words of instruction in seminary are the words of eternal life, imparting knowledge of the one true God. There are many people who have the privilege of being students, but not all have the privilege of giving themselves to the study of the very words of God.
- Seminary humbles The doctrines of grace humble you, showing you your unworthiness. The amount of work humbles you, showing you your frailty and turning your attention to God. The correction of professors humbles you, showing you your errors and ignorance. The truths expounded in the scriptures also humble you, by showing you your sin and leading you to Christ. In these ways and more, the student is humbled, and in this he is prepared to be a servant of Christ and his church.
- Seminary training is also a wonderful means of sanctification. Sanctification is God’s work of making us holy, and that work is performed by the Spirit through the means of grace. Sitting under the faithful instruction of professors is no different than sitting under the preaching of the word in church. There is the true privilege of seminary training: the daily practice of engaging in the means of grace and growing daily in the knowledge of God transforms the student’s heart. The men who walk through the seminary doors on that first fall morning are not the same as those who walk out four years later. God works powerfully in the hearts of seminary students through their training, transforming their hearts so that they are ready to serve in God’s house.
- What about those difficulties? They have their benefits too. The student grows in his ability to read and write. He learns how to communicate effectively. He learns how many hours there are in a day (not enough), and how to be most productive in the time he is given. The difficulties and challenges of the work teach the student discipline, perseverance, patience, and trust. They force him to labor with a conscious dependence on the grace of God for the needs of both body and soul.
Prospective seminary students should not be discouraged from pursuing the gospel ministry by the stories of how difficult the training is. Seminary is challenging, but it is such a privilege as well. And while no man should enter seminary solely for the purpose of personal development, it’s only fair that the whole story is told.
The benefits will begin early on in the training. Taking pre-seminary Greek early in the morning isn’t easy for everyone, but as one emeritus professor told me, “The study of the original languages opens up grand vistas of the truths of the scriptures.” He was right, and those vistas are beautiful, even life-changing.
The benefits continued throughout the four years of seminary. Every day, the scriptures were expounded to us. Every day we were confronted by some truth concerning our majestic God and his wonderful works. Every day, we were humbled, corrected, instructed, and built up by truths of scripture and given the tools to do the same both for ourselves and others.
The calling of the ministry is weighty, and the challenges of seminary are significant and sometimes difficult to overcome. But ultimately, the most difficult obstacles are often the most beneficial, for they teach the student to labor with a dependence on the grace of God rather than his own strength. In the end, the seminary student receives four years of heart-shaping instruction. That instruction, the Lord willing, will benefit both the students personally and the churches they serve.
This article was written by David Noorman who has been declared a candidate for the ministry in the Protestant Reformed Churches of America.