As the three seminary students who have finished their second year of seminary can attest, second year is probably the toughest year of seminary, but also a year of rich blessings. These go together and there are a couple of reasons for this. First, second year brings a sizable increase in the seminary workload. The biggest part of this increased workload is beginning Exegesis classes. Along with Dogmatics, Exegesis forms the heart of the seminary curriculum. Exegesis is the hard work of studying, interpreting, and expositing a text of scripture. It is the task of bringing out the meaning of a text by developing its concepts, explaining them, and applying them. It is the prayerful labor with the biblical text that produces the material for a sermon. In Exegesis class the students are assigned a passage of scripture to study, explain, and apply. This is done by writing an exegesis paper, an eight to ten page paper that expounds the meaning of the assigned text. Each week (roughly) one student presents his written exegesis in class for discussion, development, and correction by the professor. Suffice to say, Exegesis is some of the most difficult and time-consuming work of the seminary curriculum, yet it is some the most important, formative, and rewarding. By delving into the word of God week after week under the skilled instruction of seasoned professors, the seminarian learns rightly to divide the word of truth. The emphasis placed on exegesis is one of the outstanding characteristics of our seminary’s curriculum. Everything aims at training students to be able exegetes and preachers of the word.
A second addition to the seminarian’s workload in the second year is the beginning of practice preaching. There are many amusing—perhaps a bit exaggerated—stories about the “horrors” of practice preaching that circulate among our people. True it is that practice preaching is often a painful process for the seminary student. Yet it is also a crucial process through which the student grows and develops in his abilities to prepare and deliver sermons. The good fruit of this necessary process is tremendous. Practice preaching is a regular part of the seminary schedule. At the beginning of the semester each student is assigned texts for two sermons they are to write and deliver throughout the semester. On Monday mornings the seminary meets in the sanctuary to hear one or two students deliver the sermons they have prepared. After the sermon is finished, brief criticism is offered by one or two other students who are assigned to evaluate certain aspects of the sermon. Next the main faculty critic presents a thorough evaluation of the sermon in all of its aspects: composition, delivery, exegesis, arrangement and logic, and overall faithfulness to the Reformed faith. Following the comments of the main critic the other professors make additional comments as they deem necessary. The student must then revise the sermon and present it to the faculty for approval. These practice preaching sermons that have been revised and approved by the professors are the sermons that seminary students eventually use in the churches once they are licensed to speak a word of edification.
There are times that the professors have to give severe criticism of sermon and the student must thoroughly rewrite his sermon. It’s a humbling process of the student but also one that builds him up. Practice preaching quickly strips away any notion the student might have that he is “something special.” It teaches him to accept constructive criticism in a healthy way. Reflecting on my own experience I am amazed how much I learned and grew through three years of practice preaching. I dare say every one of my classmates will heartily affirm that going through practice preaching was a tremendous blessing that we are thankful for. We are very thankful for faithful professors who taught and instructed us, who did not hesitate to rebuke and correct us in love, and who committed to us the precious heritage of our most holy faith, that we might be able to teach others also.
Second year is a tough year. But second year is an incredibly enjoyable year, too. “Tough” does not mean “bad” or “undesirable.” There is much excitement in regularly delving into exegesis and writing your own sermons for the first time. As frantically busy as it sometimes made me, I enjoyed second year very much. For the young man pondering the possibility of seminary, I hope you will not let the challenges of seminary discourage you from prayerfully considering and pursuing it. The first year of seminary is good preparation for the second. You will be ready for that work when you get to it. Going through second year will also furnish you with a new level of confidence in your calling. Those whom God calls he qualifies and equips for these challenges. Don’t forget that! As God qualifies and equips you to complete the work one semester at a time, you will receive tangible confirmation of call that you feel. Each year of seminary studies brings much to look forward to.
______________For the month of September we will be posting a few mini blog series from some of the new candidates for the ministry in the Protestant Reformed Churches, each of which were asked by the RFPA to guest write for the RFPA blog. This article was written by Minister-elect Justin Smidstra.