Letters to a Seminarian 6

Chalkboard with words "back to school"

It is mid-August and students across the country are either heading back to school or are already there. This includes those studying for the ministry. There are books to be purchased, syllabi to be read, assignments to be mapped out, study plans to be made. For some this is high excitement, for others necessary drudgery.

There is something else not on the syllabus that you should also consider, because it is important to your formation.

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.
Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

Hebrews 13:7 (ESV)

Along my journey from undergrad freshman to master of divinity, I had a wide range of professors. Not just in Bible and ministry courses; all courses count because all courses give us something. Even if the material is seemingly irrelevant to our chosen pursuit, the content of the character of our instructor still matters.

You can learn something from anyone, even if not everyone’s way of life should be emulated. It is not uncommon to dislike a professor, sometimes because of personality or technique, but sometimes for deeper reasons. I’ve had professors I tried to avoid and professors I sought out. For me, inconsistency was a big discriminator. Treat everyone fairly and with genuine respect and do what you say you’re going to do. Otherwise, I’ll avoid you as much as possible. I would seek out instructors who seemed to genuinely care about their material and their students. You could tell when their subject mattered to them and they got out of bed excited about the prospect of sharing it with someone else.

These things might matter more to me because I’ve always been interested in teaching, but who would you rather learn from? Someone who just reads the same old lecture for 20 straight semesters, or someone who knows their stuff because they find it interesting? Seek to be that way about your chosen field of study.

Not everyone who asks what you are majoring in or what you want to do when you graduate really cares. It’s often easy small-talk once they find out you’re in school. But if you have someone who really wants to know, are you excited about telling them? Does your chosen field really interest you? Would you study it if you didn’t have to be concerned with making a living with it?

This is doubly true for those preparing for ordained ministry. If you aren’t interested in eventually training others to take your place, I’d question your commitment. Not that we all should aspire to be seminary professors. On the contrary, some of the most meaningful preparation for ministry takes place in the pew, not the classroom.

Does your attitude and outlook do anything to encourage someone who might be trying to decide if they want to follow your path? It should. Everything we do should be about helping others know, love, and serve God.

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