It’s the beginning of another seminary semester. Several hundred new students have enrolled in classes that have started this week and the education of another batch of pastors, missionaries, teachers, and other faithful servants of Christ has begun.
This is always an exciting time on campus. The energy level that the students bring to campus can be sensed as we sing together in chapel, see people in the library, and interact on the walkways.
At the same time, when new members are introduced into a community, there are always periods of adjustment as the new faces (and sometimes the returning ones) try to figure out how to relate to people around them. What does it look like to be a seminary student?
I think there are (at least) three categories that need to be discussed along these lines for beginning students. There are three basic, and new, relationships that an incoming seminary student needs to develop.
What about my relationship with God?
Even though students that come to seminary do so for the purpose of gaining skills and knowledge that are helpful for serving God, one of the first things that gets neglected in the hustle of seminary life is often the vertical relationship with God.
Seminary takes years to complete. It often requires students with families to work full-time and take classes on the side. Or, it requires them to take classes full-time with a part-time job. In addition to that, there are ministry opportunities, the needs of family, and general life situations that pile up.
It is easy for a seminary student to neglect his or her first love--the Triune God.
Therefore, the first advice every seminary student needs to hear every semester is to be a good disciple first and foremost. Everything else must fit into place around that.
Churches need pastors who are personally holy more than professionally competent. Education in languages, biblical studies, theology, and history fill in some of the professional competence. Seminary cannot, however, make a student holier.
Students need to make growing in their relationship with Christ the first priority. Don’t let devotional Bible reading, Scripture memory, and Christian fellowship slip because you have a paper due.
What about my relationship with students?
Seminary can be a time of growth, personally, spiritually, and intellectually.
For many new seminarians, this is the first time they have had real contact with someone who doesn’t share some of the same doctrinal convictions as others. Here at Southeastern we are mostly Baptist, but there are numerous places where there is diversity amongst the faculty and students with regard to interpretation of biblical passages.
Beyond core support for central tenets of orthodoxy and certain aspects of Baptist identity, Southeastern has latitude for faculty and students to nuance a variety of doctrines. Hence, in our classrooms and meetings, there will be five point Calvinists sitting next to three pointers, with a few classical Arminians thrown into the mix. There will be dispensationalist pre-millenials sitting next to amillenial believers engaging in learning God's word.
This is a healthy mix as long as students from any theological persuasion keep a few things in mind.
1. Outside of basic beliefs central to orthodoxy, there should be room for gracious discussion on topics. Just because “you’ve always heard” does not mean it was ever correct. Students come to seminary to learn something, not just to be reinforced in their existing beliefs in every case. This means that conversations need to be gracious and seasoned with salt.
2. Other students are people, too. Even the foaming at the mouth egalitarian deserves respect as a person made in the image of God. You will have more success convincing them of your position if you listen and then dialogue rather than blasting their character for believing differently than you. Additionally, it is possible they (like you) haven’t figured everything out and some of the course reading will help to shape their understanding as the program goes on.
3. Other students paid to hear the professor, not you. While your opinion may be significant to you and your immediate circle of friends, you are a student. This means that class time is not the opportunity for you to lecture your fellow students (or the professor) on the book you happened to have read or the sermon series your pastor preached once upon a time. Respect other people’s time and financial investment during class. Grind your axe in the hallway after class.
What about my relationship with professors?
This is one of the more important aspects of your time at seminary and it can impact how successful you are.
The professors at Southeastern, and most others, are godly men and women who have invested years of their lives in getting terminal degrees and ministering to the body of Christ. They didn’t get into teaching for the money. They want to help equip students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission.
Part of equipping you is teaching you how to deal respectfully with people, whether in person or in electronic communication.
Your professors are not your best friends. Even though your English profs at your liberal arts school may have allowed you to call them by their first name in class, this should not be an assumed privilege for seminary professors. Once you graduate and move to a church, there will be people you need to treat with professional respect and formality.
Calling someone by their appropriate title (Dr., Mrs., Mr., etc.) does not mean that they are a more valuable person than you. It does, however, demonstrate respect for their position. It also helps establish a healthy learning environment which, while cooperative, recognizes the expertise of the individual leading the class.
Additionally, although many of your professors actually exist outside of the classroom and may have an informal relationship with you at church or on social media, this does not collapse the professionalism required in the classroom. There is room for banter, but allow your professors to be professional in the classroom.
Although social media lends itself to banter and fun in the electronic world, Direct Messages and Facebook comments are not the place to ask about your assignments (which are detailed in the syllabus) or why you got a ‘D’ on the paper you wrote so poorly.
Professionalism in the classroom makes everyone’s life a little better.
Are there things I’ve missed? Write your suggestions below.