Friday, November 7, 2014

Survivor's Guide to Seminary, Post #1 (Introductory Remarks)

Seminary works best, in my opinion, when you approach it with a plan and with intentionality.

So you’ve decided to go to seminary, eh? Nice work and great decision! I don't think there’s really any other educational experience like it. In fact, that’s pretty much what you’ll be told all along the way starting on day one. Question though—is it true?

Yes and no.

In many ways it is true. Seminary often marks the beginning of a significant chapter in one’s life, a chapter characterized by deep faith and spirituality. Perhaps the decision for seminary was made because you sensed a calling from God? Your work in seminary is going to prepare you for work in the church, or the mission field, and any other of the thousands of ways you can serve in the kingdom of God. Perhaps you have designs on entering the academy – being a professor of theology or doing biblical research in a university environment? The preparation for such ventures often begins with the work one will do in seminary – and there’s really nothing else like it that will serve as a bridge to these vocations.

But in other ways, seminary is essentially a generalized graduate school experience that shares so many of the same challenges that other graduate programs offer. In this way it is not a unique educational experience. It is like many other experiences: there’s lots of reading and writing, critical thinking, and seemingly endless project deadlines. Just like your colleagues in grad programs around the nation, you’ll do your fair share of “suffering” for the degree you are pursuing. It’s all part of the fun.

But though the seminary does share much in common with other master’s level work one might do (though often it is more expansive), the things that make it unique are important and special, and what you need is a guide of sorts—a wee little book like this that will offer you the necessary direction so you can be assured of success—in terms of the grade book, vocational preparation, and your spiritual life.

Hence: A series of blog reflections and guide I'm calling The Survivor’s Guide to Seminary!

So why should you read these posts as a guide to your future? Good question. 

The primary advantage of these posts is that I’m writing them in the last semester of my Master of Divinity work. I’m getting ready to graduate, so I thought, “What better way to celebrate than by penning a little ‘hitchhiker’s guide to the seminary’ for those coming on in behind me?” 

Wait, what? “You’re just now finishing?” you ask. Yes, I’m just now finishing.

I think one of the strengths of this guide is that it is being written at a time when so much of the advice I think a student needs is still very fresh on my mind. In other words, the resources and advice I offer is very fresh –and all because I am just finishing. Besides, the price is right, eh?

Let me articulate a little more fully why I think you should use this guide. When I applied to seminary, I looked for some helpful guides too. Here’s what I found:

Several of the books I used to prepare for seminary were written by professors who had long ago forgotten what it was like to show up as a student with very little seminary knowledge. Granted, the books were of good quality, but I wondered if they would really connect with me as a student. In some ways they did, but I found I needed more. There was something these preparation guides didn’t offer.

Several of the books were written by students who had long moved on from their seminary education into high flying doctoral programs. Again, it was a problem of distance. Their experience seemed too far removed from my own.

Hence: The Survivor’s Guide to Seminary

But there are other advantages too. Though I admit this in a humble way, I’ve had a little success as a student in seminary—and I’d like to point you to the way I’ve done it—the attitudes, tools, and resources which have helped me have success in my journey. 

Another advantage is that I have been a student in higher education for quite a while—over ten years—and because I entered seminary in my thirties while married with two children, I’ve taken the pursuit of my education very seriously. The gravity (and techniques) of my own pursuit I now pass along to you in book form. You’re welcome, grasshopper.

One final advantage of this guide is that I haven’t always been involved in the seminary (ministry, theological) world. My college education is in biology, and when I arrived at seminary I was in many ways a very non-traditional student. I had worked as a biologist. I had lived in the lab. I had done other things. In my opinion, this gives me an advantage for writing this book. My other experiences have given me perspectives and discipline that has served me well in seminary. This guide will share them with you.

In the end, I believe seminary is a very special and unique educational path. You’re in for an adventure and a tremendous period of intellectual and spiritual growth in your life. And I want to help you.

I recommend doing some deep thinking though—strategic thinking—about what you’re getting yourself into and where you want to go with this opportunity. Seminary works best, in my opinion, when you approach it with a plan and with intentionality. My hope is that The Survivor’s Guide to Seminary will be an essential resource for your success! Of course, I want you to do more than survive—I want you to thrive! I believe that if you heed my advice in these posts you will be well on your way—with God’s help—to a bright future in whatever vocational roles you decide to use your seminary training to pursue. If in some small way I have been a part of your success, my prayer for you and this guide has been answered. 

Now—onward and upward! In my next post on Monday, I'll explore how you can prepare your mind for seminary...