7 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Considering Seminary

Formal theological education is valuable but it may not be for everyone. Here are seven questions you should ask yourself before considering seminary.

More By Abishua Joel

A seminary is an institution that provides formal theological education by equipping people for roles in ministry.

If you are experiencing a growing desire to know Christ and to make him known, you may have contemplated a formal approach to studying God’s Word so that you are properly equipped to handle it.

While there is significant value to it, formal theological education may not be for everyone. Here are seven questions you should ask yourself before considering seminary.

Am I Clear on My Objectives for Pursuing Seminary?

Trite as it may sound, it is necessary to start by asking, “Why?” At the very least, it prompts a preliminary idea of what you want to do after seminary, and serves as a useful starting point to decide if obtaining a degree in theological education is worthwhile.

The right education at the right seminary can give someone the tools and knowledge needed to serve in specific roles of ministry.

It is easy to romanticise the idea of studying God’s Word in a seminary for years, as if it were an extended church camp.

However, pursuing theological education can be expensive in many ways—tuition and fees, living and housing expenses, frequent purchase of books, and the cost of time and effort.

You do not need to have every aspect of your future planned, but you must have clarity on how your seminary education will serve to fulfil your ministry goals.

In the absence of any specific objectives, if you simply desire to study everything you can about God’s Word, it may be wise to take advantage of publicly available and accessible learning options that are free, low-cost, and flexible.

Am I Prepared for the Demands of Academic Life?

It is easy to romanticise the idea of studying God’s Word in a seminary for years as if it were an extended church camp.

The reality is that theological education is not notably distinct from other secular fields of research and study. Every day, you will be expected to attend lectures, take notes, and participate in classroom discussions on a wide range of challenging theological beliefs and doctrines, and read through pages and pages of literature relating to your studies.

As if that were not enough, you will also have to slog through weekly assignments, research papers, periodic exams, and perhaps even a final year thesis which can take months of research and writing to complete.

In addition, most seminaries will require you to fulfil certain practical ministry requirements through engaging in community events and activities, weekly ministry engagements with affiliates, annual internships and so on.

Managing these academic responsibilities along with your commitments to family and the local church can be anything but romantic.

All your efforts in studying will undoubtedly be fruitful, but you should be aware that it might be incredibly challenging.

Am I Seeking and Receiving Godly Counsel, Particularly from My Local Church?

In an age where we are constantly bombarded with post-truth adages such as “follow your heart” and “if it feels right, just do it”, we may be tempted to disregard the reality that “the heart is more deceitful than anything else” (Jer 17:9).

As alluring as it may be to make decisions in a vacuum, doing so deprives you of the immense benefits of the collective wisdom found in your church community, especially your elders or pastors whom God has ordained to shepherd and care for souls.

Our academic study must enrich our participation in the church, while our participation in the life of the church must help us apply our knowledge to life in the seminary.

Your elders are best placed to provide an honest assessment of your calling, spiritual gifts, and maturity. They are also capable of guiding you based on their own experiences of pursuing theological education.

They can advise you theologically, warn you of potential pitfalls, impart practical advice, and connect you with other like-minded individuals.

In our Indian context, there are certain exceptions. Some church leaders may not see the value in seminary education and are more inclined toward experiential learning on the job.

In such complex situations, it is prudent to interact with your leaders as prayerfully and charitably as possible before soliciting opinions from others beyond your group.

Am I Willing to Serve the Local Church While Pursuing My Education?

The demands of seminary life can force you into a tight corner and persuade you that your commitment to the local church can take a back seat for a season.

There is little doubt that transitioning into academics or any other endeavour would involve a degree of reorienting and restructuring for each person.

However, as your involvement at seminary and church overlap, you may feel a justifiable impulse to withdraw from active service and participation in the local church.

As a student, you can justify this by telling yourself it will only be for a few years, until you complete your studies, as you equip yourself to serve them later.

But if the purpose of theological education is to prepare you to serve others more effectively with the deep truths of his Word, we would be doing ourselves and the body of Christ a great disservice by isolating ourselves from people.

Our academic study must enrich our participation in the church, while our participation in the life of the church must help us apply our knowledge to life in the seminary.

God designed us for fellowship. We need others in the body of Christ to pour into us, keep us accountable, and constantly point us to the gospel.

Above all else, we need the local church for it is God’s appointed means of spiritually nourishing and growing us in grace through the Word, sacraments (baptism & communion), and prayer.

Am I Desiring to Immerse Myself in a Specific School of Thought?

Once you have decided to pursue theological education, the decision about where you want to study warrants a separate discussion. 

Yet, often people want theological education because of their affinity for a particular school of thought. To that extent, are you seeking to establish deeper roots in a specific tradition? Have you already committed yourself to a denomination? Do you desire to affiliate yourself with a particular network?

A seminary education only equips you with the tools essential to be lifelong learners.

Perhaps what appeals to you is not a particular tradition or denomination but a reputable academic institution, known for its tolerance and diversity of thought.

Regardless of your inclinations, you will need to evaluate the ethos of any seminary, especially if you desire to pursue one of the formative theological degrees.

The confessions and the presuppositions held by a seminary will shape its curriculum, lectures, readings, and discussions. Consequently, it will shape the interpretation of fundamental Biblical doctrines.

It may be beneficial to know from the outset whether the seminary you are considering is unequivocal on the authority of Scripture and the essentials of the Christian faith.

Am I Convinced That My Seminary Education Cannot Answer All My Questions?

Despite the seeming simplicity of the question, the frustration of unresolved questions is one of the most common challenges seminary students experience.

A seminary is one of the best places to ask all your questions. But in all fairness, seminaries exist primarily to prepare you for ministry to the best extent possible, not to answer all your questions. They simply cannot do that.

Indeed, many students emerge from seminary with even more questions than they had before enrolling. A seminary education only equips you with the tools essential to be lifelong learners.

If you expect theological education to resolve some of your most profound theological questions, you will find seminary quite dissatisfying.

Am I Holding My Ambitions Loosely?

There is no biblical mandate for anyone to communicate the gospel only after completing formal theological training. But if God has called you to ministry, there is significant value in obtaining formal theological education.

So, as Paul exhorted Timothy, we might offer ourselves before God as proven workers who need not be ashamed, correctly teaching the gospel of truth (2 Tim 2:15).

The purpose of theological education is not to outsmart one another but to serve God, according to our calling. To be true to his call is to hold all our ambitions loosely.

In faith, we offer him all our desires and lay them at the foot of the cross, knowing full well that God will use us and our seminary education as he pleases, for his glory, and our good.

A Final Word

I do not want these questions to dissuade anyone from pursuing theological education.

As disconcerting as they may appear, I want to encourage you to prayerfully contemplate how the Lord may be guiding you through this journey of discerning the role of seminary in your future.

If God enables you to pursue seminary, jump in with both feet. It can be one of the most invigorating times of your life as you immerse yourself in the splendour of his Word and the fellowship of his people.