5 myths about seminary & why they don't have to hold power over you
Updated: Jun 6
Theological education is such a rich opportunity, one that can help us grow in grace and knowledge of the Triune God, but many potential seminarians are held back from beginning because of one of these myths.
Myth #5 "I can't fit seminary into my life, because of work, church, or family."
Seminary education traditionally required students to commit full time, making it difficult or impossible to sustain employment, and often requiring students to move (if applicable, with their families) to a new location, cutting ties to church, community, and family at home.
None of this is true now.
While full-time, residential seminary is a rich experience for students who can make that work, many students cannot do so.
At Northern Seminary, most of our students work full time, in or out of the church, while sustaining commitments to church and family.
Northern Seminary offers students personalized flexibility so they can pursue their callings and answer the call to theological education. Some students take one class at a time, some take two or more. Classes are offered in late afternoon or evening time slots or as one week intensives, which makes it possible for students to fit that class into their week of work and other commitments.
This may sound less than encouraging, though, because surely it means giving up on the community experience that one hopes for in seminary? But it doesn't have to mean that. I see my students build community in many interesting ways. Some programs are on a cohort model, so students journey through their degree together.
And online classes are not a disembodied experience of reading messages at two in the morning. Northern's online classes are in real time, so students online and students in the classroom on Northern's campus are in real conversation and relationship with one another.
Great technology makes this work seamlessly. As a teacher with years of experience in the classroom, a real time online class at Northern feels like a real time class in a classroom.
Students tell me that time in class to discuss ministry with their colleagues is one of the most valued parts of their experience.
Myth #4 "Studying theology and the Bible is too difficult, too intimidating. Most of us aren't cut out for it."
I never want to underestimate just how intimidating biblical and theological studies usually seems. I get it. To study the things of God is a mighty task. And the thought of doing so with professors and other students looking on adds to the sense of weight here.
All I can say is this: every Christian is a theologian. Every Christian studies the Bible (hopefully). Seminary is an opportunity to do so better, to go deeper, to study in conversation with the Body of Christ, in community.
Biblical and theological study is absolutely serious, but it should not be fear-inducing. The Bible is God's word of love to us. Theology is us talking about the Bible and how to be faithful in our world.
I think we need to reframe our idea of the seminary community from "intimidating" to "encouraging."
These are actually great questions to ask at seminaries you might be interested in attending; "what kind of classroom environment do professors encourage?" "What is the student culture in and out of the classroom?"
In my time at Northern seminary, I've been floored and delighted by how warm my students make the classroom community. The place doesn't feel like a cold examination room. It feels like a friendly church, where the congregants are using call and response to encourage one another in praise and love of God.
I'm a theology teacher, and I promise I am not intimidating. I care about people's ordinary lives. I have a quite ordinary life myself. And my deepest calling is to open theology up to students and the church, to show people how it is life-giving and beautiful and how it matters for our ordinary lives.
If you're intimidated by the thought of yourself in a seminary classroom, I encourage you to sit in on a class with us at Northern seminary. I feel confident you'll feel the welcome and encouragement there.
Myth #3 "Seminaries are hostile to faith. I've been warned I'll lose my faith if I go to seminary."
Can it happen? Yes.
Are there nasty currents in theological education where some teachers might even pride themselves on breaking down faith? There are.
Don't go to those seminaries.
But many, many, seminaries are rich communities of faith where faith is built up and treasured and nurtured as the gift that it is.
This is not to say that theological education won't change or deepen your faith. It's the serious business of a serious God who wants to transform each and every one of us in the image of Jesus Christ.
But that change and deepening should never be hostile to the love of God you already know in Jesus Christ. It shouldn't be dismissive of the life of the church.
It has never been my experience that the study of the things of God is a threat to my faith. In fact, the opposite has been strongly true.
To learn more about who God is and what God has done in the world, to dig deep into the Scriptures and better understand them, to think in academic and Christian community about how these things matters for discipleship and ministry; all of this has always been food for faith in my life.
The longer I study and teach theology, the more I love God and care for the church.
Myth #2 "Seminary education is for pastors, but it isn't for me, because I'm called to a different kind of ministry, or I'm still exploring the specifics of my call."
Seminary is great for traditional pastors. It will absolute equip them in their callings. But seminary is also a place where Christian leaders with many different callings find the knowledge, skills, and empowerment they need to meet those callings faithfully.
I have students who are pastors.
Students who are associate pastors.
Students who are in children's ministry, youth ministry, and care ministries.
Students who are spiritual directors.
Students who write curricula or lead in parachurch and discipleship organizations or nonprofits.
I have students whose main vocation is to write books and students who come to seminary to support their callings in the arts.
I have students who feel called, as lay people with completely "secular" jobs, to better equip other lay people and who come to seminary to be prepared for the task.
And I've seen many students come to seminary with a sense that God is calling them to something unknown, who discover the specifics of that call through the process of seminary education.
Not being a "lead pastor" is no obstacle to coming to seminary or to being enriched by your experience in theological education.
Myth #1 "Seminary is not for people like me."
This is myth number 2 rehashed and inflated.
Many people have been told these lies.
Seminary is not for women.
Seminary is not for people from communities like mine.
Seminary is only for young people.
Seminary is for people from other church traditions.
Seminary is only for philosophy majors. Or people who are really good at languages. Or people who have it all together. Or people who already know a lot about the Bible. Or....
And we internalize these lies.
It's easy to believe we're not smart enough, faithful enough, important enough, or just the "right" kind of person to do this thing.
Speak back to the lies.
There are healthy, wonderful seminary communities ready to embrace you and build you up.
I'm praying for you.
Sweet Holy Spirit,
May those who are drawn to seminary but are afraid they're not "enough" know they are beloved. They are gifted. They are called. And You are ready to go with them on the journey.
I know this whole thing reads like a commercial for Northern seminary, and I suppose it is, in a way, but that comes from my excitement about our mission and work and the way we are committed, at Northern, to clearing away the myths I've described. There are other great seminaries, too, but we'd love to meet you at Northern.
Join us via zoom for our next Taste of Northern event and come see what God is up to at Northern and how you can imagine yourself as a part of it.
Taste of Northern: May 17, 2022
Whether you’re just wondering what seminary is like; seriously considering enrolling; or want to feel what class is like again, Taste of Northern is for you. Experience class discussion, student testimonies and faculty interaction.
During this one day event, you will have the opportunity to talk with our admissions staff and sit in on one of the courses currently being held at Northern. Our admissions team and classes will be available via our Northern Live technology.
Click below to sign up. Questions? Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org