Book Review: 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me

41nz6oBmELL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Seminary was a great experience. I gained a ton of knowledge about the Bible, theology, and ministry practices. However, I quickly learned that full-time ministry came with a host of things seminary never prepared me for. There are some things you can’t learn in seminary and the only place you’re going to learn them is in the thick of ministry.

That is what this book is all about. 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me is an easy read that includes short chapters from various writers on topics you will not learn in seminary. These are topics you will only learn as you pursue ministry in the local church. Some of these topics are things like what to do when your church is dying, leading your wife, managing volunteers, handling conflict, and knowing when to leave your church. All these topics and more are talked about and the reader is given practical insight into each of these important topics.

I really enjoyed this book and there are few things stood out to me about that I’d like to mention. First, it has a Gospel and Biblical focus. The writers are not just talking about these topics and giving their opinions on what to do. The advice and application given in each area is Gospel-centered and based upon Scripture. The writers call the reader to remember the Gospel frequently and encourages them to obey God’s Word in these areas. Second, the chapters are short and practical. The topics are not beat to death but instead hit on in a timely and focused manner. Each chapter includes a ton of practical things the reader can apply to their own ministry context. Third, seminary is upheld as an important thing but not the only thing. The writers don’t bash seminary. They instead talk highly of it but are honest about its weaknesses and shortcomings. One writer says, “We do not intend to denigrate the valuable work of seminaries. Rather, we want to help young pastors, seminary students, and other aspiring ministers learn from our experience how God fits a man to be a faithful and effective minister” (page 145).

I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who is either in or has attended seminary and desires to go into local church ministry. I would also encourage those currently in ministry to read this book and gain some practical insight on these important topics.

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Guest Post: If You Want to Be a Youth Pastor, Why Bother with Seminary?

Slide1Youth ministry is a vital part of the body of Christ. It’s not something that should be taken lightly, and those whom God has entrusted with this task are both privileged and held to a high standard of obedience. Youth ministry should be more than “fun and games” and God calls His people (including students) to a much higher standard than that. When it comes to being a youth pastor some may say, ““Don’t all you have to do is be good with kids, and keep them busy?” but there’s honestly so much more to it than that. God wants “faithful men” (2 Tim. 2:2) who will serve His church by reaching the lost and equipping those who believe. In order to do this, a youth pastor must be prepared himself. I would argue that someone entering into/already in vocational youth ministry should highly consider training at the seminary level, and pursue it if possible. There’s so much more to youth ministry than we realize, and training as a leader in God’s church is something that must be taken seriously. Here’s a few reasons to consider seminary if you are in (or will one day be in) youth ministry:

So you can accurately teach students the bible. A youth pastor’s job isn’t simply to create energy-filled, adrenaline-laced events or play crazy, fun, and sometimes straight up gross icebreaker games. A youth pastor’s primary responsibility is to teach students the Bible. This takes a lot of time and energy to be done right, but it’s what God expects of those who are leading His church, and youth ministry is no exception. Acts 6:4 speaks of the apostles delegating other responsibilities to deacons so they could devote themselves to prayer to the ministry of the word. In order to know how to study God’s Word, one must know how to do it effectively. A seminary degree can be one of the tools that God uses to equip someone in youth ministry to do this. Never think that students aren’t intellectual enough for you to go deep with them in the Scriptures. Students go to school and they learn physics, calculus, and trigonometry, they can learn the Bible! One who goes to seminary and then goes into youth ministry has by no means wasted his degree and it should never be seen as something that can’t be applied; actually he’s been given valuable tools for youth ministry that many have not gotten the chance to receive. A youth pastor should take his responsibility of teaching the Bible seriously, and seminary will aid that ambition. The primary responsibility of a youth pastor is to study the Bible in order to accurately teach the Bible to students.

So you can effectively serve as a leader in the local church. We live in a society where education is highly esteemed. More and more organizations are requiring a college education or further schooling for their applicants. The church is no exception to this trend, and there are many churches in America that will not consider anyone applying who’s not received a seminary degree. The educational emphasis churches are placing on their candidates appears to be a growing trend, and shows that they are placing a high emphasis on the training of God’s servants. I’m not saying that this is how all churches should be, or that you won’t be an equipped pastor without a seminary degree, I’m just pointing out the reality that today’s churches place a huge emphasis on education. I personally believe this is a good thing, and that as a youth pastor, one should desire to be well equipped effectively serve in the local church.

So you can be ready for ministry after youth ministry. I love youth ministry! I sensed God calling me to this vocation my freshman year of high school. I told God I would do this, and He’s been so gracious in giving me several youth ministry opportunities so far in my life. I’m now 22, and am about to begin seminary this January. I’d love to do full-time, pastoral youth ministry until I’m 80 years old, but I know that’s probably not going to happen. There usually comes a point in a youth pastor’s career (usually around the time he turns 40) that he transitions out of youth ministry and into another ministry role. When that day arrives for me, I want to be ready for what God has for me. I want to do youth ministry as long as God allows me to, but I know there will be a day where it will be time for a new ministry phase in life. Having said that, it’s important to think long-term with your ministry career. Most likely, you won’t be a youth pastor forever, and what will God have for after that? Don’t just prepare to be a youth pastor, but prepare to be a pastor who ministers the gospel. Think not only of your role now (or the near future) as a youth pastor, but also your role as someone who will be preaching the gospel for the rest of your life! You will be doing that to students, but you will also have other opportunities speaking to other age groups, and you will most likely have a different title other than “youth pastor” on your desk one day. Seek to be well trained in the gospel for the duration of your ministry, and be ready for ministry after youth ministry.

As I mentioned earlier, youth ministry is a high calling, and should never be taken lightly. Seminary is not something you “have” to do, no one went to seminary in the Bible, but I would encourage you to highly consider it if you are in youth ministry. If you don’t think that it’s feasible, go to God about it, and ask Him what He would have you do. I personally didn’t think that it would be possible for me to attend seminary a year ago, but God worked it out for me to attend this spring. Take God’s work seriously, take the students lives in which you are ministering to seriously. Strive to do what’s best, even if it’s not what’s easiest or convenient. Love the gospel, and be passionate about training for something as big as the love of Jesus, and the fact that you get to share it!

This guest post was written by one of my best friends Mark Etheridge. Mark is currently living in Durham, NC working on a Master’s of Divinity Degree through Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Book Review: The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham

I normally don’t review the the books I read for my seminary classes, but this is I couldn’t pass up without writing a quick review. This book was one of the best leadership books I have read in awhile. It’s practical yet extremely profound as it shares the leadership principles that directed Billy Graham’s life and ministry.

One of the best things a leader can do is learn from those that have gone before them. As leaders take the time to learn about what made so many great leaders truly great leaders, they will gain insights and principals that will help them become a great leader as well. What better leader to learn from than Billy Graham. Billy Graham was a national leader who saw thousands comes to Christ and made a divine impact on this world. I’m sure there are things you disagree with when it comes to Billy Graham, but the one thing we can all agree on is that he was a great leader. Therefore, he is a leader that other leaders would benefit to learn from.

This is what the book The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham does. It shares the various leadership principals that shaped Graham’s life and ministry. The two authors, Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley, who both work for Christianity Today, a ministry started by Billy Graham himself, do an excellent job at sharing practical and powerful leadership principles that will help leaders today. They go through topics such as how Graham formed a team, how he handled money, how he learned from failure, how he led with love, and much more.

I found this book not only encouraging, but extremely helpful in my own leadership. I took away many practical applications that directly apply to my leadership right now. I recommend this book to anyone who is in a leadership position, church leadership or not, you will find this book extremely helpful.

Balancing Seminary and Ministry

One of the things I considered when planning for seminary was: am I going to do it full-time on campus or would I do it part-time, and maybe even full-time, online as I work in vocational ministry. I knew the latter would be hard and require discipline, but I wanted to get my feet wet in vocational ministry and didn’t want to wait for a few years while I was on campus as a seminary students. So I decided to do seminary online while pursing vocational ministry at a local church.

I’m only four classes into seminary, so by no means am I an expert at this yet, but I have been learning a few things about how to balance my seminary work with my ministry work. It’s a delicate balance that requires discipline and hard work. Here are a few things that have helped me with this balancing act that may be a help to you if your in the same place I am.

Take a day off to focus 100% on seminary. This has been the biggest help to me so far in this journey. Taking a day off during the week, for me Mondays, and focusing just on my seminary work is a great way to stay on top of your seminary work while staying busy in the ministry world. Find the weekday that works best for you, and stick with it. Don’t schedule any meetings or do any ministry work, find a quite place and work on your seminary stuff. Your ministry stuff will be waiting for you tomorrow, no worries!

Get ahead on your seminary work. Another way to balance seminary and ministry is to get ahead on whatever class work you can. On that day off, get extra reading done and get started on the next paper. Don’t wait until the week something is due to work on that assignment. Stay a week ahead. This will help you focus on your ministry work without feeling like your falling behind in your classes.

Don’t take too many classes. One of the biggest reasons people struggle with balancing seminary and ministry is because they take way too many classes. If you feel like God has called you to do vocational ministry while in seminary, make sure your giving yourself enough time to serve Him well in your ministry. Take a few classes so you stay on track with your program, but don’t overload yourself. Ministry seasons where it’s really busy, like summer for me since I am in youth ministry, take only one or two classes. When there is a season in ministry that you may have more free time, take a few more classes. Be wise and use discernment when planning your classes.

These are just three of the many ways I am learning how to balance seminary and ministry. In our culture, we are blessed with online education so we can serve God in vocational ministry while we do seminary. But remember, we need to be wise with our time so continue figuring out how you can balance seminary with your ministry.

I originally wrote this post for The Baptist Resource blogThe Baptist Resource is a great website ran by Greg Moore, an adjunct professor of religion and church history and a former college registrar. The Baptist Resource is a great site that provides practical advice and information on college/seminary education.

How and Where I Ended Up in Seminary

During my last few semesters at Piedmont International University, I started to think about seminary. I thought, “Do I even want to spend a few more years in school? Or, if I do attend seminary, do I want to work on a M. Div. or shorter Master’s program?” Eventually, after a lot of thought, prayer, and wise counsel I decided to attend Liberty Baptist Theological Baptist Seminary and decided to work on a Master’s of Arts in Religion with a specialization in Christian Leadership online. I wanted to take a few moments and explain how I decided the seminary track I am on and hopefully help you if your on the fence about seminary. Before I share my thoughts, I want to make one thing clear. I do not believe the way I am doing seminary is the only way to go about doing seminary work. There are many options and ways to go about it, but here is why I chose what I am doing.

Master’s of Arts in Religion. As much as I respect the M. Div. program and the practical, pastoral education it gives you, I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend that many more years in school and if seminary was even going to be a good fit for me. So I decided to start a MAR that is somewhat smaller than the M. Div. If you want a good, professional seminary degree that is not an M. Div., go for the MAR. One of the reasons I chose this route is because at most school’s the MAR can roll into an M. Div. that you can finish in another year or two. The MAR is a great degree because it allows you to continue in seminary if you’re financially and willing to do so.

Christian Leadership. Like the M. Div., when you take the MAR, you get to choose a particular specialization. I decided to specialize in Christian Leadership because I believe leadership is an extremely important part of church ministry that we do not focus on a lot. If you’re planning on being in local church ministry in a pastoral role you need to focus on leadership. Our churches need people who are trained leaders. Even if you’re not going into church ministry, leadership is an important aspect in business and family. I am going into full-time student ministry. Part of having an effective student ministry is building a team of leaders to help you serve students. Studying leadership in seminary is helping me become a better team builder, how to handle conflict in leadership, and how to be the right kind of leader in a local church.

Liberty Theological Baptist Seminary. There are so many good seminaries and graduate schools to choose from these days. I decided to go with Liberty for a few reasons. First, I love the legacy of Jerry Falwell and what he did with Liberty University. I respect the school and what the school has and continues to stand for. Second, they are extremely well-known. I went to a relatively unknown school for my undergrad. I wanted to go somewhere more well-known for seminary. I know we shouldn’t judge people by where they went to seminary, but a lot of churches will look for candidates that are from particular schools or schools that are more popular. Third, I went with Liberty because of their great online education.

Online. If you enjoy the classroom setting and learning in person from a professor, than make sure you attend a seminary on campus. Online education is not for everyone. If you can learn well and stay motivated by online work, than look into doing seminary online. Doing seminary online through Liberty is the most affordable seminary you will find. I went with online for two main reasons. First, it was cheaper and I didn’t want to spend too much on seminary. Second, I wanted to get into full-time ministry. If you want to jump straight into full-time ministry after undergrad, than do seminary online. It allows you to work on your education while doing what you love, ministry!

Seminary is not a walk in the park. I am only a few classes into my seminary degree, but I can already tell it’s not a repeat of your undergrad years. If you’re a first year student in seminary like me, I found this article that includes 10 tips for surviving your first year of seminary. If you can afford it and feel like it’s God’s will, pursue seminary. It’s something that will greatly help your future in ministry.

I originally wrote this post for The Baptist Resource blog. The Baptist Resource is a great website ran by Greg Moore, an adjunct professor of religion and church history and a former college registrar. The Baptist Resource is a great site that provides practical advice and information on college/seminary education.