The Hansen Report: Reflections of a Recent Seminary Graduate
Grad school establishes ministry patterns that don't end on graduation day.

Spring weather means graduation is coming, ushering in a season of new beginnings for students finishing high school, college, and graduate school. After three years of seminary, I'm a master of divinity. At least that's what the diploma will say. Supposedly I'm now prepared to enter full-time pastoral ministry. If anything, I'm increasingly aware of how much I don't yet know about God, his Word, and shepherding his flock. Maybe that's a healthy place to be.

That said, seminary has been an invaluable time of study and reflection. God has laid a foundation of learning that will support me through what I hope will be decades of faithful ministry, if he tarries. At the outset of this adventure, I benefited from the advice of wise pastors and seminarians who counseled me in how to make the most of this time of preparation. I heeded their charge to settle in a local church and invest myself in congregational ministry, immediately applying what I learned. I grew attached to a few professors who made time for students and cared sincerely about my spiritual and academic development. And I resisted the temptation to expect that a few hours of class per week over the course of a semester could teach me everything I needed to know about systematic theology, biblical Hebrew, or counseling.

A new book edited by Andrew J. B. Cameron and Brian S. Rosner, The Trials of Theology: Becoming a ‘Proven' Worker in a Dangerous Business, captures much of this advice. Both Cameron and Rosner teach at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, where John W. Woodhouse is principal. Woodhouse's contribution to the book, an essay on "The Trials of Theological College," elaborates on some of the most important lessons I learned in seminary.

Most importantly, I learned that knowledge about God cannot replace love for God. Nevertheless, learning about God through his Word should lead us to exult in who he is and what he has done.

"Knowing God is real, not abstract; personal, not just intellectual; and will be displayed in your character and conduct, not your cleverness," Woodhouse writes. "That is why I think it is always helpful to link knowing God with loving God: we seek the kind of knowledge here that changes our affections."

I sometimes wonder whether churches would be encouraged or discouraged if they sat in on a seminary class and observed us students. No doubt God has encouraged me through the students I've spent time getting to know as we shared our fears and dreams for pastoral ministry. At the same time, we graduate students have a fondness for flaunting our knowledge in front of classmates and professors. No one's impressed, but we offenders probably won't learn that lesson until confronted by a sweet old lady in our first church.

May 19, 2010

Displaying 1–5 of 5 comments

Christian theology seminaries

May 26, 2010  6:29pm

Seminary is a great way to get better educated in what you want to specialize. Whether it is taking it a few classes at a time or all at once, it can never hurt you to learn more.

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J.A. Herman

May 21, 2010  7:51am

i could not agree more, i am in bible college, doing my internship this summer. actually i am sitting at my desk right now and i know two things. school is not real ministry, and i dont know as much as i think i know or as much as i should know. But i know something else, that i am not the only one liek that and i know that as time passes i will grow more and more and get to that place that God is bringing me too.

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May 21, 2010  3:47am

Very Good, I have only a few weeks left of my Bible College course in Australia, and I realise that I have gained almost as much from the interaction with friends and teachers as I have learned through the lectures. They have challenged me, inspired me and shown me how to have an intimate relationship with God, and not just an intellectual understanding of who He is.

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May 20, 2010  8:34am

Thoughtful reflection, Collin. Hearing you describe the irreducible necessity of time and relationship and reflection to get the full benefit of the head knowledge you're exposed to in seminary classes, I'm reminded of the observation about gestation: Pregnancy requires nine months, no matter how many women are assigned to the project. Likewise, a seminary education requires time, focus, relationships with mentors–no matter how many convenient online elements are inserted into the course catalog.

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Rob Haskell

May 19, 2010  11:31am

The contradictions we foster on poor seminary students: Do a ton of work - But don't be too busy! Get good grades - But knowledge is not that important! Pay enormous amounts of money for and education that makes you busy and knowledgeable, and trust God for the finances - But you still have to pay the bill.

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