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The Surprising Reason Women Go to Seminary

And what it can teach churches about discipling women.

As a result, there is a common assumption about what Christian women want. That assumption is precisely why evangelical women are going to seminary. Many of the women I interviewed saw a need. They craved deeper teachings for themselves, and they also wanted to help provide it for others.

Craving Education

Roughly a third of the women I interviewed specifically named the academic aspect of the M.Div. as a motivation for their enrollment. For these women, seminary wasn't just about getting the degree and going into ministry—they wanted to know Scripture on a deeper level. Nearly all of the women had enrolled in seminary in order to "get equipped," but they also "loved studying the Bible," and some were especially excited to learn the languages. This latter finding was unexpected, because Greek and Hebrew—basic requirements for most M.Div. degrees—can be a deterrent to potential students. Aspiring pastors and church leaders are not always keen to learn ancient languages, when their primary passion is leading people to Jesus. But I spoke with women who "fell in love with studying Greek" during their undergraduate studies, and wanted to learn more. Others viewed the original languages as a mine of undiscovered biblical treasures, and were eager to dig for new insights.

Some of the women went so far as to describe their education as a "personal retreat." Seminary had so benefitted their grasp of Scripture and the depth of their faith that one woman suggested all Christians should take seminary classes at one time or another. While I suspect seminary is too costly a "retreat" for most, this language describes the kind of passion I encountered while talking with these women. Clearly, theology is not just a male endeavor. Evangelical women want meatier teaching grounded in the Word of God, and they aren't always finding it in the resources and messages offered to them. Which leads us to their second motivation.

Filling a Need

Half of the women I interviewed identified a "need" in the church that they felt called to address. One woman worked with urban youth in her city, where she witnessed the blight of poverty and broken families, and she felt called to help. Another women sat under church teachers who, she believed, were ill-equipped for the task, so she decided to get an education of her own. One woman was disappointed by the resources available to women and women's ministries, so she hoped to contribute alternatives. One felt called to "be a witness to God being a God for Asian Americans," a message that has not always translated well across cultures. Yet another believed local churches were terribly undereducated on matters of bioethics and pro-life ideology, and wanted to change the status quo. These examples represent only a few of the unique "felt needs" described by women in my research.

JuneSpring29, 2017 at 8:00 AM

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