Written by Derek Cooper
Wednesday, 07 August 2013 00:00
In my book, So You're Thinking about Going to Seminary, I tried to help individuals who were wrestling with the question of whether they should attend seminary. It's an important question, and I addressed any number of issues related to it. One of the first issues I tackled in the book had to do with myths that many people held about seminary. In this blog, I am including five myths about seminary. They will be included as questions, as I often get inquires from prospective students with these types of concerns. In the following blog, I will include five additional myths before bringing the discussion to conclusion.
10 Seminary Myths / Questions
1. Do I have to have a bachelor’s degree in Bible, Religion, or Theology?
No. Most all seminaries allow anyone with a bachelor’s degree to enter. Although seminaries do not necessarily require a certain college major, they generally prefer students who have taken several courses in the liberal arts. In other words, they prefer students who will have studied literature, history, philosophy, logic, and languages. This is because these courses are believed to better prepare you for the types of subjects that you will study in seminary.
What if you have never even taken a class in literature? That is not a problem; it will not keep you out of seminary. When all is said and done, seminaries admit students from every possible undergraduate field available: from architecture to zoology (but, sorry, seminaries do not usually let you dissect cats!). My advice is that in college you should study what you love learning about and what you do well in.
Following this advice may get you a degree in anything from Engineering to a degree in German. (I was a Spanish major, and my first job after seminary was teaching Spanish to high school students.) But any degree is acceptable. You will most likely get more mileage out of your German degree while attending seminary, but a degree in Engineering would always provide you with a back-up job if necessary. I personally know many students who have majored in Engineering and have done very well in seminary. Besides, these students make you laugh as they walk around with Hebrew or Greek cards tied around their belts when studying for language classes! (You will get it when you go to seminary.)
2. Do I have to have years of ministry experience?
No. Because seminaries exist in order to prepare you for ministry, it is not a prerequisite for entrance. You do not go to medical school, after all, because you know how to perform an appendectomy: They are supposed to teach you how to do that—at least the really good ones do! However, seminaries will expect that you have had some involvement in the Christian community. This involvement need not be extensive, but they would like to see some kind of experience on your part—whether as a Sunday school teacher, a youth leader, a summer camp counselor, or something similar. But again, your seminary will help you with this.
If you are not already involved in a local congregation, I would encourage you to become active as soon as possible. It would help you tremendously to spend a couple of months in ministry in some capacity before going to seminary. This activity need not be formal; the important thing is that you get some experience. You may even find out within a week that you are not cut out for such a career. Then you will get to dissect more of those cats after all while in veterinary school!
3 Do I have to take a standardized test of any kind in order to start seminary?
No. Very few seminaries require students to take standardized tests before being granted admission to seminary. Usually all that is required for admission into a basic seminary degree are letters of recommendation (oftentimes from a former professor, your pastor, and a friend), a completed application (with usually includes answering several questions), a marginal fee to cover the time necessary to read and review the materials, and sometimes a telephone conversation.
There are rare exceptions for more academic programs, but the standard seminary degree, the Master of Divinity, does not generally require these types of tests. Standardized testing, at the seminary level, is almost always reserved only for students applying to the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).
4. Do I have to first enter the workplace after graduating from college?
No. Just like the myth above, a seminary will not reject your application as a result of little or no work experience. (I had no experience at all before attending seminary, and I think I turned out all right!) Seminaries would certainly be enthusiastic if they observed that you have had past career experience, but you should not get a job after college just to improve your application. Remember that all schools thrive on diversity. This means that seminaries admit students of all different backgrounds and personal histories: students directly out of college, students who have worked for twenty years, domestic students, foreign students, and students who have traditionally been overlooked or neglected from theological education. Do you have a great opportunity to work for a couple of years before going to seminary? Then do so. If not, go straight to seminary and gain experience along the way. Ultimately everyone has different circumstances, and you must decide when your circumstances are right for attending seminary.
5. Do I have to attend school full time?
No. Many schools these days actually participate in distance learning or they offer classes at non-traditional times. Some classes are held one day a week; on the weekend; in the evening; during the summer; as well partially or fully online. Biblical Seminary, for example, offers a degree for people who work full-time, which can be earned in three years. It’s called the LEAD Master of Divinity, and excels at allowing those with full-time jobs to also attend seminary full-time (and even have a life outside of work and school!). Students take their classes in the evening and on the weekend.
However, for those who want or need to attend seminary part time, most all schools these days allow for this. Many schools, in fact, offer classes online or in a modular format (which means that some class time is held on campus while the rest is offered online). As a result, it is relatively easy to attend seminary on a part-time basis.
Of course, you can always attend full time or part time for a while and then full time. Just bear in mind that the longer you stay in school, the longer it will take to graduate. But by no means rush things for that sake alone. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Are you supporting a spouse and kids? Do you have a mortgage? Are you bankrupt? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to attend school part time so that you can work either part time or full time as well. By contrast, are you debt-free? Are you single? Are you ready to start your career? Then go to school full time. Find a job in the summer or on a part-time basis. Or better yet, do not work at all! Whatever the case, do not fall for the myth that you have to attend seminary full time.
I hope that in these brief questions we have already begun to break some myths about seminary. In the next blog, I will conclude this discussion about myths with some parting words as you continue to think about seminary either for yourself or for someone you know.
Dr. Derek Cooper is assistant professor of world Christian history and director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Biblical. He is the author of several books, including So You’re Thinking about Going to Seminary. His faculty page can be found here: http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/derek-cooper.