Written by Derek Cooper
Friday, 09 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 the previous blog, I discussed five myths about seminary. In this blog, I will discuss five additional ones, before offering some final comments about seminary myths. As before, these myths will be included as questions, as I often get inquires from prospective students with these types of concerns.
10 Seminary Myths / Questions
6. Do I have to know exactly what I’m going to do upon graduation?
No. You definitely do not need to know what you are going to do after seminary - only that you are called to go to seminary. Remember that most of us did not go to college completely sure of what we wanted to study or do for the rest of our lives. And for those who did know this, they probably changed their minds! You can go to seminary without knowing whether you want to be a teacher, a pastor, an administrator, or a layperson. In addition to the different programs and classes that you will take, both faculty/staff and fellow students can help you figure out exactly what you are going to do upon graduation (while you are still in seminary).
Nevertheless, it would naturally be helpful to have a good indication before you enter so as to save money, time, and frustration. I personally went to seminary not knowing exactly what I would end up doing. Would I be a missionary, a pastor, a teacher, or none of the above? What mattered most was that I believed that I was supposed to go to seminary. The rest fell into place while I was there. If that describes your situation, go to seminary. While in school, you will get a better feel for your interests and abilities.
7. Do I have to be a pastor?
No. The general makeup of seminaries today has evolved considerably over the years: from ones historically made up of pastors and priests to ones currently full of students who are pursuing a variety of diverse career paths. Although seminaries will always be filled with future pastors, other more non-traditional opportunities abound. You can be an educated layperson, teacher, musician, writer, counselor, missionary, administrator, or professional basketball player (all right, not exactly, but you get the point). When I graduated from seminary, I got a job teaching Spanish to high school students! It never occurred to me in a thousand years that I would end up doing that after seminary, but life is full of surprises. I personally know of graduates who have entered fields very different from what they had imagined - including medicine, business, art, the military, and so forth. There is no set path.
Obviously, if you want to be a pastor, seminary is the place for you. But if you do not want to be a pastor at all - like most all of my friends from seminary, quite frankly - then you will actually fit in more than you think. The trend today is for many seminarians to be in pursuit of professions outside of pastoral ministry. One of my good friends from seminary, in fact, entered seminary believing that he would be a pastor upon graduation. But when he graduated from seminary he took a full-time position at an art gallery.
8. Do I have to finance it myself?
No. There are many ways to keep money from coming out of your own wallet to pay for seminary. There are scholarships, denominational monies, local church support, grants, loans, assistantships and other part-time jobs that could defray the cost of seminary education. However, do not rely on this as if it is already in the bank.
Research your school of choice and be sure not to enter into seminary with an extremely heavy debt. This is because the costs of seminary, like everything else in the world, are on the rise and definitely not cheap. One class, for instance, might cost you anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000. You have to be sensible financially when in graduate school because most people will have already accumulated a
certain amount of debt while in college. For this reason, many students work full time for a couple of years before seminary. This way you will have less debt after graduating. Of course, you could consider robbing a bank in order to finance your theological education; however, that is probably not the best way to secure money for seminary!
9. Do I have to write a dissertation?
No. Dissertations are usually only reserved for more academic and advanced degrees. The run-of-the-mill seminary degree, the Master of Divinity, rarely requires a written dissertation. If you are interested in writing a dissertation while in seminary, then you should probably take a more academic route in your studies (or attend a graduate school of religion instead of a seminary). This is a viable alternative for those individuals who want a seminary education but do not want to become ordained pastors or priests. But only the advanced or purely academic degrees at a typical seminary will require a dissertation, not the standard degree.
10. Do I have to live on campus?
No. Seminaries are, by design, graduate institutions. Practically speaking, this means that their students are adults and thus not able to drop everything - their spouse, children, house, car, pet, and iPad - for a degree. In contrast to many undergraduate institutions, therefore, graduate schools do not require students to live on campus during their studies. Students live wherever it is convenient for them to reside.
Nevertheless, many seminaries do have residential apartments on a limited availability. If you are willing and able to reside in them, there are many bonuses: They foster community; they are usually cheaper than houses and apartments in the surrounding area; they are in walking distance to class and the library; and they will enable you to make life-long friends. However, each seminary is different. Some campuses offer no housing; some offer excellent accommodations for both singles and families; others have hosing only for singles.
My advice would be to live on campus if you are able, but stay where you are if you unable to move. Just remember two things: (1) Your seminary education does not have much value without the vibrant community you experience along the way. The friends you make at school are just as important as the classes you take. (2) Your primary obligation is to your spouse and children (if you are married or have children, that is). Keep in mind that your family is probably sacrificing a great deal so that you can go to seminary; therefore, be very considerate of their sacrifice.
I personally have only lived on the campus of one of the seminaries I attended. But it was a great experience. However, there is usually a high demand for living on campus and housing is frequently limited—if you are interested. As a result, you will need to contact the housing department at your seminary of choice and complete a form in order to be considered. And do not delay: Campus housing goes quickly. Upon being accepted to a particular seminary, the question of whether to consider campus housing or not should be on the top of your priority list.
Putting It All Together
Well, did we bust any myths? I thought so. There are many aspects that you need to consider when looking into seminary. In fact, there is one thing that you must always be telling yourself: The more accurate knowledge you have about seminary, the better off you are going to be. In all honesty, it is not my intention that just anybody goes to seminary. And it is not even my intention in this blog to try to encourage or discourage you or someone you know from going to seminary. My intention is to give you the best information possible so that you can base your decision on factual information. Seminary requires a great deal of time, money, and effort. Make sure that you know what you are getting yourself into. You will hopefully discern this by prayer, discussion with your community of faith, research, and conversation with friends and family who will have your best in mind.
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.