Why seminary matters

When a layperson senses a need for deeper instruction and training to become more effective in ministry, or when someone feeling called to full-time Christian ministry wonders what a good next step would be, I generally recommend attending seminary.

Over the years I have received some pushback from those wondering if the time, energy, and cost involved in pursuing a graduate theological education are actually worth it. As one who graduated from seminary, taught at the seminary level for more than a decade, and served as academic dean of a seminary, I affirm without reservation that it is.

A seminary education is relevant and important for today's Christian leaders for a number of reasons.

Deeper questions and relevancy pressures

The point of intersection between faith and culture has become more challenging to navigate in recent decades. In North America the broader culture continues to move away from its Christian heritage making complex issues like freedom of religion, sexual expression, euthanasia, pornography, and prostitution ones that a Christian leader needs to be able to address. Christian leaders need to be, more than ever, equipped to teach and respond to such issues in a loving way that is rooted in Scripture.

The pressure upon pastoral leaders at all stages of their ministry to be relevant in terms of forms and styles of ministry, approaches to worship, and even vocabulary continues to increase. Now is not the time for current and future leaders to lessen their academic and practical preparation for a life of service.

Leading for the long haul

In my denomination, it has often been noted that leaders with a seminary education tend to be the ones who endure in vocational ministry over the long haul. Ministry is challenging for a host of reasons and can be difficult even at the best of times. It is wise for someone wrestling with a call to ministry to take steps that shore up that call and deepen his or her faith. Serious preparation can fortify a leader with the instruction, encouragement, and relationships that can increase the likelihood of serving effectively for a long time.

Building relationships with key ministry leaders

Many Christian leaders have noted that ministry can be a lonely vocation. In spite of how loving and supportive a local congregation can be, for instance, a young pastor and family can still feel isolated and without personal support. A seminary experience can provide supporting relationships and encouragement for a life of ministry. Many younger and older ministers have relied upon deep relationships formed in seminary as places to turn to for encouragement and friendship.

Cooperative ministry

Christian witness is strengthened when local churches and ministries cooperate in a community. Those inside and outside the Christian family expect such cooperation. Many leaders find ministry cooperation is built on trust, trust is built on relationship, and relationship is built on meeting and spending time with others. For many these initial relationships were formed in seminary.

Seminary is not the "be all and end all" for someone heading toward a vocation in ministry but it can be a great advantage. If you are wrestling with the question of how to prepare for a life of effective ministry, take the time to explore a seminary education.

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About the author

Special to ChristianWeek

Bruce Fawcett is a former seminary professor and dean and is serving as president of Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick.