My First Year in Seminary Is Over! or: 10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started

Posted by Kyle on June 8, 2012

One of the most valuable pieces of wisdom my dad ever gave me was this saying: "Son, you are not special."

This might seem un-fatherly, but it was said in love and communicated something a teenager desperately needs to know: your experiences are not entirely unique to you. There is someone, somewhere who has and/or will go through the same ordeal(s) you have, and I have found this to be true in my own life. There really is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

That said, I know my seminary experience over the last year is not unique, and there will doubtlessly be those who follow me who will want to know these 10 things I wish I knew before I started the year.

1: Seminary Is Hard

Seminary is an intense exercise in discipleship. The main effort is to be trained to make other disciples vocationally. Jesus warned that your should count the cost before you begin to follow him (Luke 14:25-33). Seminary will take a toll on your family, your health, your spirit and your sleep.

Not all the difficulty of a seminary is academic. Satan knows your plans and your desire to serve. I have been spiritually challenged and attacked more in the past year than almost any other time in my life. Be sure following and serving Christ more important to you than anything else in your life.

Beginning my seminary education has been one of the greates blessings of my life because of the priority I place on my walk with Christ. Otherwise, there is no way I could have made it through the year with an intact marriage, job, ministry and mind.

2: You Do Have Time

You should swing by my Professional page. I've got a few irons in the fire, and that's just my vocaitonal activities. That doesn't even include the time I spend with my new baby girl and wife as a function of being the husband and father they deserve.

At the outset, I looked at the sheer volume of reading I had to do for even one class. When I ordered my books, they just kept coming and coming. My first fear was that, with everything else I do, I wouldn't have time.

What I learned is that as I got better and better at making Christ my focus, everything fell into place. Jesus said, "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33) He has a habit of keeping His word.

3: Learn to Speed Read

I quickly learned that I did need to use my time more wisely, and since most of it was spent reading, I decided to learn speed reading. The catch-22 was that I had to spend more time learning how to speed read in order to save time, or so I thought.

One of my favorite sites is Lifehacker, and they featured a handy article on speed reading. It's really a lot easier than you might think. I read a quick article and just applied the concepts he talked about.

Check it out: pianoer.wordpress.com via lifehacker.com

I started seminary reading at about 225 words per minute, which is just slower than average. I now read at 400-450 words per minute, and my 3.6 GPA can speak to my comprehension for me.

4: Read the Writer's Manual

Every school and/or discipline has its own writing format. In my undergrad at Angelo State University (BA in Psychology), the standard was APA (American Psychological Association). At Liberty, where I attend online, it's Turabian, based on A Manual for Writers by Kate Turabian.

In my first term, I lost more points than I ever should have on papers due to stupid formating mistakes. Don't lose points for stupid mistakes. Read the manual for whatever standard your school requires and master it. It doesn't take long, and it's well worth keeping those points.

5: Seminary Is For Now, Not Just For Later

You should be actively involved in ministry always, whether you are going to seminary or not. All of us are called to make disciples (Matthew 28:20). Each of us is called to some kind of ministry.

That said, I found that my training was timed precisely with what I needed in my ministry.

6: Read Research Sources Thoroughly, But Not Too Thoroughly

Writing research papers is a big part of the seminary - and really and graduate-level learning - experience.

I found that I either have spent way too much time or not enough time reading sources for my papers. Find a happy medium.

Read enough to learn something new you can use to build and form your thesis. Don't just find sources that agree with your thesis because that doesn't help you learn.

Don't spend all your time reading every source all the way through. You don't have the time. Read intros and conclusions the most carefully because they will tell you where to find everything else in the article/book/etc. that you need.

7: Don't Try to Read Anything Else

For a while, I was under the delusion that I might also try to read a novel or something light along with my normal class reading. That was foolish. There's enough reading to keep you busy. Spend the rest of your time doing the other things in your life that actually need to be done.

8: Communicate With Your Professors

I have found my professors to be incredibly caring and flexible when I communicate with them in a timely manner. In seminary, at the end of the day, the person you are emailing is a brother or sister in Christ. DO NOT FORGET THEY ARE ON YOUR SIDE! If you work with them respectfully, your professors can be an amazing asset.

9: Your Family Still Needs You

If you are married, your spouse is "going through" seminary with you. The experience of picking up slack while you are studying is hard on them as well. Don't forget, neglect or take them for granted.

My wife has been amazingly supportive, and I learned quickly how precious that is and how much appreciation and love she deserves.

10: Praise God For Kicking Your Butt

James commands us to find joy in our trials because they bring us into a closer relationship with God (James 1:2-4). Do not confuse seminary for anything but a trial (see point 1).

In the end, though, He will produce a person equipped for ministry, and that is a beautiful thing. In kicking your butt for four years, God is demonstrating His love in a beautiful way (Hebrews 12:6). Praise Him for His love!

Do you have any questions? Have I left anything out? Let me know below.

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