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It’s Just Expensive Sunday School

Everyone has their own ideas about seminary. The stereotypes and rumors have taken on a life of their own, and it’s time to set the record straight. Here, one brave seminarian attempts to separate fact from fiction, shedding light on the untold truths and correcting the misconceptions of attending seminary.

Only those wanting to do full-time vocational ministry should go to seminary.

False. While it is certainly the norm for most in seminary to pursue full-time vocational ministry, it is far from being the rule. One of my good friends in seminary works at a local restaurant and intends to continue after graduating. She simply desires to know the Bible better so she can be a better missionary in her job. Since coming to seminary, I have been challenged to consider alternative options in using my seminary degree such as bivocational ministry, teaching English as a missionary in foreign countries and even returning to the workplace. The bottom line is that seminary is never a bad choice. Whether you become a pastor of a megachurch, an artist or a parent, your degree will be put to good use.

Seminary is more than Sunday school with tuition.

True. In seminary you will be learning from the people who taught your pastors. These seminary professors have dedicated their lives to the study of the Bible, and therefore, oftentimes know it better than your pastor or Sunday school teacher who has many other obligations during the week. It is for this reason that seminary is a far cry from Sunday school. When you are working with scholars and giving yourself time to saturate in the Word, you will begin to see overlap between your church history, counseling, theology and language courses that you just won’t experience in a Sunday school class.

Seminary is too expensive for me.

False. While it is not free, the cost of attending graduate school at a seminary is reasonable compared with other graduate programs. Seminary will cost approximately $400 to $500 per credit hour. Most other graduate schools charge at least $1,000 per credit hour. To make the burden lighter, there is plenty of scholarship money available. Most students at my school are on 50 percent or even 100 percent paid tuition scholarships. In addition, many seminaries waive tuition fees for spouses of seminarians who also want to earn a degree. Financial support from a church or group of families, inexpensive campus housing, reasonably priced textbooks and the availability of part-time work, especially in large metropolitan areas, make seminary a very affordable venture.

Not many women go to seminary.

False. Just the other day I overheard some people talking about the high demand for on-campus housing for single women. Here at Covenant Theological Seminary, we have many women who pursue a Master of Divinity, as well as other Master of Arts programs. Ever since coming to Covenant, I have been surprised at how many women have found seminary to be their calling. There are also many seminarians’ wives who are both degree-seeking and non-degree-seeking students. The women on our campus add so much to the community and give the seminary a fuller sense of what the body of Christ looks like.

Going to a Christian college is not a prerequisite for seminary.

True. In my estimation, I would say 90 percent of seminary students did not attend a Christian college. Attending a Christian college is in no way a rule. Many people do not receive a call to seminary until they are nearly done with college or have been in the workplace for several years. What a seminary is interested in is your love for the Lord and your calling to ministry. Seminaries are much less concerned with what your undergraduate degree was, where you went to college and even what your GPA was while you were there. It is truly a refreshing experience to be in a graduate program with students who barely made it out of college. There are many obvious benefits of attending a Christian college. However, there are many things to be gained from attending a secular school. This is something each individual will need to decide for themselves with the help of wise counsel. It should be strongly stated that seminaries do not prefer students who come from Christian colleges or secular colleges.

Seminary is too difficult.

False. While your classes in seminary will sometimes stretch you to the limit, they are not impossible. The Hebrew and Greek language classes can be difficult, and the teachers demand quality work from you, but passing classes and learning the material is not insurmountable. At times, the readings can be lengthy and the papers long, but most agree the work is worth the result: knowing God and His Word better. The work you do is also motivating. You discover more about the character of our God and how we are to cooperate in mission with Him. Whenever someone asks me how seminary is, I say, “It’s hard, but very, very good.” You will find people from all different academic backgrounds coming together over a task that, in reality, is too difficult for any of us to tackle without the Spirit’s help.

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It’s possible to have a life outside of seminary.

True. I came to seminary from a large state school (Go Gators!) where I had lots of time to spend with friends and pursued interests such as photography and running. My classes were relatively easy and my parents paid for many of my expenses. In seminary, there is simply not the luxury of extended free time. This is not to say there is no free time to pursue interests outside of seminary. What it does mean is that you have to prioritize well. Students will need to study about two hours for every hour spent in class. They will probably need to work 15-20 hours a week to supplement their income. Combine these two responsibilities with the demands of marriage, having children, doing an internship for ordination and actually being in class, and your time runs out very quickly. That being said, you must learn to be creative with your time. I look at my job as an after-school caretaker as an escape from seminary. I get to talk with my co-workers and play with children every afternoon during the week. Finding a fun part-time job is important in managing stress. Keeping the Sabbath has also been an important permanent placeholder in my schedule. I use that day to hang out with friends, call home, go to the park and, most of all, stay away from school. The bottom line is that free time has to be constructed and priorities have to be set. The seminary student who does not creatively make time for outside interests will experience burnout early in their first year.

I need full-time ministry experience before coming to seminary.

False. Ministry experience prior to coming to seminary can be an invaluable approach to your classes. Having been on staff with a college ministry before coming to seminary, I am able to view many pastoral situations through the lens of personal situations. It is not, however, the rule that you need experience before coming. Plenty of ministry experience will be gained in seminary through field hours and internships necessary for ordination. It is an incredibly mature decision for someone to come to seminary to learn under experienced teachers and pastors before engaging in full-time ministry. This decision will look different depending on each individual’s and family’s circumstances and goals. However, you should understand that a lack of prior ministry experience in no way disqualifies you from seminary, and for many it can even be a benefit.

Chris Ammen is pursuing a Master of Divinity at Covenant Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, MO. He holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Education from the University of Florida.

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