Wednesday, September 8, 2010
I have a way of getting through something tough and then wishing I could go back and do it again. It’s not that I enjoy torturing myself. Rather, it’s that I usually learn a lot under such stress. Since I knew more coming out of the experience than I did going in, there are some things I would do differently.
There is one lesson in particular I wanted to offer that might benefit others who are considering seminary. When I walked into the classroom this fall, I had a drastically different mission than I did last year. This new mission hasn’t displaced my earlier reasons for going, but it has put them in perspective.
For one thing, I have transferred from the Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. Both schools are centered on God, based on Scripture, and focused on ministry. I have gained a great deal of knowledge and personal growth at both schools, and I am confident that God is going to teach me equally important things in each location. I’m still considering pursuing doctoral-level work after an M. Div., and my ultimate goal is still to work to further God's kingdom through counseling, social work, teaching, and ministry.
So, what’s the lesson? What’s my new mission at seminary? I’m going to learn about Jesus. And I am going to learn about Jesus so that I can worship Him.
Now you’re disappointed, aren’t you? You thought I was going to say something really important and earth shattering, didn’t you? Here’s the thing: this is important. I know that, by itself, it isn’t really memorable, but it’s still important. Yet it’s easily forgotten, probably because it seems so obvious. Most of the important things I have learned recently have been things that seemed so obvious that I didn’t even think about the fact that maybe I wasn’t actually there.
If you are a seminary student, you run the risk of seminary being merely about preparing for ministry. That’s important. Or maybe you’re the type that is more tempted to think of seminary as a time to think big thoughts. That’s important too. But, who are you preparing to serve in ministry? Who are you hoping to think big thoughts about? As it turns out, Jesus doesn’t want (much less need) merely our service. What about our big thoughts? Try to imagine the big thoughts of the Divine Son as the world was created through Him.
In the introduction to this famous book, Desiring God, John Piper tweaks the first answer to the Westminster Shorter Catechism so that it reads, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” That’s why I was created. That’s why I want to be in seminary right now.
Tim Keller helpfully points out (though, now that I think of it, I’m sure I’ve heard it from others as well) that ministry can be a kind of moralism. It’s possible to think that your acceptance before God is based on the fruit borne out by your ministry. In fact, the danger is that, even in knowing this, it’s still an easy trap to fall into. What if seminary is the same way? What if, rather than going to seminary to learn about God (so you can worship Him more passionately), you’re going to make yourself acceptable to God?
It’s because that danger is so subtle that I’m going to risk stating the obvious, but I will say it again. I am going to seminary to learn about Jesus so I can worship Him. He must increase and I must decrease. Preparing for ministry is just as important, but I want to know Jesus in a more personal way. I’m pretty sure that in the end I might just be a better minister for it. So, win-win. :)