I waited until I was 33 years old to attend seminary. For me, seminary education meant that I had to uproot my family of four and relocate, crossing two state lines to do so. Even though I had a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology, the standard was still Master’s level work. I had two failed attempts at non traditional seminary education, one through and accredited seminary that offered satellite classes at a local college and the other through a non accredited correspondence school. Staying with one meant that it would take years to complete the cycle of offerings that would come to me. Seeing through the correspondence route meant that at the end of the substantial investment of time and money I still would have an unaccredited degree.
Part of my problem was the sheer irony of it all. On one hand, I felt judged that I had not attended seminary. At the same time, those who were most prone to judge my lack of formalized theological education were simultaneously the most committed to condemning their own seminary experience. They would say things like, “Seminary didn’t prepare me for ministry,” or “The don’t teach (fill in the practical skill set) in seminary.”
I graduated with my Master’s of Divinity in 1998, and completed my Doctor of Ministry Degree in 2005. Looking back, I have no regrets. While my seminary experience was not perfect by any means, I’m glad I went because I went for the education, not the degree. I was fortunate to have met many outstanding Christian men and women who passionately taught their subject matter, and even though I was enrolled in a large seminary, took the time to learn my name, ask about my story, and care about my calling. Cynicism was quickly erased as one professor explained the purpose of the experience. He told me that the purpose of seminary was not to give me every answer I would need for ministry, but to prepare me to be an ongoing learner. Seminary was designed to provide the tools I would need to discover the answers myself.
It was with that challenge I undertook nine years of graduate education. I’m glad I did, and I’m glad I did it the right way. This mild reflection comes to you courtesy of Skye Jethani, who blogged yesterday about the CURRENT STATE OF SEMINARY EDUCATION in America. I hope you’ll read his post, for I think he does a good job of raising some very important questions about where seminary education is and the direction it needs to take.