Quitting Seminary*

10Sep09

Well folks, I’ve tried seminary for a year now, gotten a decent amount of credit hours under my belt, and worked to find my place around here. But I’ve decided to throw in the towel.

Why? Because seminary ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I came to seminary with a vision for serving the church, the people of God. I came because I felt that I should spend a few years in intense study as I pursued the Lord. I came to find like-minded people with whom I might one day partner in ministry.

And when I came to seminary, I was quite optimistic. Now, I knew it wouldn’t be perfect, but I wanted to see the best in it at every turn. I’ve attempted to give everything the benefit of the doubt, even things that I disagree with. I’ve tried not to let the stench of tribalism bother me, to overlook the lingering patriotism, to engage in what I thought were worthwhile debates, and to rationalize away any seemingly surface level religion in brothers that I’ve met.

But the Lord is reminding me of reality; some things genuinely get under my skin here.

To be fair, not everyone at my seminary is a tribal Baptist, and not all are so comfortable with the (quasi-?) worship of America that has slipped into our churches (and incidentally remains in the newest Baptist Hymnal, released last year: “America the Beautiful,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and even “O Canada”). And I should also say that I am very thankful for the few real friendships that the Lord has given us here.

Yet, for all the good, I’ve decided to quit. I just don’t have the time. The Lord has convinced me that ministry can’t wait until I “finish my studies” (i.e., get that paper that says I earned a few letters after my name).

I’m quitting seminary because my ministry started twelve years ago when I began to follow Jesus. “The appointed time has grown very short” (1 Cor 7:29), “night is coming” (Jn 9:4), and there is no time to put ministry on pause. The Lord did not put me here to wander around arguing with sharpening fellow seminarians.

So I’ve decided to quit seminary, and here’s what that will mean:

  • No more arguing over minute theological points. Deciding my opinion on such points, I will do, for “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5), but wasting time discussing them when I could be encouraging or serving, I’ll quit.
  • No more attempts at networking; I’ll trust the Lord to provide what support and partnership is needed along the way (and I’m bad at it anyway). This, of course, does not mean that friendships will cease.
  • No more pretending I’m okay with things I’m not. Some things at seminary make me angry. I’ll attempt to “be angry and . . . not sin” rather than being angry and pretending I am not (Eph 4:26). Perhaps that’s the next step towards letting “all . . . anger . . . be put away from [me]” (Eph 4:31). Hopefully this will result in less latent bitterness and more genuine fellowship.
  • I’ll stay enrolled and continue to take classes, still attempting the best grades, but not for their sake or the sake of the resultant (mildly) expensive piece of paper. I’ve learned much that is useful and hope to continue to; I’ll work for that.
  • No more holding back in fear of offending people or shocking them with my thoughts. While restraint can be good, in my case most people who know me tell me it’s way over the top. I’ll pray to be more bold and follow Jim Elliot in trying to live to the hilt by being more courageous in my speech and worrying less about the approval of men and about that of God.
  • Spending more time with coworkers, neighbors, and friends who don’t believe in Jesus in an effort to serve and love them, both physically in whatever way they need and spiritually by sharing the gospel and my own life with them.

To all who may be considering seminary out there, and to all of my brothers and sisters who are currently enrolled: seminary is a waste of time.

Yes, it is good to learn from excellent, godly teachers and to work hard to complete a carefully and prayerfully devised curriculum. But don’t go to seminary; stay in ministry.

While I’m thinking about it, even if you have no connection to seminary but are a follower of Jesus, you should quit your job for the ministry, too, if you haven’t already. I mean, stay there and work hard, but don’t let it be your job. Every Christian is called to be a full-time missionary (Matt 28:19-20; Acts).

If you have or will quit your “job,” too, please pray for me to live out my decision, and share your experience in the comments.

Update: To be more clear, I plan to stay in school seminary, and I love what I’m learning; I’m just done with being caught up in the seminary ethos rather than out in the real world loving and serving people. I want to be doing ministry even as I continue school, rather than mentally separating the two and generally postponing the former.

* Update to the update: I’m not really quitting seminary, just “seminary,” that is, the mindset that ministry is separate from seminary. Learning here has been edifying; my decision is to no longer allow “seminary” to distract me from serving and learning more about the Lord.

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14 Responses to “Quitting Seminary*”

  1. Adam,

    I wish you all the blessings in the world with this decision. I know it must be very difficult. I often have struggled with voicing my opinions in churches and have finally found a church home that makes me feel completely comfortable in doing so. I too have been annoyed with the “worship of America that has slipped into our churches.” It has always shocked me that something so completely different could EVER be compared like that.

    Adam, if you need to talk at all, if you need a friend in Christ outside of the ministry (well, organized ministry), I hope that you know you may always call me. Love you and God bless. 🙂

  2. 2 Brian

    Having come from the same college as you I understand many of your frustrations. I can’t wait to get back to full time ministry. I’ll pray for you as you continue on with your journey. Let me know if I can do anything to help.

  3. Amen Brother! I have felt the same for a long time. God is leading you right and I encourage you to press on. May the Great God of heaven and our Lord Jesus Christ bless you in your ministry.

  4. 4 Debbie Miller

    Adam – I too made the decision to reject seminary for actual ministry. However, my decision was based more upon my age. The great thing about being young, is that you have time to be a part of ministry now, and later on, if your feelings change, you can always return. In the meantime, the Lord will use you, maybe in ways you never imagined. God bless you.

    Debbie Miller

  5. The world needs more of your kind of “full time minister”.

    -Alan

  6. 6 Karen

    Dear Adam,
    I am a seminary graduae of a different sort. I homeschooled my children into college, and then both my husband and I, after some part time study by both of us, went to seminary full time (SBTS). We now serve in a church in southern Ontario (where, by the way, there is lots of room for people like you). Much of what you say is very much like what was on my heart as a student. Glad to say that several professors saw the issues in a similar way. (When you are as old or older than professors there is liberty to say what one thinks.)

    The good side, and it is a huge good side, is that we were well prepared theologically, and when people ask quesitons we are able to give good answers,if I may ssay so. This comes to my mind because I hear so much teaching and preaching and chatter that is neo-orthtodox, etc. not out of conviction but due to poor thinkers and scholars being so happy to pass on their “never thought through’ conclusions. They are causing people who do not think deeply to fall into error which leads to falling into more sin.

    Even the best seminary educations has its flaws (and if you have been att SEBTS as I presume, then you are getting education at a very high level of scholarship as we did), but it will always be better than not having had that excellent education.

    Studying part time while continuing in the world is probably the best option where possible. (Easy to see these things when all is finished. 🙂 )

    Every blessing to you,
    Karen

    We can be found on Facebook at “Bethel Baptist Fergus”
    I found you at DBO.

    • 7 Adam

      Karen, thanks for dropping by! I completely agree with you on the profit of education, and I even plan to continue studying “full-time” for that very reason.

      I’ve added an “Update to the update” in hopes of clarifying myself.

      May God bless your work in Ontario!

  7. 8 Kristi

    I thought I sensed your sarcasm in there. Maybe that’s really too strong; a verbal smirk, perhaps.

    Thanks for voicing!

  8. Amen! Perhaps a loose paraphrase of 1 Cor. 7:29-31 is applicable here: “Let those who study at seminary live as though they did not.” :o)

    Although I only attended seminary for one year, in a way I was never really “there” at all…I had just returned from my first mission trip to Belarus, and somehow I just didn’t fit in like I thought I would. It was purely God working on me—I was certainly immersed in that sort of “seminary” mindset while I was at Union, and have often lamented the way I let my studies (for a degree in Theology, of all things!) consume practically ALL my time and energy and keep me from ministry opportunities and relationships that could have helped myself and others grow to know God more deeply.

    It seems to me that there should be an intricate connection between growing in what we know about God and the gospel and living it out in various ways through ministry in the world. Focusing too much on the intellectual pursuit would be comparable to studying piano theory without ever touching an instrument. Of course, it is possible to err on the other side as well, neglecting the importance of preparation; that just wasn’t my “bent.” In the end, I value my theological education, but its value is proportional to how much I actually use it for God’s glory in my life and in the world.

    Thanks for a very thoughtful post. Taras and I will be praying for you, and for ourselves as well!

    • 10 Adam

      Kelly,

      That’s EXACTLY what I’m talking about! Thanks for your excellent paraphrase and your prayers. We are continuing to pray for you guys, too.

  9. 11 Aussiejohn

    Adam,
    May your breed multiply!

  10. 12 Dennis Mack

    Very well said. I too am a Seminary student who desires to equip myself for ministry(not prepare myself for). I will pray for you and your decision and also want to join you as one who wants to live out the Gospel before the world.

  11. 13 Andrew Bowden

    Adam, your example of fearless obediance is inspiring. Thanks for leading the way even when it is unpopular, costly, and difficult. Glad to have a friend like you!

  12. Make it so Adam-12. I’m thankful for how you see “the system” of seminary and that you have the wisdom to know you do not want it to interfere with ministry. Good for you. Press on friend.


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