Welcome back to the wonderful world of theological education! I bet you’re excited to fully submerge yourself and take full advantage of everything this new semester has to offer. As a recent graduate, I’m excited for you, too!
But whether you've just begun this new chapter in your life or you've been around a few years, you may have carried along some accidental expectations. These few (or several) years will be life-changing, but there are a few myths I wish someone had busted for me from the get-go.
Myth #1: "Seminary will ruin you."
Obviously, if you're here, you don't believe this. But somewhere along your journey to NOBTS, you may have been given this warning. I was baffled when I heard fellow students confess that they'd heard this caution from well-meaning mentors, or perhaps even used to believe it themselves. But now that I've made it through my 5 years of seminary education, I think I understand where the sentiment comes from.
During our younger years of ministry, we're often gung-ho and optimistic. There's a fire and a passion within us to study the revelations of God's Word and teach it to those we serve. But then we come to seminary and we're confronted with opposing interpretations, multiple layers of hermeneutical methods, and theological concepts that never even crossed our minds. Suddenly, the Bible seems much more difficult to teach. When we read a passage, we hear all the rival arguments in our heads and feel paralyzed by the fear of believing or teaching the wrong one. Passages that used to seem very black and white melt into gray.
This does not ruin us, though. There is a way to come back down from the cerebral cloud, and that's by staying thoroughly grounded in the local church. While we need to study theories and different interpretations of Scripture to sharpen our study skills and expand our viewpoints, we also need to spend ample time each week with non-seminarians in our local church who can remind us of where the Biblical rubber meets the worldly road. Abstract theories become solid truths again when a struggling single parent is searching for hope or a rebellious youth group student is questioning their faith. Not only do our local churches need trained seminary students, but seminary students desperately need the community of the local church.
Myth #2: "Seminary is like one big BCM."
If you're coming straight out of college, you might be expecting seminary to feel like a college ministry on steroids. After all, everyone is like-minded and called to ministry, so shouldn't it be even better than BCM?
You'll definitely find some of your closest friends in seminary because of those reasons. You’ll have plenty of connections with other students through classes, on-campus jobs, and on-campus housing. And our Student Life Office coordinates fun events that help you bond with fellow students! But if you're expecting BCM 2.0, you're going to be unduly disappointed.
Don't hear me wrong — you can absolutely find the community you crave while in seminary. But practically speaking, seminary students are in a different life stage than the average college student. While you may have had to juggle school work and a part-time job in college, seminary students are often balancing full-time jobs and ministry, not to mention a spouse and children if they're married. Our time is spread thinner, and a newcomer to the world of seminary can feel lonely if they’re only relying on classroom connections for community.
Rather than condemning this as a failure of seminary life, I’d suggest adjusting your expectations of post-college life in general. Friendships take more effort when you aren’t running into each other all the time in the BCM house. And building community requires more intentionality when people’s schedules are limited. These facts are true of the post-college life whether you’re in seminary or not.
From what I’ve seen and experienced, you’ll likely find your closest friends and ministry partners through your local church. NOBTS students are scattered among most of the local churches and church plants in New Orleans, and you’ll build your community with them (and non-seminarians!) as you serve together in ministry. And truthfully, this is a healthy change. Seminary is the prime opportunity to transition from an age-specific community to a multi-generational community. Don’t miss the blessing of expanding your social circle to believers of all ages and stages of life!
Myth #3: "Seminary will answer all my questions."
Oh, how every seminary graduate wishes this were true.
I remember my first seminary class — Systematic Theology 1. I remember my elation as I listened to the class discussions and thought, “Wow, I’m finally around people who are asking the same kinds of questions I’ve been pondering for years! I’m finally going to learn all the answers to my nitty-gritty questions!” And no offense to one of my favorite professors, but it didn’t happen. Sure, I did have several questions answered and was able to explore theological thoughts more fully. But then I found myself pondering new questions — even more questions than before.
And thus I discovered the predicament of seminary. You come to learn (and learn, you do). But you also learn to ask better questions. And then those questions spark more questions. And those questions spark more questions. This cycle of research and discovery is never-ending because while our God is limitless, we are sorely limited. The mysteries of God are a joy to seek out, but expecting a fully-satisfied search is a gross underestimation of God’s “unsearchable greatness” (Ps.145:3).
Instead of answering all your questions, seminary will teach you how to seek. Whether you’re in biblical studies, worship ministry, or counseling, you’ll be given the resources and the intellectual training to continue studying for the rest of your life. You’ll build your ministerial library textbook-by-textbook, and it will take you years to digest all the wonders they contain. You’ll have riveting conversations with professors and classmates that challenge your traditional ways of thinking. You’ll practice weighing evidence and discovering how your conclusions impact your day-to-day Christian walk. This training is more powerful than answered questions — it prepares you for a real life of ministry. And while some of your questions will remain unanswered, you can still find joy in the journey of seeking.
With these expectation adjustments, I wish you all the best this semester! Don’t worry — you'll look back at seminary as a wonderful chapter of your life. It just might look a little different than you expected. And ultimately, isn’t that when God does the most work in our lives?
Laura Hamilton Hui is a December 2020 NOBTS graduate with a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies and serves as the Biblical Education Director for Metairie Church, Metairie, La.