March 10, 2008

What About Seminary?

Here's me. I grew up in a 'Northern' Baptist congregation in Erie, PA. By the time I was in 6th grade I was getting involved in the youth group leadership. By my senior year I led the youth group as student leader (under guided yet trusting supervision from an amazing youth pastor) as well as the "Bible Club" at my large high school. You could say I was involved.

I left Erie and went to Penn State University to major in Religious Studies at a secular school. I can't explain why it was so important for me to do this at a time when everything I know about myself should have made me desire a Christian education, but there I was, taking courses on New Testament criticism taught by aggravated atheists. I spent four and a half years there, completing both a Religious Studies B.A. and a Sociology B.A. (I couldn't resist Roger Finke's Sociology of Religion course, and got hooked on the subject). And though a lot of things shifted and changed for me over that time, I never got any less passionate about pursuing the truth.

After graduating, I continued going to church for the sake of my desire to be a part of community worship. But the disconnect I felt in my relationships with Christians (old and new) and in the sermons I heard preached most Sunday mornings eventually wore me out, and my wife and I left. We took a year away from church, retreats, worship nights, seminars, sermons, pastors, baptisms, etc. But not from thinking.

A year later brought me to last October, when we got involved with a little church plant in Baltimore called The Light. We couldn't stay away from church forever, and the draw to be involved in Christ-centered community again finally got to be more powerful than the fear and dread that surrounded it. As we've gotten more involved, the passions I have for these issues have gotten more and more inflamed. I've been reading as many books as I can get my hands on, listening to sermons online, writing, talking to people, reading blogs and articles, and basically eating and breathing these things for the past 6 months.

Which brings me to a question I've come back to several times over this last half year. What do I want to do? I work in a research office, managing grants and contracts and budgets. I went to a meeting this morning for my department and heard them all talk about budget discrepancies, cost sharing, and NIH deadlines. I might as well have driven a spike through my eye socket and out the back of my skull. I know for certain I don't want to be here all my life, but they pay me twice a month and it's enough to live on. And that's pretty nice.

This is usually the point of this conversation when a lot of people say, "Well you have to do what makes you happy and alive -- so if x makes you happy and alive, you should drop everything and do x!" What makes me happy and alive is reading, writing, teaching, talking, and thinking about God, Christ, community, church, and people. Which provokes that same person to say, "Sounds like you want to be a pastor!" (This person uses a lot of exclamation points.) But something inside my stomach lurches 100 feet in the air at the thought of becoming a pastor. All I know is that I want to do those things as much as possible.

So what about seminary (see post title)? Should I go? Should I enroll in a part time program that I can go to while I work? Or better yet, do I need to go in order to do the things I want to do? Would it be really good for me to go, or would it end up being a waste? Will it allow me more freedom to do what I love or apply restrictions on me in a way that makes me crazy? Is it worth the time it will take and the money it would cost? Would it be better to get a Master's in something I'm interested in and just go from there? What if I'm scared to ever accept money from a church because I don't know how I feel about that, would that be the kind of feeling that should tip someone off that seminary isn't right for them?

Here's the biggest, "mainest" question: Why do people go to seminary for an M.Div.? Is it only when they know they want to become a pastor or other full-time minister?

Lots of questions. Comments, answers, cheers, jeers, and other responses are welcome.


Matthew said...

'What makes me happy and alive is reading, writing, teaching, talking, and thinking about God, Christ, community, church, and people.'

I dunno bro. Sounds like you wanna become a seminary prof more than a pastor.

you don't gotta go get an mdiv going in tinking, i'm gonna be a pastor. and yeah, i'm with you, the thought of pastoral ministry is like... ugh,... not like that. I think i wanna be a pastor, but i know i want it to look different.

Anonymous said...

I kind of agree with Matthew up there... it sounds more like you still want to keep learning and exploring, and you want to pursue it, but teach others in a different way than pastoring.

Blythe said...

I agree. An M.Div. isn't just for those who want to be pastors. I knew a guy who had an M.Div. and then went to get a Ph.D. in Philosophy (and will be a prof. of Philosophy).

To reply to one of your different concerns, as to whether or not a seminary program would be restricting and drive you crazy--look carefully at the seminary and the works of the various professors there. I could see you getting more frustrated in an uber-conservative seminary (unless the profs weren't as rigid as the doctrine touted by them).

I'm excited for this potential avenue of learning and exploring for you.

Derek said...

If you want to teach at a university go to seminary - if you want to be a pastor, don't. Let's talk!

Theophilus said...

I hear you brother, I went for a M.Div and it was a great experience (and it was not a great experience because I made a good choice, it had nothing to do with me) and like everything we do in life God somehow shows up (that's what makes everything good). Did the experience help? I am not going to judge; its not my place. It shaped me and is part of my story. God used it like he uses everything. If you go into an M.Div (or anything in life) with your expectations then you will either meet your own expectations or fail at meeting your expectations; either way you lose (its not about your expectations so let them go). We only have to have walk in faith. You already are where He wants you. You sound like you love God with all your heart and mind, and I suspect that you are working on the living out part of loving others. That is the tricky part, because we always have in our minds what that looks like or what others say it looks like. What does it look like for you? In the end we are left with the freedom of following our heart knowing in faith that He is there always being a Father. The art of this is seeing and hearing. If you already have the desired expectation in mind there will be no need to see or hear. What you are going through is not a deliemma, but is life itself, the journey. Practically I agree with Derek, if you want to teach in a university then get an M.Div., everything else is simply living life.
I enjoyed your blog. You sound like a good man.