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5 Ways to Thrive in Seminary

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By Cody Cunningham

My time in Bible school and seminary were some of the best and worst times. When done properly, seminary can be a life-giving season. But when done poorly, it becomes a breeding ground for a cold heart and indwelling sin. I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum. As a new academic year begins and a fresh wave of students heads to school, here are a handful of exhortations for those who are beginning their theological studies.

Find your identity in Christ.

The classroom easily becomes a place where you either find your worth or question your worth. Pride often creeps in as students clamor to be the most respected by faculty, to be the one who reads the most books, or to be the one who is most knowledgeable about the latest hot-button issue. On the other hand, if you struggle in your studies, self-doubt will often loom over you, and you begin to question what type of Christian you really are.

Fight to find your identity in Christ. Having a 4.0 GPA won’t get you additional crowns in heaven. Likewise, the inability to parse the Greek in 2 Corinthians 5:21 doesn’t make its truth any less applicable to you. As you go through your studies, preach to yourself daily that Christ is your only hope. He—not your theological prowess—is your confidence and your righteousness.

Many men and women have fallen into a terrible spiritual state because they relegate their spiritual disciplines to academic pursuits.

Persevere in the spiritual disciplines.

The potential danger of theological training is that the Bible and the tools of the Christian life become lifeless. While it may seem unimaginable to you now, many men and women have fallen into a terrible spiritual state because they relegate their spiritual disciplines to academic pursuits.

That person ends up only reading the Scriptures for ammunition for papers or theological debates. Prayer drops by the wayside. Financial giving dries up. Corporate worship attendance becomes sporadic. These small changes may take place over the course of a couple semesters, but they are stepping stones down a path to a spiritual wasteland. Don’t fall into this trap. Persist in the means of grace that the Lord has given you.

Commit to a healthy local church.

First, notice that I said commit. Seminary students are notorious for being bad church members. Thankfully, the church I pastor has a lot of high-quality students who love the Lord and love to serve the church. But you will encounter many students who will float on the fringes of church life for their entire seminary span.

Here’s the thing: you cannot expect to lead a church well—or plant healthy churches as a missionary—if you never love the church well during seminary. Commit your life to a local church, and dive in. Set up chairs. Go to Wednesday night prayer meeting. Work in the nursery. Form relationships with godly families in the church. Be all in.

Notice that I also said to commit to a healthy church. You will be tempted to choose a congregation based on the potential for leadership roles or preaching reps. Don’t do it. Don’t choose based on immediate service. You will have decades to lead. Now is the time to be a learner, and the best place for ministry preparation is the local church.

I loved seminary, but the most formative aspect of my time in seminary was actually my involvement in a local church. It was there that I saw faithful shepherds lead the flock. It was there I had pastors care enough to confront my sin. It was there I was surrounded by folks who continually pointed my family and me to Christ. It was there that I formed diverse friendships that helped prepare me to lead a diverse congregation.

Find a healthy church and commit. You won’t regret it. It will bear decades of fruit in your life.

Love your family.

Ministry is difficult on families. You will spend your entire life battling your own sin while also trying to lead a congregation of sinful people. That will inevitably bring a weight that threatens to press in on every aspect of life, including your relationship with your family.

During seminary, if you are married and have kids, invest in them. Don’t neglect your family for a higher GPA. Go ahead and start working on healthy rhythms of work and family life. If you’re a driven person (and I hope you are), you will be tempted to fill every waking hour of your pastoral career with ministry responsibilities. But that will destroy your family.

Work now to invest in your family. Love and care for your wife. Take her on a date. Play with your kids. Don’t sacrifice your family on the altar of theological training.

You cannot expect to lead a church well—or plant healthy churches as a missionary—if you never love the church well during seminary.

Enjoy this season of life.

Lastly, enjoy your studies. It may sound odd, but cherish this opportunity to spend extended time filling up your ministerial toolbox. Some students wish away their time in seminary, but I’ve met men and women all over the world who would give anything to have access to a seminary education.

Also, you get to rub shoulders with men and women who are all passionate about taking the gospel to the nations. In a few years, they will be stretched from small-town Louisiana to Cairo, Egypt. Some of these friendships will last for your entire lifetime. Consider the blessing it is to build friendships with others who are so zealous for the gospel.

You are going to spend the next few years studying the Word of God and sharpening your theological mind. Be a good steward. Study. Fill yourself with the Word. And then go be poured out for the glory of Christ.

A version of this article originally published at Cody Cunningham’s blog.

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Cody Cunningham

Cody Cunningham serves as a missionary in Kenya with Reaching and Teaching International Ministries. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Cody and his wife Margaret have three kids: Josiah, Charlotte, and Levi.

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