The word “seminary” developed from the Middle English term for a seed plot, a nursery in which to cultivate plants. Though we use the word today to denote a theological school, offering academic training in disciplines which prepare persons for ministry, the origins provide a helpful picture. A seminary is a place to cultivate and nurture people. A seminary provides the environment which facilitates growth and development so that the graduate will be mature in Christ and ready for the work of ministry which lies ahead.
Not only does a seminary invest in the lives of its students in order to equip a new generation of leaders and servants for the cause of Christ around the globe, but also affords the place in which to nurture ideas. A seminary is an ideal environment for research and enquiry into questions related to the theological and ministry disciplines, as well as reflection on the ways in which varied other disciplines can be integrated around Christian faith.
So what is a seminary? A seminary is a school, usually offering courses, credits, and degrees on the Master’s level. The special focus is on teaching and research in the theological disciplines, such as Bible, Church History, Theology, Ethics, and Apologetics, as well as the disciplines of personal spiritual formation and practical ministry, such as counseling, preaching/communication, mission, Christian education, discipleship, leadership, cultural exegesis, worship, pastoral care, and campus ministry. The goal of seminary preparation is to bring students closer to God and to equip them to serve God in active ministry.
At the outset it should be stated that there are certain things that a seminary is not. A seminary cannot guarantee that its graduates will possess flawless character, that’s up to the individual. Nor does attending seminary assure you of having an effective ministry. A seminary does not take the place of the local church. Every seminary student, just like everyone else, needs to have healthy interpersonal relationships with people in a local congregation, that allows for involvement in ongoing ministry and for the formation of mentoring or discipling relationships. A seminary is not the only means by which God raises up leaders. He certainly blesses the ministry of some who have little formal ministerial training. A seminary is not a hospital. A school will not usually provide healing and direction. These roles are more properly assumed by the local church. A seminary is not a three year long non-stop Bible conference with inspiring speakers, stirring music, challenge and emotions on a high level—a seminary offers a graduate academic degree program that is rigorous and exacting. Nor can a seminary prepare you for every eventuality and question which you will face. Only God really knows the future and how our rapidly changing culture will develop.
So what is a seminary then? What good is it? Do I really need an education from one?
A seminary provides tools for the task of ministry.
Seminary equips you with the tools you’ll need in coming years to be able to serve God and minister for him. It’s painful to try to drive a nail into a board with the palm of your hand. You don’t have the right tool—you need a hammer, then it becomes easy and doesn’t hurt. Seminary is like that hammer. Seminary provides you with the tools you need to do the job God is calling you to do. Seminary education equips you so that you will not be caught unprepared. A seminary education exposes the student to a broad sweep of disciplines and resources that will prove useful in ministering to others in contemporary culture. It lays a foundation of knowledge—about God’s Word, God, his working, our faith, and our responses—that the person serving God can draw on for years to come. Seminary also acquaints the student with practical issues of ministry with people, teaching and refining skills to impact the lives of others.
A seminary is far-reaching in its impact.
Like the pebble dropped into the pond, which causes waves to spread outward from the center, seminary is truly a Kingdom ministry. The seminary is an arm of the church that advances the reign of God (his kingdom) in this world, calling its own people to submit to his lordship and preparing them to lead others into relationship with the Creator. A seminary plays a significant role in the spread of the good news about Jesus Christ through a niche ministry of preparing leaders for the future. A seminary has a part in the greatest cause which will change the world in the final analysis. It is never easy to measure the impact of a people-oriented ministry such as this. How can you quantify the way in which God will use an individual over the next 50 years? Or measure the impact and influence of building redemptive relationships? One seminary-trained person can be transformed spiritually within as a result of theological education. That in itself is worth the investment. That one person will then minister to hundreds, likely thousands, of other individuals. Multiply this by many persons in a seminary at the same time, many more over the years to come, and you can begin to get a sense that in ministry impact seminary education is one of the best ways for the church to invest resources and build for the future.