Navigating faith, love, and life in the Netherlands

Monday, August 15, 2016

Five Tips for Seminary Students


The beginning of the school year is fast approaching - if not already begun by some students in some states and programs - and I thought I would share this article I wrote a couple years ago.

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In spring 2014, I graduated from seminary with my master's degree in Intercultural Studies after just over three years of study while living in 3 different locations.  I completed 7 credits while living in Ukraine - 2 regular courses and 1 practicum - then 24 credits in the US followed by the remainder here in the Netherlands.

Below are some of my thoughts for current or future seminary students.

1.  Give yourself enough time in your program to let your education be put to use in a real context.

In other words, seminary is not just about book learning - it's about serving real people and learning in real life.

Studying full-time, if you can afford it, lets you focus on studying.  Studying full-time also means it's harder to let your thoughts and ideas simmer while being stirred by education and church involvement.

Given my life circumstances, I thought it would be easier to speed through my program just to finish it.  On a positive note, I can now focus more on learning Dutch and truly understanding my cultural context before attempting to apply my studies.  I can't just "waltz" in with my degree and expect people in the church to immediately listen to me.

See #2 for more about this.

2.  Be involved in ministry, potentially as a leader.

One of my seminary assignments included giving a presentation in the local church - sermon or Bible study - on our Scripture text we had studied.  This was only the second time in my local context that I was able to do something like this.  Ideally I could try this more in order to see if teaching Bible studies is something that I could do.

During seminary, you're still a student, and not expected to have it "all figured out."  I think.  Take this time to find where you fit and/or get more experience where God's called you.

This could include almost anything, like preaching weekly, teaching Sunday school, joining the worship team, greeting visitors at the door, or even serving coffee or cleaning up the church.

3.  Be involved in ministry, but also as a participant.

When I lived in the US, I wanted to go to a church where there were few or no other students from my seminary.  I did not want to feel the pressure or inadequacy of not also being on staff - since I knew I would be there for less than a year.

Join a Bible study - but listen for how God's speaking to you through His Word, and not for how you can use the experience in the future.

Listen to sermons for your own enrichment - don't over-analyze their theology or structure.

As a seminary student, you also need to take time for your relationship with God - which does not depend on how well you write sermons or plan church activities.

4.  Avoid being in a Christian "bubble."

Your days as a seminary student can be filled with reading textbooks, writing papers, going to class, and possibly being involved in ministry at a local church.  But don't let that keep you from interacting with people who are not Christians.

Get a "secular job" not connected to any Christian organization.  This is probably the most necessary, so that you can pay for your education!

Volunteer with a community organization on a regular basis.

Get involved in a community sports league, take lessons in art or language or something you've always wanted to learn, or find something else that interests you.

The keys here are regular interaction and meeting people in other contexts.  Another key is getting into the real world and not the digital world.

5.  Take time to relax and hang out with friends.

Take a day off each week - a Sabbath - since it's not good to work and study 24/7.  I've written more about that here and here.

Get out of your house and go for a walk.  Explore the location where you've chosen to study.  Visit a local museum or landmark.

Have coffee with friends.  Have a night of board games together.

Read a novel - not a textbook! - for fun.  Watch TV shows - try not to watch the entire season of Big Bang Theory or Game of Thrones in one week, though!

Or maybe this day is for one of your activities from #4.

What's next?

What's next for me?  I don't really know.

So many other US seminary graduates have or will have positions in local churches as associate pastor or senior pastor. I'm not sure if that's for me.

I'm currently part of the administration of M+Power, an initiative to mobilize and promote Eurasian Nazarenes in cross-cultural ministry, and involved in our district NMI.  I've also taught a bit for the Bible college on our region, and perhaps one day would like to go back to teaching at an international K-12 school.

For now, I'm mostly home with our toddler, and trying to connect with friends from my Dutch lessons or from church. Another dream is to host people in our home - so, if you're ever here in Holland, come visit!

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Got any other tips for seminary students, as an alum or friend?

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