If you’re thinking about seminary, below you can find six things to consider to help you choose the right one. I have in mind those interested in the Master of Divinity program.
In no particular order:
1. The Faculty Factor
Many will tell you to choose a seminary based on the seminary faculty. They say the number one reason in your consideration of choosing a seminary is the staff; choose a seminary with professors whom you like and want to study under.
I think this is mostly right, but it’s unrealistic to think that every prospective seminary student will know tons about every seminary faculty in the world, and it’s unrealistic to think a prospective seminary student has the money (more on that later) to uproot their lives to choose a seminary because they like professor such-and-such. Some do. Some come from money and have the ability to do this, which is a blessing. It’s just not possible for everyone.
In addition, what many mean when they say “choose a good faculty” is “choose a faculty with well-known professors.” We should be thankful that some in the academic world have widespread influence, but personal competence and godliness are more important than credentials (although credentials aren’t irrelevant). Just because a seminary professor isn’t well known doesn’t mean he isn’t worthy to study under.
So should the seminary faculty be something you consider as you consider seminary? Yes. I just don’t think it’s the only issue at hand.
2. The Denominational Factor
You should obviously pick a seminary that aligns with your theology, but you may also want to consider a seminary that aligns with your denomination. At Covenant Theological Seminary, things are taught from a Reformed and Presbyterian perspective (PCA). At Southern and Midwestern seminary, you get the Baptist side of things. At Reformed Theological Seminary, you get a mix of perspectives. Think about this when you sign up for seminary.
I enjoyed a rich seminary experience in a denominational seminary in which I do not currently serve and have never been a part. It was a culture shock, but the exposure was tremendous, and it was useful to study under and along with those who have a different perspective on things. Exposure is one of the most important things you need to put yourself in a position to learn.
So keep in mind which denomination (if they belong to one) a seminary belongs to when you sign-up. It sounds like common sense, but if you go to a denominationally affiliated seminary, that seminary is going to talk a lot about their denomination. Also keep in mind that when it comes to employment opportunities, local churches often go to their denomination’s seminary to find prospective employees. Just something to keep in mind.
3. The Geographical Factor
This was a big one for me. I knew I was not emotionally ready to uproot and move to a different state to study, so in the end one of the biggest factors for me was the closeness of the seminary I graduated from, despite it being affiliated with a different denomination. Of course I would not attend a liberal seminary. But I was privileged to have a top-notch seminary just 15 minutes away from my house. Let’s call that a sweet providence.
Can you uproot your family and move across the state or country to study? Some say yes. Some say no. If you can’t, you may have to consider the online program as an alternative. It’s a big decision, and it sometimes means you don’t get to attend the seminary you want because another seminary that’s just as good is closer to home.
4. The Financial Factor
This is a big one. Raise support. Save money. Try your best to get a scholarship. Most seminary students get some sort of scholarship. While taking out a loan and going into small debt will be an option for most, I don’t think you should go into debt for $40-50k for the sum of your seminary tuition without trying to get something paid for. You’d be amazed at how many scholarships are out there, and how many people would be willing to help if you just ask.
5. The Future Plan Factor
By this I mean your future plans. What are your vocational ministry desires? What do you want to do?
I know some will disagree with me, but let me say this: speaking strictly of the Master of Divinity program — unless your desire is to be in full-time vocational ministry— I encourage you to either consider a different degree or to consider a different option all together.
Seminary is brutal. It’s emotionally draining, personally difficult, and financially taxing. Yes, it’s totally worth it for full-time pastors, if you can make it happen. But it’s not for everyone.
If you just like to study theology but are not serious about finding full-time employment in the local church, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree. Still, some attend seminary because it’s a “safe” option and they don’t know what to do with their lives. If full-time vocational ministry is not your aim, there could be another option.
On the flip side of that, consider that many churches in a few denominations have it in their church constitution that you cannot get a job in their church as a full-time pastor without an MDiv or a functional equivalent. Getting an MDiv will make you way more employable in the church, but you need the desire and internal calling to be employed!
6. The Family Factor
This is similar to the geographical factor. What does your spouse say? Can you uproot your kids? You shouldn’t make this decision alone. If you’d love to go to seminary, but your wife despises the thought, you should think twice before moving. Of course God can change her heart over time. I’m just encouraging you not to bulldoze your family into something they are not emotionally ready for. Shepherd your family well in the process.
Seminary was helpful. It wasn’t easy. And at times I wanted to quit. But I’m glad I did it. If you’re considering seminary, I hope these considerations help you.
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