Since I finished my seminary degree, people have been asking me whether it was worth it. Even before that, when people heard I was in seminary, a good percentage asked whether it was a waste of time and money. I wanted to do a short series on the topic. While my own experience is of course front and center, I have tried to temper it with experiences of others who have gone to different seminaries and asked myself whether my answer would be different if I went to a different seminary.
The big caveat beyond that is that I love the brothers and sisters at my seminary. We are joint heirs of the Kingdom and I will enjoy the presence of the King of Kings with them for all eternity. Some people I love have made a career choice of working in a seminary environment, and there’s probably nothing wrong with that. This series is about the relative value of a massive investment of time, energy and money in seminary vs. other ways that investment might be spent.
The simple answer to “Is seminary a complete waste of time and money?” is, no. It is not a complete waste of time and money. I personally would not do it again and think most people would get better outcomes for what they desire somewhere other than seminary. I certainly know some people who benefited tremendously from a seminary environment, but it is the minority. There are several things I gained in seminary that I may not have gained through other avenues. But the reality is there are very few people I know who say they enjoyed seminary that I would want to have on a church planting team in my context.
I’ll devote a whole post to what I didn’t find helpful about seminary, but the biggest thing is that seminary is primarily academia. If you are the kind of person who likes to read books and write papers and debate finer points then you will enjoy seminary and probably exaggerate its value in real life. If you don’t enjoy those things or are primarily a pragmatic person (which is true of me), seminary will be a dull, life-sucking chore. It also means that things move slowly – whether that is because of lack of motivation or lack of resources is not visible to me- and that can be inordinately frustrating at times. I suspect it is a mixture of both. I frequently struggled with the idea that my seminary generally did not treat me like they were preferring me in honor as a brother in Christ or a customer of their service. It was pretty much: “This is the way we do things here. Deal with it.” There is no doubt that my makeup and career in the private sector colors this a lot, and maybe I’m wrong, but I do know that if I treated those paying my salary the way my seminary treated me, I wouldn’t have any more customers. That’s not an exaggeration.
Which may make you ask, “Mike, why did you go to seminary in the first place?” The answer is I wanted to be a church planter and a godly man who I have great respect for told me that church planters in the west needed a piece of paper on the wall. It was just a cultural expectation. What I have found in our ministry context of low income, mostly minority people, is that nobody cares that I went to seminary. What I have learned through a wide variety of places is seminary is basically a place where middle and upper class white people send other middle and upper class white people to get the credential they like to see in middle and upper class white churches.
Again, I’ll devote a whole post to what was beneficial about seminary, but to me the highlight was one class (thank you Dr. Carson) that made the central point that our own spiritual condition is the primary thing we bring to our ministry experiences. It’s easy for me to go into pragmatic “fix it” mode, and that reminder more than anything else has been etched into me permanently.
I suspect most people who go to seminary would be far better served by joining a local church context where they were challenged to live by increasingly greater faith rather than an academic context where they were required to grow their brain.