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(That Ministry Experience Alone Probably Wont)


(That Ministry Experience Alone Probably Wont)

Experience is a good teacher, and only a fool wont

E. A. Pickett

I recall running into a old mutual frienda woman
while hanging out with my buddy, and it was obvious to
both of us that since our last meeting she had gained
some weight. I am sure you can see where this is going
After some superficial chitchat, my friend glanced at her
belly and asked her if she was pregnant.

You could have heard a pin drop in that room.

Um, no, she managed. No. Im not pregnant.
There was nowhere to go or hide and absolutely nothing
to say. The three of us stood there for a minute and
listened to the crickets. We all learned something that
day. Experience was instructing us.
Experience is a good teacher, but her lessons are both
costly and precious. Character and knowledge is a rare
combination but is something expected of someone
entering the ministry.
We get many of our character training and common sense
notions from experiences other lessons: driving on
empty, pushing the speed limit, and noticing someones
But for the believer who wants to be involved in ministry
as a profession, theres a lot to be said for formal
education at a seminary. Experience is good, even
valuable, but theres nothing like a seminary degree when
you consider the wisdom of reputable teachers imparting
their knowledge.
Your teachers, wise men and women, will be whom you
get to walk with for four years. As King Solomon noted,

Walk with the wise and become wise (Proverbs

Of course, the traditional route to a ministry career is
through a seminary education, but what does it actually
provide for you? Is it worth it?
Without question, a seminary education will be a lifelong
asset and an investment you will never regret.
Lets take a look at 10 things a seminary degree will
provide for you that ministry experience alone probably

#1 Credibility
If I take care of my character, my reputation will take
care of itself.
D. L. Moody
The most obvious strength of securing a seminary degree
is that it aligns you with that school and its reputation.
You are guilty by association.
Thats why when someone drops an M.I.T. or a Harvard
or West Point reference for their schooling, our ears
always perk up.
We give them instant credibility for having graduated
from such a prestigious institution. They have gained our
respect, at least until they open their mouths, which is
Moodys point: Our reputation ultimately depends on our
So then, going to a good school for your seminary
experience instantly gives you credibility when you
minister to people. Almost without exception folks will
initially ask you where youre from, what you do, and
where you attended school.
Being able to drop a nameyour Yale card, if you
willgains you an audience instantly because you are

deemed credible. Hopefully, when you do open your

mouth, there will also be something credible coming
forth because of your seminary training.
Listen to what one student had to say about her decision
to go to seminary:
I have done ministry as a lay person. Im just realizing
that I need to have the credentials, academically and
otherwise, to be able to work with others well and have
an effective ministry. Since I got my graduate degree, I
see the value of thatits not a bragging right, but it
gives you more credibility, I think.
Thats a typical comment and a valid one. A seminary
degree communicates that you have made the investment
of time and money to get the proper training from
qualified professors, and they have approved you to do
the work of ministry.
You are validated by a renowned institution. This means
people to whom you minister can have confidence in
your training.
In addition to credibility, going to seminary gives you
something else, as well: important lifelong contacts.

#2 Network
You can make more friends in two months by becoming
interested in other people than you can in two years by
trying to get other people interested in you.
Dale Carnegie
One of the immense advantages of a seminary experience
is the diversity and number of interesting people you
come into contact with each day, from professors to
classmates to guest speakers and even janitors.
Each and every one of these people God divinely placed
in your path to know, befriend, and love in His place.
What an honorand what an opportunity, too!
Entering ministry training in seminary means you are a
servant, and as a servant you get to help and interact with
hundreds of strangers who may become your friends for
life. These friends may be an asset in your ministry
down the road as you serve Christ.
There are no strangers in Christ, only friends who have
not yet met.
This can be summed up in what Paul said in 1 Timothy
1:5: The goal of this command is love

How do you practically do that? How do you love Gods

people while youre in seminary?

Be helpful
Be generous
Be genuine
Be interested in them
Be outstanding (so they never forget you)

Or, put another way, as Paul said in Philippians 2:34,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not
looking to your own interests but each of you to the
interests of the others.
These individuals you meet, work with and serve during
your time in seminary are people who can be lifelong
contacts down the road. People you can call on when you
have needs or questions in your own ministry, or perhaps
connections or references when youre looking for a
career change.
When you graduate, you will be leaving the campus but
not the network of friends youve made in your time
there. Your mark should remain on them long after
youre gone.

Having a network of connected and valued relationships

in ministry also gives you special friendships. Because of
your time in school together, you can count on one
another, but chances are youll also make one special
friendship above all the others.


#3 A Mentor
The best way a mentor can prepare another leader is to
expose him or her to other great people.
John C. Maxwell
Perhaps the greatest asset of a seminary degree is the
professor who you get to know over your time in school,
that one person who clicks with you, someone you really
grow to respect. Perhaps there will be several.
Many of these men and women have reached instructor
status after years and years of teaching thousands of
pupils. Many have gone on to do great things in the
Kingdom. In addition, not only do you get the privilege
of knowing your professors, you also get to know their
And what do you suppose is the one thing every good
teacher wants? They love to know they are making a
difference in the world through their influence on their
students. They know that churches and ministries all over
the world are being influenced vicariously through them.
Spending extra time with your instructorsduring office
hours, meals, or even off-campusis critical to your true
instruction as you glean from their wisdom and perhaps
even help them out as a fellow servant of Christ. The

great mentors long to give you chances to grow and

So how do you capitalize on this amazing opportunity
with these professors?
In the spirit of Philippians 2:34, think of them FIRST.
Friendly: Enjoy a coffee or a meal with them
whenever you can.
Initiate: Take advantage of their office hours.
Respect: Make an extra effort to do well in their class.
Serve: Make yourself available to assist them.
Time: Spend time praying for them.
Look what Paul David Tripp wrote about this mentorship
between seminary professors and their students:
I am suggesting that seminary professors become
committed to making community with their students and
that they always teach with the heart in view and the
transforming power of the gospel of hope. I am
suggesting that the seminary student should feel known
and loved by his professors and that, in the process of his
education, he will come to know his heart and his Lord
more deeply and fully.


Wouldnt you love to have someone of that caliber in

your corner when you need them? Dont miss the golden
opportunity to befriend your professors and look to them
for mentorship, both in school and later on in your
A mentor you can go to for wise counsel can make a
tremendous difference in your ministry. One of those
areas in the future when this counsel will be important is
in your career choices.


#4 Career Advancement
The difference between a job and a career is the
difference between forty and sixty hours a week.
Robert Frost
Do you know the difference between a job and a career?
Robert Frost would say its just more work. But most
would agree a job is an activity that just puts cash in your
pocket for the moment, and a career has three distinct
It drives you.
Its long-term.
It starts with an education.
Your educational background lays the foundation for
whom you will become in your ministry serving others.
As Jesus noted in Luke 6:48, a foundation is the essential
first step in building anything:
They are like a man building a house, who dug down
deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood


came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it,
because it was well built.
Thats a universal truth in building a fence, a home, or a
The nice thing about a career in Gods work is that your
life is a triad of ministry, career, and a callingnot just a
job that puts cash in your pocket (although it certainly
should do that, too). Its a rare combination from the
worlds perspective, but a special gift for those in
ministry. You only have to wear one hat, a hat that you
are passionate about. It drives you because you love it.
Of course, another really nice thing about a seminary
education are the opportunities that present themselves as
you advance in your career. A youth pastor might
eventually become an associate pastor and perhaps even
the senior pastor.
And thats what a career is longevity. You are moving
along a path with increasing influence and reward for
your development of skills and effort.
It all begins with your education, which is why a
seminary degree is so critical to your success in the longterm. You have to think 20, 30, even 40 years from now.


In this light, an investment in a seminary degree is a

brief, but critical, blip on your career span.
So any advancement in your chosen career field begins
with your education. Those credentials not only give you
a start in ministry; they make it possible to move up.
And the nice thing about your degree is that it goes with
you, wherever God leads you..


#5 Mobility
Even if you fall on your face, youre still moving
Victor Kiam
Another of the special things about a seminary degree is
it can help you find a job in any town or city. There are
churches all over the world, not to mention a myriad of
other ministries. With a degree, youre not necessarily
limited to your first place of employment. You can move
as God leads you, even if that leading is overseas.
Our lives are measured in seasons: fresh out of seminary,
your first real job, getting married, starting a family,
raising your kids (and saving for their college expenses),
grandkids, considering retirement, and then finally
retirement. Perhaps youll discover at some point your
interests and skills change with these seasons of life, and
you want to pursue other areas of ministry.
Something more challenging, or maybe less challenging,
may catch your eye. Maybe in your twilight years, your
health will mean moving to Arizona or Florida, and guess
what? Your degree will still carry weight and create
opportunities for you to continue in ministry long after
some folks have been forced to retire.


Having a degree in your pocket is like a pass to get

through life and serve Him wherever He places you in
whatever seasoneven if you fall downand it gives
you all the confidence in the world to take faith-filled


#6 Confidence
Risk something or forever sit with your dreams.
Herb Brooks
When you graduate with a seminary degree, you can
stand a little straighter. Why? Because you can have
confidence that you ran the gauntlet and came through a
changed person.
You withstood a flurry of punches from respected
professors, experts in their fields who taught you the very
best they know about their areas of expertise.
And you passed.
You can have confidence that youve been well-trained
and can jump right into ministry with both feet
running! You have the confidence to take risks and
chase your dreams in serving others, to go headlong into
the fray knowing youve accomplished something very
few will.
Just being there has made you a different person. The
atmosphere on campus alone is a life-changing thing.
The classroom learning, the corporate worship, the
influence of faculty, small group Bible studies, and

shared meals all coalesce into a transformational process

that results in spiritual maturity.
These may have been the very best years of your life!
And it all spells confidence, in any language and at any
Ah price. Is it worth it? Lets talk about that fourletter word.


#7 Debt
Your minimum goal should be to avoid financial
bondage through debt. This doesnt mean you cant
borrow to buy anything. But borrowing to buy
consumables such as gifts, vacations, even cars, will put
a family in bondage quickly.
Larry Burkett
Every pastor will eventually preach on finances and debt,
with the key verse being Proverbs 22:7:
The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave
to the lender.
We know getting into debt is not a sin, but it is still true
that it is a weak position. You will be enslaved
(indebted) to a bank or government for your school loans,
especially if you get into debt for luxury items like boats
and trips.
Actor Steve Martin said it best: I love money. I love
everything about it. I bought some pretty good stuff. Got
me a $300 pair of socks. Got a fur sink. An electric dog
polisher. A gasoline powered turtleneck sweater. And,
of course, I bought some dumb stuff, too.


So debt needs to be wisely entered into with this

understanding: Not all debt is bad if it is an investment in
the future and not just a want but a real need.
Depending on your convictions and faith, going into debt
to get a seminary education is an investment because you
will be qualified to pay it off with an exceptional asset
for employment.
And dont forget that scholarships and financial aid are
available all the time, as are part-time jobs while in
school. Some seminaries even offer full-ride
scholarships! There are countless ways to minimize your
debt, and each school will work to help you with it.
And remember, God is in this.
Imagine if Jesus had lunch at a diner on campus. Do you
think Hed slip out without paying His bill? Of course
not! If Jesus ordered it, Hed pay for it. So it is with your
seminary degree: Jesus will pay for whatever He orders.
Of course, this all depends on your degree (a degree in
Ancient Babylonian Art may not be as marketable as a
degree in Biblical and Theological Studies). But
remember, if you are in a program that doesnt seem to
be as interesting or marketable as you first thought, you
can always change, even after graduation.

#8 Flexibility
There is nothing so stable as change.
Bob Dylan
At some point in your ministerial career, you may have to
move physically or make a lateral move into another
Your aging parents may have health issues in another
city. Maybe God wants you to go overseas or do some
missions work in the inner city. Maybe youll want to
work in a prison ministry or in the military as a chaplain.
Your seminary degree opens doors for you to make
lateral moves into other areas with real ease. Its much
harder to have such mobility if all you have is
Having a seminary degree allows you the luxury of
shifting your ministerial focus as God leads you. When
you first begin ministering to people, you may be
involved in youth ministry, helping in a campus setting
or youth group. As you get married and have kids, you
may find it harder to relate to 18-year-olds and may start
gradually working more with other couples. Its a natural


Maybe you start speaking on Sundays and find yourself

thinking about running a church yourself. Or maybe
church planting is in your organizations vision. Maybe
you develop a heart for education or orphans or a
particular country.
Whatever the case, its nice to know you have options in
ministry that your seminary degree makes viable.


#9 Masters Degree
Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in
If the Lord has led you to go to seminary, or you think
He may be prodding you, its most likely because your
gifts have been confirmed by friends, family, church
involvement, or mentors.
People who know you well and respect you will tell you
the truth about your strengths and weaknesses. As it says
in Proverbs 27:5-6,
Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a
friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.
If you want to serve Him in a leadership position, you
may need more training and skill. Some larger
organizations or churches prefer their pastor or principal
or worship leader have a masters degree in their
A masters degree gives you a leg up on leadership
opportunities. There are plenty of options to choose from,
depending on your area of focus:


Counseling Psychology
Biblical Studies
Intercultural and Urban Studies
Ministry Leadership
Master of Divinity
Spiritual Formation and Discipleship
Media Arts & Worship
Christian Education
Linguistics & Exegesis

But no matter what you choose, realize that your

seminary degree gives you a greater platform to influence
others for Christ.


#10 Influence
The purpose of influence is to speak up for those who
have no influence. Its not about you.
Rick Warren
Obviously a seminary degree says a lot about you and
what you think. It gives you a great deal of influence in
your church in whatever capacity you serve. But you are
serving. Folks know you have authority and that you are
having an impact in the congregation or ministry youre
involved with, but thats not all. Your ministry degree
also increases your sphere of influence beyond your
ministry walls and allows you to make a difference in
your community as a respected and educated professional
whose opinion matters.
Whether its at a school board meeting, in a letter to the
editor, or during a city council meeting your words
carry weight. You have a voice in matters that pertain to
your community.
And like these two educated men in the Bible, this can
make a real impact in your world.
The king appointed for them a daily ration from the
kings choice food and from the wine which he drank,
and appointed that they should be educated three years,

at the end of which they were to enter the kings personal

service (Daniel 1:5 NASB).
Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians
and was powerful in speech and action (Acts 7:22).
Obviously, Daniel and Moses had a very special
influence on their world, but it began with an education,
and the principle of education and influence remains true
today in our world,
Walk with the wise and become wise (Proverbs
Ultimately it comes down to how much you want to do
for God.


Knowledge is the key that unlocks all the doors. You
can be green-skinned with yellow polka dots and come
from Mars, but if you have knowledge that people need,
instead of beating you, theyll beat a path to your door.
Dr. Ben Carson
Having a seminary degree will change your life, and
thats the way you need to look at it: over a lifetime.
Having renowned professors teaching you at the highest
levels about the Bible, theology, and ministry will
transform you.
The balance of knowledge and character is critical to
your success as a servant of Jesus Christ. As Paul
warned in 1 Corinthians 8:1, knowledge puffs up
while love builds up.
Look at what Jerram Barrs, one of the premier authors
and seminary professors in America, had to say about
this balance:
I regularly tell our seminary students that if I happen to
visit the church in which one of them serves, I will not
ask first, Is this man a good preacher? Rather, first of
all I will ask the secretaries, office staff, janitors, and
cleaners what it is like to work for this pastor. I will ask,

What kind of man is he? Is he a servant? Is he

demanding and harsh, or is he patient, kind, and
forbearing as a man in authority? One of our graduates
may preach great sermons, but if he is a pain to work for,
then you know he will cause major problems in any
congregation. Leaders in the church are required by
Scripture to set an example in the areas of love, kindness,
gentleness, patience, and forbearance before they are
appointed to preach, teach, and rule. If we obediently
require these attitudes and character traits of our
leaders, what will our new community look like?
Thats the goal. Spiritual maturity to serve others for
Jesus Christ, like Jesus Christ.
Experience is a good teacher, but coupled with a
seminary degree, youll have the best of both worlds
knowledge and characterand, as Dr. Ben Carson says,
Knowledge is the key that unlocks all the doors.