Five things I’ve learned in seminary so far
In September of 2016, I started my seminary education at McMaster Divinity College. I had spoken with a few people about their seminary experiences, but I really had no idea what to expect. Now, I’m coming up on being half way through my Masters of Divinity and I think it’s time for me to stop and reflect back on the things that I’ve learned so far. Hopefully, writing these out will help me to make sure that the lessons stick with me during my second half.
Without further ado, five things I’ve learned in seminary so far:
1. I really don’t know much about the bible, theology, or anything for that matter
I think I already knew this to some extent but, I was used to being the person to lead the discussion a lot of the time when it came to matters of faith. Sitting in a classroom as McMaster, this is certainly not that case. Many of my peers have already spent years formally studying theology or working in ministry fields, it has been humbling. While this could be taken negatively, I think that the humbling has been a really positive experience. There is something to be said for the saying, “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
At McMaster Divinity, I’m in the right room.
There are so many people from such different backgrounds that are ready and willing to challenging my simple understandings of things. I have been so blessed to see that these challenges have always come with a whole lot of grace and love. At the end of the day I’ve realized that theology is a whole lot more grey than I remember. I’ve made the comment that my biblical foundations class could be referred to as “sixty six shades of grey.” While I had a hard time with this at first, I’m becoming more and more comfortable sitting in those grey areas.
2. It’s okay to be wrong
I distinctly remember submitting my very first assignment of my seminary career. It was for a course called Foundations in Effective Ministry and I was extremely anxious. For the first time ever, I was writing formally about my faith. In my previous degree, if I got something wrong in a paper, messed up a neurotransmitter, it wasn’t a big deal. But here, if I mess something up I can accidentally be spouting heretical doctrine (a legitimate fear for me even on this blog.)
Letting go of that first paper was a challenge, and I still wrestle with this sometimes. I make a real effort to be sure that I really believe what I’m saying and that what I’m writing is backed up by research. After that, I just need to recognize that I don’t have a monopoly on truth and that it’s okay to be wrong sometimes. Seminary is a time of learning and if I’m going to be wrong, now is the time to do it, while I’m surrounded by a gracious community of believers seeking after truth together.
3. Seminary is a lot of work (but totally worth it)
Like, seriously. I have gained a new respect for pastors! I have never spent so much time on school, even during my years in full time Neuroscience. But, never have I felt so rewarded by what I was learning. I am legitimately excited about the subject matter of my classes. I’m talking about my paper topics with friends and I regularly want to share what I’m learning. It may be a lot of work, but I am so thankful for the chance that I have be here learning these things.
4. Balance is hard
Before heading off to seminary, I met with a friend who had recently graduated with an M.Div. He told me that the workload wouldn’t be all that bad (agree to disagree, I guess.) He also said that it would be a challenge to balance growing academically and growing spiritually. I didn’t really think much of it at the time, but I’m so thankful that he put that on my radar. It can be extremely difficult to make time for prayer, meditation, reading scripture, etc. when I’ve already spent hours that day reading the bible and theological works. This is an area where I still haven’t found a perfect solution. Setting aside time to rest and doing devotions along with others helps a lot but I still feel like I’m not doing as well as I should be. If I had to mark one of the things from this reflection as a spot where continued practice is needed, balancing academic and spiritual growth would be the one.
5. There is no replacement for good reflection
When I felt called towards ministry and seminary, I decided to start journaling every night. Since then I’ve written more than 1500 entries on over 1200 days (I think I’ve only missed 2 or 3 nights in that entire time.) I can distinctly remember thinking, “if I’m going to be putting myself into a place to be teaching others, I should be able to articulate my own thoughts and feelings.” I never would have guessed how useful this practice would really be. I have written a number of reflection papers over the past year and a half at McMaster and I continue to find them to be some of the most meaningful assignments that I do. Reflection papers are also the perfect opportunity to target the weak point I mentioned in my fourth lesson, the intersection between my academic learning and my spiritual growth. I’m so thankful that McMaster puts such a high value on these types of assignments as a part of my vocational preparation.
You may have noticed that the words “so far” are the biggest words in the title image for this post. That is because reflecting back on what I’ve learned, I feel like I have a lot less answers than when I started (everything is much more grey.) But, I’m looking forward with hope, excited to see how I continue to grow and learn as I make my way through seminary and on into ministry.
The last year and a half has been life changing. There are times when I almost feel like I don’t recognize myself. It has not been easy and there have been some really bad days, but given the chance to do it all over again, I would. I am so excited to see what God has in store for me as I cross over into the second half of my seminary education.