Why Go to Seminary?

by MaryKate Morse, former Executive Dean of Portland Seminary

It’s a legitimate question: Why go to seminary? As with any significant investment of your time and resources, it’s worth considering.

Some of the most common objections to attending seminary I’ve come across are:

These objections have elements of truth in them, but in my view, there are significant reasons why those called to serve God and the church should seriously consider a seminary education.

Six Reasons to Go to Seminary

  1. Scope and Rigor of the Call

    Answering God’s call to enter ministry is one of the most difficult and courageous decisions you can make. Whether it’s pastoring, church planting, chaplaincy, formation, Christian thought leadership, justice or missions work, ministry is not a romantic romp of Bible preaching, creating exciting events and programs, and comforting hurting souls.

    It’s a job that engages the principalities and powers of darkness. It’s a role with few financial or social rewards. It will always take you to the end of yourself. There are few compliments and many conflicts. The responsibilities bleed into every area of your life, even weekends, family time, evenings, vacations, and personal downtime. You constantly disappoint people whose expectations you can rarely meet. For this elite, tough work, you must prepare yourself for the importance and challenge of the call.

  2. Requirement for Preparation

    If you were going into battle as a soldier, you would want to be fully trained and prepared for every eventuality. If you were a surgeon, pilot, or social worker, you would want to know your craft and have practiced it until you feel confident to serve others in that role. So why would the highest calling of serving a church or a mission require less?

    Jesus himself intentionally trained his disciples for two years. The early church had a rigorous training process for its elders and ministers. Throughout history, Christian leaders have always taken seriously the need to prepare those called to ministry for the spiritual, mental and human challenges before them.

  3. Knowledge of the Bible, Church History and Theology

    The fundamentals of understanding Christian faith are the disciplines of the church: Old and New Testament studies, church history and theology. Engaging in these vast, ancient fields requires a commitment to study, think critically, engage with experts, and discern with the Holy Spirit.

    Grades, exams, essays and discussions are all part of serious and responsible learning. It matters that we have rooted in our minds the best thinking about Scripture and theology. It matters that we are not casual about our faith or arrogant enough to think that our frail minds can hold all the wonder and truth of God. We need the “great cloud of witnesses” to help guide and form us.

  4. Complexity of Required Skills

    To lead and serve in ministry requires a complex set of skills that engage the mind, will, heart and soul. One needs to be able to think critically and respond professionally. You have to be self-aware, deeply rooted in Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit, and relationally and culturally astute.

    Communication skills, conflict-management skills, change-management skills, leadership and administration skills, preaching, teaching, counseling, forming, listening and community engagement are necessary. These skills are learned and developed. Even with natural gifts, the bucket can quickly run dry without a well to return to.

  5. Formation & Companionship

    In seminary, the education journey is not only about acquiring knowledge and skills, but also about the formation of oneself to be like Christ. Ideas are not enough.

    Many faithful people become complacent with their faith and spiritual disciplines. Seminary provides a steady focus on becoming like Christ over a period of time, with accountability and companionship. This is critical for developing leaders who can endure the tests and temptations of ministry and thrive in their calling over the long haul. By integrating this intentional formational focus into the curriculum, seminary leads to the best outcomes for growth and the best outcomes for a healthy minister in the long run.

  6. Opportunities

    A seminary master’s or doctoral degree can open doors for a variety of ministries, such as chaplaincy (military, hospital, hospice, prison, business, etc.), soul care, missions, leadership positions in nonprofits, and teaching in schools and universities.

    To name a few examples:

    • The master of divinity (MDiv) is required for ordination in some denominations, as well as for military, prison, and hospital chaplaincy programs.
    • To do doctoral work in theological education, a master’s degree or MDiv is necessary.
    • If you want to be a spiritual director, getting a masters in spiritual formation brings an additional level of accountability and training oversight.

    A seminary graduate education comes with the opportunity for better-paying positions and more options.

The difference between getting information from a conference and going on a seminary journey is the difference between shopping in a grocery store and training as a chef. Jesus calls us to prepare tables for anyone lost or hungry, which requires thought and care.

How do I consider and prepare for seminary?

First, pray for guidance. Talk with trusted mentors and advisors. Listen to the Holy Spirit to discern if you are truly being called to get a graduate seminary education. If you are, it will be clear to you. When the Lord calls, the Lord makes a way, even when it might seem crazy or impossible to you.

Also, get your family and friends on board. Discuss together and plan for when regular study and reflection times might occur. Education and formation isn’t something you can just add on to an already busy life. If you are serious about a seminary education, make room for it.

After you’ve made your decision, there are several things you can do. Search online. Ask trusted friends and spiritual mentors for recommendations. Choose three or four seminaries and then vet them thoroughly. You will know the right one for you, and it might be a surprise.

What should I look for when choosing a seminary?

One of the keys to a successful seminary education is selecting a school that will serve you well. One of the reasons people don’t go to seminary is because they have talked to graduates who didn’t get out of it what they hoped for. So what should you look for in a seminary?

Portland Seminary students having a discussion during class

How do I pay for seminary?

There are several ways to pay for a seminary education: