Seminary Doesn’t Prepare People for Ministry; It Merely Meets Manmade Expectations
I know many people who have gone to seminary. And I have friends who are going to seminary. I encourage them, pray for them, and once even helped pay the tuition. I respect those who have gone to seminary and graduated. But here’s the truth about seminary.
Yet for most ministry-minded people seminary is a waste of time. Truly.
Seminary Is Man’s Idea
Attending seminary is a human concept. Nowhere in the Bible is there a command to pursue advanced education in order to minister to others. Jesus doesn’t say, “Before you go into the world, spend three years in advanced studies,” he just says, “Go.”
We made up the seminary part because it seemed like a good thing to do, but it isn’t God’s idea.
Seminary Isn’t Required
None of the disciples, apostles, or elders went to seminary or received any sort of special religious training (Acts 4:13). The only one requirement is that they had spent time with Jesus. Yep, that’s it.
The one essential qualification to ministry in the New Testament is having spent time with Jesus (Acts 1:21). Paul barely qualifies because, as one too late, he lacks one-on-one time with Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:8-9), but…
Seminary Knowledge Confuses People
Paul is the closest example in the New Testament to having a seminary degree. However, this detracts rather than helps. After Paul talks to Felix, the governor exclaims, “Your great learning is driving you insane,” (Acts 26:24, NIV).
Yet Felix is an outsider. What do insiders think? Peter, the church’s first leader, writes this about Paul: “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand,” (2 Peter 3:18, NIV). At best, advanced learning creates a gulf between ministers and other people.
Seminary Doesn’t Help
I read that ministers who haven’t been to seminary are happier in their jobs than ministers with religion degrees. Furthermore non-seminary ministers are deemed more successful in ministry than their diploma-toting peers.
So it seems seminary prepares ministers who will not be as happy or as successful.
Seminary Delays Ministry
I’ve had my heart broken too many times by people who say, “God has called me to full time ministry—so I’m going to seminary.” The first part excites me. The second part vexes my soul. If God calls you to full time ministry, then obey him and go.
Don’t waste three years to get more schooling that doesn’t really matter, because…
Seminary Trains the Wrong Things
Seminary does little to draw students into a closer, personal relationship with Jesus, help them connect with God through prayer, or partner with the Holy Spirit. And it doesn’t focus on the essential people skills needed to lead a congregation.
The one thing seminary is good for is to prepare people to teach at the college level. A seminary graduate possesses the academic credentials universities require. Of course to actually teach seminary requires a PhD, but an MDiv does give great credentials to teach at a Bible college.
Seminary Wastes Money
While a few seminaries are free, most cost money to attend. Spending money on something that isn’t commanded or required by God, delays ministry, and prepares for the wrong things is foolish and an example of poor stewardship.
Instead invest that money in kingdom-facing initiatives that will actually do some good.
The Truth about Seminary
The one thing seminary does accomplish is that it fulfills the expectation of people that their clergy have endured the rigors of advanced education. Indeed, in some religious circles a seminary degree is a necessary document to gain entrance.
Yet this manmade requirement does little to equip ministers with the skills needed to do their jobs well.
If God actually tells you to go to seminary, then go. Otherwise just start serving him and leave the advanced education to the academics. Jesus is all you need. And that’s the truth about seminary,
Read more about the book of Acts in Tongues of Fire: 40 Devotional Insights for Today’s Church from the Book of Acts, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. [Originally published as Dear Theophilus Acts.]
Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.
Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.
17 replies on “The Truth about Seminary”
You’re mostly right. Seminary helped me teach and preach, but it didn’t prepare me for some critical skills in pastoral ministry:
– leadership. Vision, strategizing, communicating vision.
– the financial business of the church – budgeting, fund-raising, debt, stewardship
– personnel – hiring, firing, managing staff
Serving in two mega-churches as in intern and associate (14 years) did more to prepare me, but that was not their purpose in hiring me and I did not get as much skill training as I would later need to serve as head pastor in two churches.
Preparation is vital, but seminary is inadequate.
There must be a better way.
I’m all for on-the-job training, backed by a sound mentor and the Holy Spirit. That’s essentially what the disciples did!
I tend to agree with Dave. Not ever having experienced seminary, I have spent a lifetime under the shepherding of many who did. My period of greatest spiritual growth came under the tutelage of a great man of Christ who never attended seminary. Whereas, I’ve also heard some of the most astounding apostasy and heretical statements from seminary trained pastors. There must be a system for validating a call, nurturing spiritual development, acquiring hermeneutical skills, becoming exegetically proficient, and grounding in doctrine, while training in practical administrative and counseling abilities. Every man ministering as he thinks right is a formula for the collapse of Christianity. Definitely, though, what we have now is far from optimal and devolving at a dramatic pace.
That reminds me of 1 Corinthians 8:1, which ends with “But knowledge puffs up.” I see too many “puffed up” seminary grads – and the laity afraid to question them.
I have seen (in the past 65 years) many a seminarian ordained as priests after more than 12-15 years of training (where huge amount of money is spent by the Church or the Religious Congregations for this meaningless training of theirs – called Formation Years – which for me seems like Deformation Years… They all come out haughty, heartless and all puffed up with no human qualities whatsoever – forget the Divine…. Being a very ordinary man, I have been questioning them for the past 50 years for the way they go about bullying and oppressing my people everywhere (very much like the UNFAITHFUL SERVANT mentioned by the Lord) … I can’t bring myself to believe that these men (and women) could be for Jesus in any manner…. I and my family have also been victims of their heartlessness for 30 years and more…. I wonder in what manner they are carrying out the Lord’s Command….
Noel, I’m so sorry to hear about your experiences.
Anyone can lose their way. This is a good reminder for everyone – you, me, seminarian, and not – to keep our eyes on Jesus.
Wow! This is a strong piece! It’s also well developed, coherent, and thought-provoking.
It reminds me how my own formal training at college for a business degree did not adequately prepare me to function with excellence in the business world. Only practical experience (life’s best teacher), mentoring from someone more well-rounded and well-versed in the trade than me, and some difficult life lessons in “the school of hard knocks” could mold me into a more viable businessperson.
I believe there is value in higher education, whatever its form may take. It places you under the tutelage of wise and respected people with more relevant experience in your field of endeavor. Granted, not all people in leadership at such institutions will lead you in the right direction, and discerning who will from who won’t will be a task unto itself.
Yet education at a higher level also gives you time to consider the life ahead without being encumbered by its responsibilities. Call it a time to listen for God’s calling on your life. Even if that latter element is all you gain from higher education, it has been worth the investment.
Kudos for challenging conventional thinking in such an engaging manner.
Thanks, Tim. I imagine a long bike tour gives plenty of time to think about life and listen to God!
That it does!
I not only disagree, I strongly disagree. There are three kinds of knowledge. First, things you know. Second, things you know you don’t know. For example, I know there is a book called “Wuthering Heights,” but I know I don’t know what it’s about. And third, the huge pool of things you don’t even realize you don’t know. A standard MDiv degree provides a solid basis for pastoring and starting a ministry. Admittedly, and as indicated by Dave Weidlich, there are things seminary does not teach you. That being said, avoiding an education and claiming “it’s not needed” isn’t logically sound…and not supported by Scripture either; we are encouraged to engage both our hearts and minds. The core argument of this article would be made by someone who never went to seminary. If someone has never been through seminary, how can they claim to “not need” what they’ve never learned in the first place? Don’t be fooled…Satan would love to see thousands of uneducated pastors…preaching, no less. It’s no wonder bizarre, liberal and progressive theologies are on the rise…
Jim, I appreciate you taking time to share your perspective. Thank you
Contrary to that brother, I see more and more seminaries going worker than woke in recent days. Why would I spend thousands of dollars to get CRT and Social Justice shoved down my throat? I can read Systematic Theology on my own and email the writers of those books if I have questions. Most of the pastors that I trusted and have now gone woke all went to seminary. None of the non-seminary educated men of God I trust have gone through it. I see a connection.
Ken, thanks for sharing your experience and insight!
Likewise, many seminaries shove right wing conservative politics down people’s throat as well. Lets not forget that most semonaries will bend either to the left lr right basically validating the author’s point.
Jamel, so true. Seminaries shouldn’t have a political agenda but to keep their focus on God.