TEDS PhD Graduation 2011: Why The Labor & Pain of Seminary Is Abundantly Worth It

TEDS PhD Graduation 2011: Why The Labor & Pain of Seminary Is Abundantly Worth It December 15, 2011

Casey Lewis of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas just wrote a nice post reflecting on his MDiv experience (HT: TGC).  It’s worth checking out.  Here’s a snippet from his comments on plugging in at church:

Don’t coast through your seminary career thinking you will minister when you take on your first church. Find a church now, plug in, spend as much time with the leadership there as you can, and minister to as many people as you can, even if it is not from the pulpit. In addition, you should give the church you attend during seminary the same opportunity to examine your calling to the ministry as you did your home church.

Read the whole thing.  Well done, Casey.

This reminded me of a series of posts I did some years back entitled “Seasons of a Seminarian,” parts 1-3.  I wrote them in 2007 just before graduating from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with my MDiv (the image is of SBTS in winter) in order to try to show fellow seminarians and would-be seminarians just how meaningful my time at SBTS was.  My opinion of that degree has not changed in the least.

Seasons of a Seminarian: Beginning
Seasons of a Seminarian: Middle
Seasons of a Seminarian: End

Here’s how I began the series:

Every Christian seminary is different, and SBTS is no exception to this rule. Our seminary has its own quirks, its own flavor, its own strengths, its own weaknesses. And yet we can also guess that the experience of a Southern student has much in common with that of a Trinity student, a Southwestern student, a Westminster student. Whether in Illinois, Texas, Philadelphia or Louisville, every seminarian goes through certain seasons, certain periods defined by common trials and joys. It is the purpose of this series to briefly reflect on the various seasons of a seminarian through my own three and a half years at SBTS. I hope that my recollections interspersed with more general commentary on seminary life will prompt recollection about your own seminary experience. In covering this subject, then, we remember and celebrate the experiences of that uniquely blessed and taxed creature: the Christian seminarian.


Now I’m at a different threshold: graduating from another seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, with a doctorate in Theological Studies and a concentration in Historical Theology.  Surveying the last eight years of my life, it was abundantly worth it to move to Louisville and do an MDiv and then move to TEDS and do a PhD.

I blogged on this a little while back after SWBTS President Paige Patterson said that in-person ministry training was best (using Navy SEALS as a helpful example), and also at The Gospel Coalition’s national conference following a panel on this topic with Mohler, Carson, Driscoll, and others.  I got a bit of pushback on that post, but I haven’t moved an inch from my conviction that Patterson is quite right.  It’s hard to move to another place; it can require dexterity to find a job to support your family; juggling classes, church, and work is never dull; there will be times when you wonder whether it would have been way smarter to do online classes and save your family the hassle (and your body the sleep).

But there is no substitute for an in-person MDiv, especially when you couple it with service to a Christ-exalting local church.  It’s hard, it’s challenging, and it is not necessarily “at your own pace,” but it is wonderfully enriching, stretching, and eye-opening.  Provided students make contact with their professors, and provided students plug into their local churches, the residential MDiv is far superior to watching videos in your home and posting comments in discussion forums.

Many of us are grateful that online training makes it possible for people who simply can’t move to still earn a meaningful education.  But that gratefulness, at least on my part, does not at all mitigate the fact that attending classes with peers, learning from real-life instructors, and generally experiencing the benefits of the campus community offers the student an incredible opportunity to learn in an immersive way.

This is true of my PhD as well as my MDiv.  Lord willing, I will graduate tomorrow from TEDS.  I am very glad that I actually went to TEDS, got to know a whole new group of peers, knew my professors, played basketball on Friday mornings, and generally experienced life in Chicagoland.  What a formative time it was, and how grateful I am for an excellent degree under the supervision of Douglas Sweeney and committee members John Woodbridge, George Marsden, and Richard Averbeck.

This is not to say that my time at TEDS was not without challenge.  It was.  But it was a blessed season, a gift of a very kind God, one that I would encourage fellow future ministry workers to enter as soon, and as fully, as they possibly can.

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