People in my home church in Florida cautioned me: “Don’t let seminary ruin you.” I knew what they meant. Stories abounded of young men who went to seminary fired up to change the world for Jesus, and returned cold and lifeless, all their zeal dissolved in the acid of theological debates and parsing of verbs. They got immense knowledge and lost spiritual vibrancy.
In an academic environment, it’s easy to make the assumption that knowledge is what qualifies you for ministry. It’s not. What qualifies you for ministry is the life and calling of God in you. It is the power of the Holy Spirit who has brought you from death to life.
The way I think of it now is that knowledge fuels our love for God and others, which then propels our obedience to God’s commands. Obedience then produces a kind of experiential knowledge, which further fuels our love and propels us to greater obedience.
So as you’re studying diligently in seminary, let your increasing knowledge fuel an increasing love of God and his people. Here are some suggestions:
1. Maintain a devotional time with God. No matter what time pressures come to bear, make this a non-negotiable of your day.
2. Don’t be a spiritual Olympian. Time with God every day doesn’t have to be super long or super profound. If you’re reading devotionally and praying daily for 10 minutes, that’s better than nothing at all. In an ideal world, you’d have the liberty to spend more like 30-60 minutes with God every day, but we don’t live in an ideal world. Don’t think that simple and brief moments with God are inferior.
3. Pray over assignments. Jesus’ example shows us that time alone with God is important. However, Jesus carried his connection with God into every moment of ministry. Take time to pray before reading and study sessions. Invite the Lord’s presence into everything you’re doing.
4. Find a spiritual mentor. Anyone with a walk with God you respect can be a mentor of sorts, even if you only have one conversation or meet for coffee when you can squeeze it in. Conversation about the Lord and your soul with people outside of the seminary context can be especially helpful.
5. Make times for personal spiritual retreats. In between semesters, take a day or two to hike into the woods, or find a secret place to renew your intimacy with God apart from textbooks and exams.