December 8, 2007

For those of you following me so far, I’m relocating this blog in advance of my public roll-out.

You can find Seminary Survival Guide here. Your RSS subscriptions should follow the new blog.

Knowledge Is Not Life

December 8, 2007

One of the dangers of seminary to your spiritual life is that so much emphasis and time is spent on the expansion of your knowledge base. Hidden within the academic environment is the deadly assumption that knowledge is what qualifies you for ministry.

It’s not. What qualifies you for ministry is the life of God in you by virtue of your regeneration. It is the power of the Holy Spirit who has brought you from death to life.

In fact, knowledge can be deadly. The simple Southerners 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 knowledge, and lost life.

I thought they were being paranoid, until I met the guys in my Hebrew class. I’ll tell you that story later.

Knowledge is not life. Just ask Adam and Eve.

Knowledge is learning, facts, being correct. It’s being more correct than the next guy. It’s showing how correct you can be. (You might know folks like this. You might be one.) “Knowledge puffs up.” It leads to pride, and pride is spiritually deadly.

Life is love, relationship, obedience, prayerfulness, reliance on God. Here’s Paul: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.” (1 Corinthians 8:1-3)

That’s not to say that knowledge is bad. It’s not bad. Knowledge is a good thing. You should learn. I did. I didn’t even know how to think until I went to seminary.

But be warned: Knowledge is not life. Pursued AS life, knowledge is death.

Knowledge (alone) makes you a Pharisee. Life makes you a Christian. Jesus did not come to make us smart. He came to make us live.

So as you’re studying diligently in seminary, don’t think that Christianity is about being smart. Don’t think that leading God’s people is about being smart. Christian leaders are shepherds, not professors. Knowledge is useful, even necessary. But it is not life.

Seminary DOES prepare you for ministry

December 7, 2007

Let’s start by stating the obvious. If you go to seminary you should learn the Bible, Christian doctrine, ethics, church history, Greek and Hebrew. This is really important work, the very heart of ministry preparation. There are things people serving in ministry need to know, and know well. Ignorant Christians in leadership are an embarrassment to the kingdom.

But most often, people don’t fail in ministry because of what they don’t know. They fail in ministry because they fail in self-management. I’m working through a devotional book by David Nasser. In today’s entry he talked about how David feel into sin with Bathsheba (adultery) and Uriah (murder) not by one intentional act of self-destruction, but by a series of compromises that started small and got larger.

No one talks about this, but seminary is a crash course in self-management. The one thing you are bound to meet in seminary is the pressure of multiple, unrelenting demands on your time and energy: God, family, ministry, study, work, etc. All of them are important… but you are only one person.

Ministry is exactly the same way. There is no relief once you graduate. The rest of your life will be managing multiple demands. This is why I use Triage as a metaphor for life management in ministry.

Last for today: the self-management habits you form in seminary are very likely to stay with you in ministry. Now obviously we can all learn and grow in it if we’re intentional. I’m encouraging you to be intentional from the beginning.

Think ahead. When you finish seminary and are in ministry, what do you think your daily priorities ought to be? Make a list.

Now. Are you living those priorities right now? If you “can’t” live them now, then you won’t live them later.

Seminary does not prepare you for ministry

December 5, 2007

Ok, time for an ugly reality check. Seminary does not prepare you for ministry.

Or, at least, it does not prepare you in all the important ways you need to be prepared. How many times have you heard pastors remark about some issue they’re facing, “They didn’t teach us that in seminary?” You’ll be saying it yourself soon.

Preparation for ministry is YOUR responsibility, not your seminary’s. When you get into the real world of ministry and find yourself unprepared, don’t blame the seminary. And don’t blame us, either, because we’re warning you now.

For example, a seminary degree does not guarantee:

  • That you have a genuine, divine calling to ministry. There are many working in churches without the call. I’ll say more about that in a later post.
  • That you love people. There are many people who get into ministry, strangely enough, excited about God and his word, but not so much about people.
  • That you are living holy. Degrees won’t help you repent or be humble. I remember my seminary roommate, who was in the counseling program, talk about how many sexual addiction groups there were at the seminary’s counseling center, full of seminary students. And that’s just of the ones who reached out for help!
  • That you can lead. A degree won’t help you learn to lead. You’ll have to learn that somewhere else, mostly by doing it and seeing it done.

Does seminary have value? Absolutely. But don’t make the mistake of thinking it will do everything for you.

What could we add to this list?

You must learn triage

December 1, 2007

Triage (`tree-ozh), from French, “to sort.”

1. A process for sorting injured people into groups based on their need for or likely benefit from immediate medical treatment. Triage is used in hospital emergency rooms, on battlefields, and at disaster sites when limited medical resources must be allocated.

2. A system used to allocate a scarce commodity, such as food, only to those capable of deriving the greatest benefit from it.

3. A process in which things are ranked in terms of importance or priority. (From The American Heritage Dictionary)

Here’s our first piece of wisdom. You might want to write this down and put it on your bathroom mirror:

You can’t do everything.

There’s no way for you to work all the hours to get all the money you need, AND make straight “A”s in school, AND maintain an intimate walk with God, AND pour yourself out in fruitful ministry, AND develop an impressive resume, AND see to the needs of your spouse and family, AND develop a network of friendships to support you AND get the rest, exercise and proper nutrition you need.

It’s just not possible. The time and energy demands for each of these endeavors is much too great for one person. So please give up on this now. It is a pipe dream. If you are a perfectionist, read the last paragraph again.

What we must decide is what to say no to. Since you can’t do everything, there are some things that simply will not get the attention they need. The earlier you reconcile yourself to that raw fact, the better off you’ll be.

Learning to Say Yes, No, and Wait.
Ever been to an emergency room on a Friday night? The waiting area is often crammed with injured, sometimes bleeding, people. Why are they there? Can’t they get any service?

If you are injured and go to an emergency room, your first stop will be to see the triage nurse. He or she will quickly evaluate you and decide how urgent your condition is. This will determine when you receive treatment. If you are about to die, you’ll probably be seen immediately. If your injuries are not life-threatening, however, be prepared to wait. It’s not unusual for some people to wait in the emergency room for 8 hours to be seen, while others are whisked back and are seen in minutes. It’s not a fair system at all.

Compare this to a customer service call center. While you’re on hold, the recorded message tells you that “your call will be answered in the order in which it was received.” Or, compare it to the customer service counter in a department store. There’s a line. The next person in line gets served. It’s fair. Everyone gets treated equally.

The triage nurse is generally not a popular person with people in the waiting room. But it is her job to attend to the most important things first. She is responsible to see that the hospital’s resources are managed so that lives are saved. If emergency rooms were like customer service centers—first-come, first-served—then people would be dying of heart attacks in the waiting room as the doctors give their attention to cuts and scrapes. Triage is an unpopular, but critically important task.

You need to manage your life like an emergency room, not a customer service center. You need to learn to tell people to sit and wait. You need to learn to practice triage with time, tasks and relationships.This will take some toughness and determination. If you are a wuss about this, and say yes to everything, you might as well give up now. You are a sure candidate for burning out. Better to quit while you still have your soul intact.

But if you’re serious about ministry, it’s important that you learn triage early. Because once you’re out of seminary, life in ministry is the same. There are always more people to see and tasks to perform than you have time for. You will practice triage or you will burn out.

Try This
Try this idea, borrowed from Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week. For two days, say no to every request you receive, no matter how large or small. (Exceptions for God, spouse and boss permitted…although even the boss needs to be told no occasionally.)

“Can you help me bring in this box?” No.
“Do you have a second?” No.
“We’re having a party and…” No.

What is this, cruelty? No. Saying no is a good habit to develop, because it requires guts.If you’re gutless, start telling people no. Remember: you’re not doing it to be a jerk, you’re doing it so you can say yes to the important things.

Try it. Let me know how it goes.

Welcome to Seminary Survival Guide

December 1, 2007

Do you want to survive seminary?

We hope you will. Frankly, we want you not just to survive seminary, but to survive ministry, too. But the statistics aren’t good.

  • Half of all seminary students drop out before they complete their degrees.
  • The protestant clergy divorce rate equals that of the general population.
  • The average seminarian in 2001 graduated with $25,000 in debt
  • Of those who begin a career in full-time ministry, only one in ten makes it to retirement.

No one wants to become a statistic.

Seminary is hard—primarily because of all the things you must balance at once. You have multiple demands on your time and energy, and the unspoken expectation is that you’ll be perfect in every area. It’s a lot like ministry in a local church.

We believe that people entering ministry develop their self-management habits in seminary, for better or for worse. This is the moment you need the best counsel you can find, to increase your chances of success.

So who are “we,” anyway? We are a group of friends in ministry who are contributing to what we hope will become a book on the subject. Most of us are seminary grads, and all of us are in full-time ministry. Three of us serve on staff at the same church together. Our church has four young men in seminary right now, with more on the way. We want them to survive. We want you to survive, too.

Our heart is to pass on to current students the wisdom that comes from having been there, done that, and made it through. We’re not always right, of course, and some of our suggestions won’t work for you. We trust your judgment. But wisdom calls out in the streets, and we hope by giving a good listen hear, you will hear her voice.

So we’re working together on what we hope will become a book on the subject. This blog is a place for us to test-drive ideas, and for you, hopefully, to glean helpful bits of wisdom as we put it together.

We’ll be posting regularly on a number of topics, including:

  • Time management
  • Spiritual life
  • Emotional health
  • Financial matters
  • Marriage and family
  • Friends and dating
  • Calling
  • Exercise, rest and nutrition
  • Ministry during seminary
  • Ministry after seminary
  • Stories
  • Random ideas

We’d love for you to be part of this community. Leave comments, share stories, share ideas. We welcome your praise and your good-spirited criticism. Your participation can only make our work more effective.

And pray for us. We’re hoping this effort will help you be wise, strong, encouraged, and fruitful.

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