[Robbie Schmidtberger is the Church Planting Resident at Grace and Peace Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA.]
Not too long ago I was hired by my Alma Mater to be a part-time admissions counselor. And let me tell you what: it is a blast! Every conversation I have is kingdom-minded. I get to talk to congregations, pastors, and potential students about their future. Seminary admissions is truly a kingdom endeavor.
If you are considering seminary, there are two things you need to think about: calling and chemistry.
Let’s think about calling.
Calling is complex. Part of calling is a personal, internal desire (1 Tim. 3:1). This desire is a holy ambition, where you are driven to see the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Sadly, due to sin, we often twist our ambition. Ministry can become about the glorification of self. It can infect pastoral care. Fear of man can make a pastor worry about how others will receive counsel. In fact, every pastor is tempted toward a messiah complex. (i.e. If you will listen to me, then your pain and troubles will go away.) I point this out to show just how pervasive sin infects our motives in ministry. So you have to check your heart:
Why do you want to study theology? Why do you want to pursue “advanced training” for ministry?
The best thing that you could do is this: join a local church and dive in. You need to exercise your Christian duty in serving other people, in being a normal person, in having friendships with non-Christians and sharing the gospel. In short, you should be discovering your gifts and using them long before you consider seminary. The church is a part of your call. If you are being faithful as a layperson and you are being called to the ministry, others will take notice and affirm the Holy Spirit’s call.
My point is this: Ministry and theological study are not primarily about head knowledge. If you have not put two-and-two together, theology is about practice and life-on-life discipleship.
Let’s think about chemistry.
There are a lot of good seminaries. I went to the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh. (There are two other schools in this area!) But when I graduated from college I looked at Westminster in Philadelphia. I chose RPTS for the following reasons: (1) Theology of Presence: I wanted to plant roots in this city; (2) Finances: I did not want to go into debt.; and (3) the Tradition of the School: I wanted to be schooled in the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition.
You have to think about what makes a seminary a good fit for you. Even as an admissions counselor at RPTS, I’ve encouraged men to look at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis and Southern Seminary in Louisville because it made the most sense for their personalities and plans. You see, when you go to seminary you do not want to be struggling against your professors; you want to be shepherded by them. My senior year I sat down with my Hebrew exegesis professor, and when he turned to pray for me, tears began to fill my eyes because of the personal detail of his prayer. He paid attention to my life and brought things before God–and I am grateful for that. I hope that everyone who goes to seminary will be pastored by godly men and women who invest in their faith formation.
The school you go to must understand and stretch whatever tradition you come from. Coming from a Reformed background, I needed to be challenged by certain Scottish ideals while being exposed to certain Continental aspects of Reformed Christianity. And it is okay to chafe at times against certain aspects of your education, but you should be swimming down the same river as your classmates and professors.
What are some non-negotiables?
Here are my “close-handed” issues when considering a seminary education:
- Holistic spiritual formation: Your theological training should connect the head to the heart and the hands. You should have a concrete understanding of how you tick and how the Devil is going to come at you in life and ministry. And you need to be able to help others understand this. The only way for this to happen is to have a theological education rooted in Scripture. God’s Word is a corrective mirror for us all.
- A biblical-centered curriculum: Learn Greek and Hebrew, learn how theology arises from Scripture, and learn how God’s mission is at the center of both the Bible and the church.
- Connection to the local church: If you as a student are not involved in the local church, then you should not be at seminary. Seminary is the place for training shepherds to love the church and feed the sheep. If that’s not you, then you should not be at seminary. Theology belongs to the church. You cannot properly practice or learn theology on your own. Theology is fundamentally communal and missional.
- Immersion in a theological denominational tradition: When you graduate you should be securely placed within a denomination or network. You need to be able to practice (professionally) what you studied for three whole years.
Other important considerations.
Your personality, aspirations, and specific concerns should play a part in seminary selection. Do you have learning differences and disabilities? Where are you located: internationally or in America? Would certain seminaries be a drain on your finances? Would you go in debt? Would seminary be a strain on important relationships? Do you want a thesis in your masters program? Is there a niche ministry you want to pursue?
The list is endless.
Seminary is not for everyone. But the church is. And the church is the best place to learn about the word of God. If you want to pursue more formal studies, then the seminary is a good option.
So here is the good news: There are many good seminaries that fit my rubric.
Actually, there is even better news: Pittsburgh has been named the most livable city; my Alma Mater is the most affordable seminary that I know of; and I can point you to many good and faithful Baptist, Evangelical, Reformed, and Anglican congregations in town! If you want a seminary that is rooted in God’s word and affordable, we should talk…