The August Tabletalk includes an interview feature with Dr. J. Ligon Duncan, chancellor and John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.
Among the questions he was asked – and answered well – was the one below, about incoming seminary students and the challenges of the studies for the ministry. With the PRC Seminary opening its doors today, his thoughts make for a timely post.
In light of what he says (and there is much more!), do remember to pray for the students (and professors!) as they take up their studies with a view to the ministry, whether for the first time or for a new semester. And don’t forget our interns who are out in the churches for the first part of their final year!
TT: What is the most common misconception that students entering seminary have about their education? What direction would you give them in light of this misconception?
LD: Students are often unaware of the kinds of difficulties and challenges that await them in seminary. They may anticipate three or four years of spiritual retreat, and when the reality that they encounter doesn’t look like that, they get discouraged.
So, for instance, one of the great challenges of seminary is that we combine rigorous academic study with discipleship for personal spiritual growth and practical preparation. These are hard to do simultaneously and they present challenges to seminarians. Those who struggle with academics can become discouraged (even though they may be godly and naturally adept at important aspects of ministry). Those who are good at academics can struggle with pride (and fail to understand that good grades do not necessarily translate into ministerial effectiveness and fruitfulness).
Combine this with the fact that many seminarians are struggling to make ends meet, working multiple jobs, depending on spouses to work, rearing children, and trying to serve in the local church, and they can feel (and truly are) pulled in a thousand directions. Spiritual struggles can easily ensue in this situation.
To prepare for this, (1) seminarians need a supportive local church and good pastoral care; (2) they need to be aware of these challenges ahead of time; and (3) they ought to read preparatory books such as The Religious Life of Theological Students by B.B. Warfield, Preparation for Ministry by Allan Harman, and How to Stay Christian in Seminary by David Mathis.
To read the rest of the interview, use the Ligonier link below.