Should I Go to Seminary?
May 17, 2023
The decision on which seminary to attend is an important one, but a deeper question that is often overlooked when weighing different seminaries is the question of whether you should even go to seminary in the first place. This is often taken for granted. The thought process is usually something like “I’m looking for seminaries– obviously I want to go to seminary.” However, jumping straight into the search for the right fit without deeply considering your motivation is to put the cart before the horse.
In this article we’ll provide some guidance as to how to investigate and weigh those motivations by looking at the internal and external calls to ministry. We’ll also examine whether your season of life is conducive to undergoing seminary education, and whether seminary is necessary for your goals. Finally, we’ll cover which seminary degree program you should choose in light of those goals.
The internal call to ministry is a personal desire to serve God in some form of ministry along with the sense that God has placed this desire in your heart and chosen you for that task. The internal call is, in that sense, subjective because it is only felt by the individual. This internal call is referred to in 1 Timothy 3:1 as an aspiration, a desire, a goal after which to strive. However, this text also tells us that the internal call is not enough for someone to enter into ministry. There are other requirements. Verses 2-7 lay out the nature of those requirements. Thus, there needs to be some process of validating the internal call, ensuring that the candidate for ministry fulfills the requirements and has the necessary qualifications.
The general idea of “calling” is understood by the broader secular world to be a sense of purpose or a life defining ambition. “My calling in life is to…” fill in the blank. The problem is that there is no real secular mechanism for confirming this sense of calling. It is entirely subjective, defined only by the individual who experiences this alleged “calling.” This is where the biblical sense of calling is different from the world’s understanding of the word. Those who have the internal call as described above need to have that internal call authorized and confirmed by an external call before they can be fully called into the ministry.
Typically, the internal call is confirmed by a pastor who recognizes the desire to enter the ministry and can confirm that the person called is not living in some kind of disqualifying sin. This step of the process requires you to be a member in good standing with your church, sitting under their guidance. You would then undergo theological/pastoral training usually while under the care of a presbytery, classis, or church. Once under care, you would then undergo a formal licensure and ordination process to confirm that you are theologically and spiritually sound enough to enter the pastoral ministry. Finally, the external call is completed when you are formally called by a congregation to serve as their pastor. This process is specifically for men who are seeking ordained full-time ministry and may look different for different denominations.
Season of Life
As we saw in the description of the external call above, theological education is one important step in the process toward the external call. It is a step that many denominations, and that we at Westminster, believe is essential. However, undertaking a seminary education is difficult and there are some prerequisites involved. At Westminster we see students from all different walks of life in all different seasons of life, so don’t think that everything needs to line up perfectly for you in order to attend Westminster. With that said, the most obvious “season of life” obstacle to attending seminary is that Westminster (and practically all seminaries) are graduate schools that require a previous bachelor’s degree. If you are in a season of life in which you have not yet completed a bachelor’s degree, you will need to do that before applying to study at Westminster.
Is Seminary Necessary?
Now that you have a framework in place by which you can think through your particular call to ministry, you can ask the question, “Is seminary necessary for the accomplishment of the goals to which I am called?” As mentioned above, the full process of authorizing and confirming an internal call leading up to an external call is required only for full-time ordained pastoral ministry. If your internal sense of calling is toward some part-time or otherwise non-pastoral ministry, you may not need a full MDiv level seminary education for that. So think carefully about what it is that you are wanting to achieve before applying for seminary and make sure that seminary is the right decision for you. With that being said, there is practically no area of ministry that would not benefit from a seminary education.
Which Degree Should I Choose?
If you have come this far and are confident in your internal calling to ministry, the next step in the process is to determine which degree program will best prepare you for your particular calling. If you desire full time ordained pastoral ministry, you will need to enroll in Westminster’s MDiv program, either the MDiv General or the MDiv Pastoral Fellows. If you feel called to more academic pursuits, you can either choose the MDiv General, or the MAR (for a more streamlined, slightly shorter program duration). If you want to serve the church in a deaconal, part-time, or lay leader capacity, the MATS would be a great choice to build a sound theological foundation. Finally, if you feel called to a counseling ministry, the MAC is specifically designed to equip you with the tools for biblical counseling.
The decision to enroll at Westminster is a big one with far-reaching implications. It is a decision that will change your life significantly, and should not be taken lightly. If you feel the internal call to ministry and are confident that such a life is what God has in store for you, seminary is a non-negotiable necessity for many vocational roles. It will prepare you for the process of confirming that internal call with an external call. If this is what you seek, please feel free to reach out to our admissions counselors or apply online.
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