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Reflecting on Seminary

Here we are again, thinking out loud. It’s been about 2 years since I wrapped up my formal education in seminary as I finished my Master of Divinity degree. Besides realizing that Dr. Buckelew, the speech professor at Ouachita, was right along in telling us all to go get an MA in Religion somewhere and then a Ph.D., what else I have learned?

Oh, you want to know why Dr. Buckelew was right? A Master of Divinity (MDiv) takes about 90 hours. A Master of Arts (MA) takes 30. Then, either way you slice it, a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) takes about 60 hours. That means you can either be a master in about 90, or hold a doctorate in about 90. What did I do? Not the smart thing.

That being said, I then spent several years completing what some people consider to be the required education to be a pastor. Whether or not that’s a valid view is another discussion. I did it in a variety of ways. I spent time on campus as a full-time student. I spent time taking intensive, one-week classes on campus. I did independent study courses online. I did online which featured video lecture. I think that I did almost every form of in-person and distance-learning class that was available. I missed out on the hybrid classes where you watch live feed of the classroom and participate via Zoom. My Internet connection couldn’t have handled it, anyway.

What did I learn? Aside from the subject matter you find on my transcript, I picked up these tidbits:

1. Those who want to learn will learn. Among those who have the means to be involved in school, some students want to do learn as much as possible. Some want a degree and to be done. Some want to hide from reality and stay in school.

None of the forms of higher education were exempt from that. There were guys who coasted in the classroom (and yes, they graduated that way.) There were guys who coasted through online life. The only place that really caught out slacking was the 1-week intensive, but you could still slack through the pre/post work.

Each form has limitations (especially if you have a learning style that doesn’t roll well with lecture/classroom), but nothing is more important than the learner’s desire to learner. As a corollary: even those without means to pursue formal education show this to be true. Those who want to know find ways. This is why LIBRARIES are important!

2. There is no substitute for asking professors questions, directly. While I mainly learned that doing Greek (in the 2nd term, after flailing about the 1st,) it’s true in any class. Ask. Clearly, politely, and in an informed manner. Don’t ask questions that are clear in the syllabus, required readings, and lectures. Don’t ask dumb questions like “will this be on the test?” If you want to know about tests, ask “How will my understanding of this be tested?” That gets to the core of whether you should memorize dates, facts, or minutiae…or learn to write a good analysis of those things which shows what you recall and are going to do with it.

That being said, if you are looking at higher education in a place with no access to professors, then look onward. I don’t mean that you should be able to camp on their couch all the time, but find out from students (and not just the handpicked ones admissions shows you) whether they feel comfortable contacting a professor. If they hedge…be aware. You’re possibly on your own. Note that your professors are going to be busy—respect that and don’t waste their time. But seeking help and guidance is not wasting their time. Email is beautiful for this: put all your questions and such together and send it on, waiting patiently for a response in a few days.

And no, “keeping professors in the workforce as well so they stay current” isn’t a substitute for connecting with them. Schools that don’t enable professors to be professors may be cheaper, but you need to evaluate that.

3. There is no substitute for the fellowship of your fellow students. Find a way to make it happen. I fell dreadfully short on this in all forms of education. It’s a lonely trip through, and a lonely time at the end.

4. Get educated and get to work, but do not neglect learning outside of your field. If you’re in the ministry realm realize that you need to work outside of that field enough to know what it would be like to do it for a lifetime. The flock God puts you with is doing just that. And yes, there are still people in churches who are astounded to find out that I used to work 60 hour weeks trying to make ends meet, just like a normal person.

5. Never stop learning. Part of the busy life is learning how to fit personal growth into a stacked-out day. You can shift what you learn, but never stop growing!

Just a few thoughts. Why? Because I’m starting to put together the plan to go back to it. The doors were shut on one plan, so I’m headed to a different plan, but it’s about time to get with it.

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