Today, the Gardner-Webb University (GWU) School of Divinity hosted its Spring Preview Day. I was asked by our wonderful Director of Admissions if I would be willing to join the prospective students for lunch; delighted to have another opportunity to share my passion for this program, I accepted the opportunity. While eating lunch with some prospective students, I blatantly asked them why they were considering seminary. To no surprise, they replied, “God has called me into ministry.” Each student had the same undeniable call to go to seminary and pursue the path in which God has called them. Although not all of them will end up at GWU, I know that they are on a path that will lead them on a new and exciting journey.
After lunch, the question I asked the prospective students continued to resonate within me, and I found myself wrestling with it all afternoon: Why did I choose seminary?
The Journey to Seminary:
The answer to this is rather lengthy, so I will do my best to practice “lucid brevity,” as I am frequently encouraged to do by Dr. McConnell. My journey to seminary started my sophomore year in undergrad when I became a Young Life (YL) leader at a local high school in Shelby, NC. This was my first experience in the world of ministry. I quickly learned that ministry was messy, tough, and draining, yet beautiful and rewarding. YL became the avenue through which God would begin to reroute my life. However, as a young Christian, I was completely naïve to the complexities of this call.
It was not until my senior year in college that I realized the next step in pursuing God’s call was applying to seminary. It sounds simple, but it was far from an easy decision. In fact, I spent the majority of the fall semester wrestling with the notion of applying to Developmental Psychology programs (since Psychology was my major). However, I was encouraged by a number of people to submit applications to various seminaries. I finally decided to listen and began applying around the beginning of October 2011. In an attempt to fight this call, I only applied to three places, hoping that the decision would be easy to make; I promised myself that if I was only accepted to GWU, then seminary was not for me. A few weeks passed, and my first acceptance was from GWU. I was thrilled, but in the back of my mind was the promise I had previously made to myself. Shortly thereafter, the next acceptance came. I was admitted into Wake Forest’s School of Divinity and was given a great opportunity to interview for their most prestigious scholarship. Finally, the last letter came, and I was accepted into Truett Seminary at Baylor University. It was now clear to me that I was going to go to seminary. My petty promise to myself was turned on its head.
I’ll admit, GWU was not my first choice at the time. Baylor was my top choice, but I decided it was a little to far way from Caitlin and family. So basically, I was sold on Wake Forest, especially after being notified that I received one of their top scholarships. However, I felt urge to give GWU a chance.
One day, I met with the Director of Admissions, Kheresa Harmon (Note: If you don’t know her, I highly encourage you to meet her. She is an incredible woman!), at our local coffee shop in Boiling Springs. I laid it all out to her. My concerns, my fears, and my uncertainties. After our conversation, I felt a sense of peace fall upon me. I knew where I needed to be. Finally, I knew where God’s call in my life was leading me.
It has been two years since that meeting with Kheresa, and I can proudly say that I made the right choice. The School of Divinity at GWU was the right fit for me. Now, nearing the end of my second year in the program, I can say that the past two years have been amazing. I have been challenged both academically and spiritually, and grown insurmountably more than I ever imagined. There are many reasons I love seminary, but at the root of this love is the people.
First, I must mention our professors. They intentionally mesh the head and the heart; the academy and the church. With great fervor, they continuously challenge us to think theologically and apply what we are learning to life and ministry. They are brilliant men and women who have worked hard and earned a PhD, thus proving their knowledge in their respective field of study. However, they are not oblivious to life in the church. They have been in the trenches, serving in both large and small congregations, and/or leading various bible studies. They have served on the mission field in various countries. They have spent countless hours on-call in hospitals and Hospice homes, ministering through counseling. They understand the importance of academics but they also acknowledge the need for well-educated ministers in the church and the world.
Along with the amazing professors and faculty, I have to give credit to the student body. Perhaps what stands out most to me is the great diversity among the student body. We all come from different backgrounds and traditions. There are students who worship in AME (African Methodist Episcopal) churches, others who are in the Presbyterian Church, some are in Methodist churches, and a host of Baptist/Nondenominational students ranging from theologically fundamental churches to moderate/progressive churches. In my opinion, this is exactly what the capital “C” Church is supposed to be. There is irrefutable beauty in such diversity. Although there are so many theological beliefs present, there is one thing that I have noticed that remains the same; there is a passion that lies within the heart of each student to serve the Lord in the specific area to which they have been called.
Some students desire to be pastoral counselors, and after today’s chapel service focusing on CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education), I know they will all do very well. Some will go on to become preachers, youth ministers, missionaries, and church planters. Others will take the more academic approach, and pursue a PhD in order to teach religious studies to individuals that will more than likely end up in our shoes one day. Nevertheless, I know that each student will continue to do well, because I know that all have the same undeniable call that the prospective students I met with today and myself have. Although our paths will diverge upon graduation, they will all eventually reconvene. It is in this that we can rejoice.
The Journey Going Forth:
As I prepare for my last year and a half of seminary, I find myself reflecting on this big question more and more. The further along I travel, the more I realize I know nothing. There is so much yet to be discovered, and I look forward to seeing what God has in store. Currently, I feel led in the direction that will land me in more school. I hope to one day be admitted into a PhD program to do Biblical Studies. However, I may very well end up serving in a local church, or a larger Christian organization. Nevertheless, I know that my time in seminary is preparing me well for what is ahead. Now, I know that I do not have all the answers and that it is virtually impossible to have them. With this understanding, I truly believe that I will be a better minister because of this understanding. I know that people will not care how much you know, until they know how much you care about them. And finally, I believe that the cliché that all of our professors tell us is of utmost importance.
“We all have come into seminary with our suitcase neatly packed. However, when we leave, it is to be expected that our luggage will be scattered messily throughout the room.”
So, I believe the answer to my question would be stated as such: I did not necessarily choose seminary on my own. In fact, if I had the option, I would have opted out well before I started. However, I know that it is because of God’s undeniable and unavoidable call that I am where I am today. I chose seminary because I knew there was no other place that I needed to be/would rather be at this point in my spiritual journey. If you’re considering seminary, I would love to hear your thoughts, concerns, and questions. Know that I will be praying for you, just as many did for me, as you embark on this new journey.
χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη (Grace and peace to you) – Michael