7 Reasons Seminary Is Valuable Work Experience
Due, in part, to the growing non-denominational movement, the value of a seminary education in the ministry vetting and hiring process is sometimes underrated. The seminary experience is categorized by some as intellectual and undemonstrative - an out-dated mode of training.
However, I would propose that churches who overlook or undervalue candidates’ seminary degrees are missing out on well-rounded, theologically mature, sharp, and hard-working candidates. Consider these 7 ways that seminary is valuable work experience:
1. Students gain significant experience in seminary.
Most seminary students can boast internships, fellowships, and residencies in highly competitive and unique environments where they are able to learn, excel, and grow in their leadership abilities at a rapid pace. They may have even learned new techniques, systems, or resources from elite organizations that they can bring with them as assets.
2. Seminary broadens your horizons.
During my time at seminary, I was afforded the opportunity to travel to two countries on different continents and study asset-based community development, orphan care, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam. I gained a new perspective on adoption, sacred space, and the use of ritual in religion, and I met amazing people who challenged me and enriched my cross-cultural knowledge. In the classroom alone, seminarians learn to incorporate the history and fullness of Christian tradition, entertain and respect diversity of thought, and become pioneers and thought leaders.
3. Seminary students learn how to receive constructive feedback.
It’s no secret that students get a grade for everything. Seminary students consistently get evaluations and have to take feedback, learn from it, and improve. This is actually a great trait to have in candidates because it means they are teachable, goal-oriented, and improvement-focused. Students are accustomed to receiving feedback from both their professors and peers and are also used to reviewing others’ work and offering feedback, which is crucial for a good team leader.
4. Seminary graduates have tested their gifts and honed their ministry.
Seminary students are afforded the opportunity to “test the waters” in a variety of ministry settings (see #1). Someone who is actually better suited for children’s ministry than student ministry will have a chance to explore both ministries and discover their natural inclination without spending years sinking their time into an unfruitful and discouraging tenure in the wrong post. Exploring your talents and gifts during your time in seminary saves everyone from disappointment and creates a win-win situation.
5. Seminary alumni have peer support and advisors.
Some of the major issues pastors face are burnout and isolation. To prevent emotional breakdowns, health issues, and moral failures, pastors need to be connected to a group of peers that can provide support, counsel, and accountability. Seminary students graduate with a host of fellow ministers who have experienced the trenches together and are committed to the same values, lifestyle, and calling. I can’t express how invaluable this is to congregations who trust their leaders with their spiritual care.
6. Balancing work and school teaches seminary students prioritization and project management.
In addition to contextual education, seminary graduates learn how to balance many competing priorities, creating that elusive work-life balance. Again, no one wants a burnt out pastor, and juggling the demands of multiple courses, work, and family teaches seminary students how to plan, organize, and execute in high pressure situations.
7. Seminary strengthens students’ emotional intelligence (EQ).
Perhaps most importantly, seminary students are being molded into emotionally intelligent people. By working in ministry and participating in a classroom environment simultaneously, seminary students have the ability to integrate their studies into their work and their real life experience into class discussion. They have a built-in peer network, professional coaches and advisors, and ample room to reflect, discuss feelings and concerns, and plan responses to on-going challenges. In this environment, students become more self aware, more empathetic of others, and more capable of ministering effectively to the needs around them.
Not only is this emotional intelligence (EQ) important for pastoral care and interpersonal interactions, it is a sought-after commodity of successful leaders. Good leaders interpret the situation around them accurately and respond appropriately. We all have biases, wounds, and weaknesses that can interfere with our ability to lead teams and shepherd the flock. But the more practice we have at building our emotional intelligence, the more effective we can be at overcoming those obstacles and leading God’s people well.
Seminary is not only a time of education and preparation, it is also a time of valuable work experience. Seminary graduates are trained in ministry best practices, coached in personal spiritual formation and leadership development, and practiced in cultivating emotional intelligence. The combination is a note-worthy set of assets that should be taken into careful consideration when assessing a candidate’s potential for any church staff position.
In what other ways is seminary valuable work experience?
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