Seminary does a wonderful job of preparing men and women for ministry. I admit my bias in saying I attended two of the best—Dallas Theological Seminary and Talbot School of Theology at Biola University—for my masters and doctoral programs. They taught me how to think, study, and reason. They gave me skills and helped shape my character.
But as good as my preparation was, there are some situations seminary did not prepare me for. There are many events I had to go through and learn on the job how to deal with.
Seminary did not prepare me for:
Family life events—The first wedding I performed was my mother’s. My dad died of cancer after he and mom were married 44 years. When mom remarried four years later, she asked me to perform the wedding. One of the first funerals I led was my brother’s. I had to be son/brother/pastor all at the same time. I performed one of my daughter’s weddings and will be part of the second one in a few weeks. Seminary taught me how to organize a wedding and a funeral, but not how to marshal your emotions when they involve family members.
Difficult funerals—During one season of ministry, our church had four families lose children under the age of two. I led the funeral for one baby who died at birth. I was present in the hospital when another died after nine days of life. It was like sitting in the doorway of heaven watching someone enter eternity. Seminary doesn’t prepare you for these experiences.
Difficult conversations—While serving as a singles pastor, a transvestite starting attending our group. He was dressed as a she. One of our male leaders took him/her out on a date without realizing what he was getting into. I had to explain the facts of life to him. Seminary doesn’t adequately prepare for those kind of awkward conversations.
Dealing with mental, emotional, and substance issues—A veteran with PTSD; an individual who was suicidal; people addicted to alcohol, drugs, or pornography are all on the list of things I was never trained to deal with. While I took counseling courses, they still did not adequately prepare me to walk with people through life’s challenges.
Disappointment, failure, betrayal—I’ve been fired once, pushed out twice, betrayed a time or two, and had my integrity questioned by those close to me. I was interviewed by a writer who then printed a scathing critique of our church. Seminary does not offer courses on this topic.
Saying goodbye to family—My wife and I made a commitment years ago to follow Christ wherever he led. In the 36 years we’ve been married, we’ve only lived near our families for two of those years. We minister on the east coast while two of our children live on the west coast and one lives on the other side of the world. My wife’s parents live 3,000 miles away.
I love Jesus. I love ministry. I am grateful for my seminary education. However, I have learned more on the job in the school of life than all my educational degrees combined. After 30 years of ministry, I’m still learning. Perhaps I’ll be more effective during the next 30 years.