There are a lot of things that you must think through when choosing a seminary for your ministry preparation. I will attempt to cover them here.

Type of Seminary

There are three types of seminaries you need to be aware of:

1. University – These are those that are connected to a larger university and sometimes are simply a department within the institution (e.g. “Department of Divinity”). The spectrum of education will be very broad, ranging from conservative to liberal. Sometimes it will just depend on the professor. The advantages here normally include the broadness of the education provided and the lack of conservative and traditional assumptions. The disadvantage will be that many times these type of seminaries have as their purpose to deconstruct with no intention of reconstructing. In other words, there will be a greater chance the purpose of your education will be to produce a confused student (which is a construction itself).

If your purpose is to be prepared for ministry by godly leaders, you will find university-type seminaries and divinity schools to be weaker than the other options as the standards of belief and commitment to the historic Christian faith will be very loose. Some of the professors might even be atheists!

In my opinion, Duke and Notre Dame stand out above the rest here.

2. Denominational or Traditional – These are those seminaries that are connected to a particular denomination or Christian tradition. Their primary purpose is to establish the student in the dogmas and doctrines associated with their tradition. Baptist schools will train up Baptist leaders, Presbyterians schools will prepare Presbyterians, Reformed schools hope to produce Reformed graduates, and so on. Many times there is overlap with this type of seminary and the university as some universities are sponsored by a particular tradition (e.g. Baylor; Notre Dame). The advantage here is that you will be trained and educated in a way that will fit the needs of a said tradition. The disadvantage is that the outcome of your education is more predetermined.

3. Independent – These are those seminaries that don’t neatly fit into either of the previous categories. They are usually independent Evangelical training institutions that are representative of a movement or idea. They are often thought of as the tertium quid (“third way” or “middle ground”) between the denominational or university types. However, this is a little simplistic as many independent seminaries have just as much of an predetermined plan as the other two. The advantage here is that you may be able to get a broader education than the denominational-type while maintaining the ministry focus. This is especially the case with Evangelical seminaries who, at least in theory, fit under the broad umbrella of Evangelicalism.

Field of Study

There are also issues that involve particular fields of study. Some seminaries are going to have a stellar language department, but lack in theology. Others are going to be strong in preaching, but weak in apologetics. Others will be known for their Christian counseling, but void of worship (music) ministries. If you already know your passion, you should find a seminary that is going to serve that passion well.

However, many of you are going into seminary not knowing anything other than that you want to serve the Lord full-time. Therefore, this criteria is not going to be as useful. So many of you will discover your calling while engaged in a broader training environment. This is okay.

Size of the School

You must also consider the size of the school and the advantages and disadvantages this offers. Small schools will provide more intimacy with both students and professors. It is a wonderful thing to build this type of community. However, the larger schools will be able to draw the more well-known professors for every department (and most of the time they are well-known for a reason!). This will provide a more balanced and robust education all around. Larger schools will also be able to provide you with more opportunities as the placement department will be larger (see below).

Accreditation and Notoriety

Most seminaries will be accredited by an official accrediting organization such as The Association of Theological Schools (ATS). You want to check into this. Accreditation not only evidences that the school is up to par on time-tested standards, but gives them notoriety. If your school has notoriety, then your degree will share the same.

Placement Department

This is normally one that you don’t think about or appreciate until its too late.  But you must consider the placement department. Placement departments are responsible for opening doors of opportunity for you upon graduation. Some seminaries may not even have placement departments, therefore it is up to you to find a place of service upon graduation. Others have very large placement departments who can hardly keep up with the demand of ministries and churches in need. When a seminary has a good reputation, this is the first place that many will look to fill a vacancy.

Purpose

In the end, your choice for seminary must be guided by your purpose. Are you seeking to be a Baptist pastor? Then your best bet is to go to a Baptist school whose candidates are chosen from the placement offices of these schools. Are you looking to be a professor at a university? Then you will be presented with the most opportunity by attended a university-type seminary. Is your desire to be involved in a non-denominational Evangelical church or parachurch ministry? Then you should look to one of the independent seminaries.

One thing that you must understand is that education is not the goal of a seminary. Preparation is. Education will always be involved, but often there must be some practition that moves beyond languages, systematics, and doctrine. You can train with the most intelligent professors who have the best information. You can train with the professors with the most wisdom who can see things others cannot see. You can train with those who have a great deal of experience in pastoral care who will help you understand what it will be like when you are in the pastor’s office. You can train under those who have a passion for truth who will challenge your assumptions. Or you can train under those who are passionate about Christ and are completely focused on him. In my opinion, it is ideal to have all of these together in one place!

Some ideals

Critical studies: While I believe that a seminary should be understood as preparation for Christian ministry, this should not mean that your education is simply an exercise in confirming your prejudice. Your most dearly held beliefs—even the most fundamental beliefs—need to be challenged. This is the advantage of university-type seminaries. They usually (though not always) have more academic freedom to challenge and be challenged. In the end, you want your beliefs to have intellectual integrity. If the education is nothing more than indoctrination, then the seminary is not doing its job. This is why I don’t normally prefer denominational or traditional seminaries.

Faithful professors: While there is a lot to learn from unbelievers and those who are not committed to the historic Christian faith, most people who go to seminary are preparing for ministry. A student will eventually be like his teacher. If the professor does not have much faith or conviction, his teaching will have the same result. You want professors who are committed to that which they teach and therefore teach with conviction. If the seminary does not produce those who are convinced of the truth of historic Christianity, I would have a hard time truly classifying them as seminaries. This is going to be the weakness of the university-type seminaries. (As a side-note, I think for those going into ministry that the university-type seminaries are best for PhDs, not Masters.)

Correction: You don’t want to attend schooling where the professors are intelligent and godly, but too nice to tell you when you are wrong. While we all need affirmation, we all need correction just as much. The professor is there to shape and change you. This is not going to happen without the professor being seriously committed to sometimes “wounding his friends.” The best way to find this out is to talk to current students. In high school you used to take only the classes where the teacher would give you an “A” for doing nothing more than making paper airplanes. Seminary is much more serious than that. Make sure the professor is willing to fail you.

In the end, one of the best ways to choose a good seminary is to look at its graduates. Who do you admire most? Who do you feel has the best training and balance? Who comes out of their education more deeply committed than they were when the went in? Find out where they went and go there.

By the way, if I could do it all over again, while there are so many good seminaries that I love and respect, I would go back to Dallas Theological Seminary.

For those of you who have been to seminary:

  • How did you choose?
  • Are you happy with your choice?
  • What advice to you have for the person who asks you how to choose a good seminary?

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    31 replies to "How to Choose a Seminary"

    • David Zook

      In my search, the first thing I looked for was the language program. I wanted a top five program so I asked a lot of folks in the business and discovered the top five.

      Second, I looked at theology. Since I was well grounded in my convictions, I wanted a school that had professors from different convictions. As I was going through my program, this actually strengthened my convictions, not weaken them.

      Third, I looked at overall reputation. Being in the marketplace for 12 years prior to seminary, I discovered that school reputations do matter. I wanted to graduate from a top-flight school in case I wanted to pursue a doctorate. It also helped with candidate committees and denominations because they know of the school’s reputation.

      Surprising to some, location did not matter, nor did community. I wanted to be involved in the local church and non-believers way more that a community at school.

      I chose Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and loved every minute of it. I was able to lay an incredibly strong foundation for my ministry there. Not one day goes by that I don’t use something that I learned there.

      The advice that I would give is short: know exactly what you are looking for, ask lots of questions and listen to those who have gone before you, and the seminary that aligns the best with your criteria will be the one you attend.

    • John Calvin Hall

      The article carries a wide range of seminary types. Your choice of educational institutions will also reflect your personal priorities. Do you consider prestige over dogma? Do you place a higher priority over the type of institute over the quality of the professors? etc, etc….

      Bear in mind, whether you believe it or not, the Bible college or seminary you choose, will make an impact on your ministry. Personally, I cannot recommend a greater objective than to find out where God is calling you to. Spend enough time on your face before God, to find out where He wants you to go. When I left for Bible college (’89), all I had was half a semesters tuition in my pocket. By the time I graduated with my Masters, I owed nothing.

      God’s work, done God’s way, in God’s timing, never lacked God’s provision.

    • JRoach

      I have not been to seminary and I probably will not have the opportunity. For someone like me, what is the best possible course of action to be “like” someone who has seminary experience?

    • Andrew Vogel

      I just tried to find one that I can afford.. and am unfortunately still on a 10 year masters track.

    • Pete Erickson

      Thanks! Great information and this will help me in the future!

    • MShep2

      One thing that you must understand is that education is not the goal of a seminary. Preparation is.”

      True, but “preparation” for what?

      1. To know God’s Word and His ways so you can better glorify Him and minister for Him.
      2. To be able to better defend the group’s (denomination, association, etc.) unique doctrine.
      3. To be qualified to take the next degree.
      4. To devalue the Word of God and exchange its authority with Liberal theology.

      Sadly, those that focus on #1 are in the minority.

    • Wilson Hines

      Love this and I hope the ensuing discussion is enlightening.

      I have committed my life to gaining an education which will eventually put me in the position, hopefully, to teach at the academic level. That is a mouthful.

      I have basically retired from my profession as a 36 yr old and I am now proceeding with my undergraduate degree at my local community college. Next year, I will be transferring to either UNC-CH, ECU, or Campbell University (which is a Southern Baptist U). My intention is to attend DTS for a Th.M.

      I have started taking classes in French and as soon as I am at the University I will be taking classes in German. These are the prerequisites for an academic career, from what I’ve been able to garner, at least at the Ph.D. level.

      I’ve actually not been able to get one ounce of advice from anyone relevant. I don’t know if I am about to dive off into an undergrad major
      (Christian History if I attend Campbell U) which is going to work well with the future or not. I don’t know if what I am wanting to do is even possible.

      I want to teach biblical languages and or systematic theology at the college/seminary level. The weird thing is I’ve NEVER heard any soul say those words out loud. Mr. Patton says, well hints at, in his post that some people have that goal. The very few professors I can get a hold of say they “fell into it” and really didn’t train for that goal.

      Is it very presumptuous for one to think he/she can leave their career, go back to University, then head to Seminary, possibly work out a Ph.D and eventually teach at the academic level? Is that too presumptuous? Am I being pompous? Am I being unrealistic? Should I just go back to work?

    • Wilson Hines

      Thought I better put this in here:
      Why can’t I get any relevant advice?

      Theologically speaking, I am a man on an island. I will try to explain that as simple as possible.

      1. Theologically, I am a conservative Independent Baptist – and I mean it. But, my mind is open. I attend a conservative Baptist church, but I am more evangelical in my outlook. That said, I still love traditional worship services.
      2. Textually, I nearly entirely align A.T. Robertson – and 100 yrs after his death nobody in my denomination aligns with A.T.R. Remember, I said Independent Baptist.
      3. My pastor thinks I have lost my mind. All of my friends (theologically speaking) think I am off my rocker! I can honestly get advice secretly from one person who has an open mind, but is so invested (time, retirement, ect) in our traditions of thought that he can’t be known to think similar as I do.
      4. I can’t even teach a Sunday School class or fill a pulpit or whatever. I am four inches from being a heretic.

      I can’t leave my church for a three reasons: 1) I don’t want to leave, as other than text issues, we agree doctrinally. 2) My kids are in a fantastic Academy at our church. 3) The churches around us are either dead as doornails or popular, but charismatic.

    • Brian

      JRoach,

      While trying to prepare for possibly going to seminary (picking a school, evaluation finances, etc.) I have been listening to the free MP3 lectures from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO (a PCA-affiliated school, though I myself am A/G). Their site is http://www.worldwide-classroom.org. Really good material, and I’m making use of it in a Bible Institute-level class I’m teaching on the Synoptic Gospels at my local church.

    • Lucian

      How to Choose a Seminary?

      It’s easy: you just book the first one you find online, whose (financially desperate) promoter bears the same name as a biblical Archangel ! 😀

    • JRoach

      Brian,
      Thank you for the link. I would like to teach theology at a local church someday and the training would be very benefial.

    • Bill Trip

      I would like to know Who accredits the accreditors? There was a time
      when DTS was unaccredited similar to Tyndale Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth.

      Please read this article and let me know what you think.

      http://www.realapologetics.org/blog/2010/07/06/the-truth-about-education-and-accreditation/

      I agree with his assessment.

    • MikeB

      Interesting article.
      As for me I think another aspect is stage of life and where you live…

      As a husband and father of two, FT employed in the IT field, actively involved and teaching in a local church, and seeking an MDiv with the hopes of going into FT ministry the following were important:

      1. A seminary that was “solid/conservative” and accredited.
      2. A seminary that was local (or online). I am not prepared to move my family or go to seminary FT.
      3. A seminary that had long term viability. As a PT student I need a seminary that will allow me to study / pursue a degree over a long period of time and therefore be viable.

      Given the local and constraints I am currently attending Liberty University Online. It is the only program (I found) that allows an MDiv to be earned online. I plan on supplementing classes (ie) Greek and some theology from a local seminary that is having financial problems and through the new DTS satellite campus (assuming that takes hold).

      Thanks for the post.
      Mike

    • Pete Erickson

      Here’s a question I’d like to pose many of you – I’m young, very interested in attending seminary, but…

      1. How do you know if you are, for example, dispensational versus reformed in your outlook? Some of this stuff I understand, but would think it wouldn’t be UNTIL YOU’RE IN SEMINARY that you really are steeped in something like that, depending on what school you attend?

      2. I attend a pretty large, non-denominational, but biblically solid church, and in a sunday school class, eschatological views came up – two men, both who had been to seminary (different ones) started discussing why ‘I’m premillenial’ and the other ‘I’m amillenial’ (the church itself doesn’t hold to a particular view. I loved the discussion! I know where I stand on that particular issue, but in that issue, as well as so many other “potential points of contention,” how do you know where you stand before going to a seminary? I feel like if you don’t know where you stand before going in, you’ll pretty much take the viewpoint of whatever school/professor you learn from. Am I way off here?

      Thanks in advance —

      Peter

    • Chris

      Things get real interesting when you add some variables of circumstance.

      I am a forty year-old man with a wife, three young daughters and a mortgage. I live 5 miles from Wheaton and 40 miles from TEDS, but the cost of both ($650 and $700 a credit hour, respectively) is prohibitive. Even DTS’ $425 a credit hour is out of reach, particularly when you factor in travel for the on-campus portion of the degree.

      This leaves largely unaccredited schools (not a big issue for me), most of whom subscribe to a very Reformed hermeneutic, leading to a CT perspective (a big issue for me). The positive is that they are much less-expensive and allow for a degree to be completed entirely by distance, an important piece to consider as a staff member at my church.

      I take great comfort in the fact that the Lord knew ALL of this when He called me at such a late age.

    • Bill Trip

      I would like to know Who accredits the accreditors? There was a time
      when DTS was unaccredited similar to Tyndale Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth.

      Please read this article and let me know what you think.

      http://www.realapologetics.org/blog/2010/07/06/the-truth-about-education-and-accreditation/

      I agree with his assessment.

    • Brian

      Chris,

      I don’t know which particular “stream” you’re looking to study in, but Global University (http://www.globaluniversity.edu/), the Assemblies of God distance ed school, recently received accreditation from the North Central association, and costs $200/hr for master’s level if memory serves. They offer an M.Div., an M.A. in Biblical Studies, and an M.A. in Ministerial Studies.

      Liberty University also is accredited and has a 100% online option, and is like $250 an hour (thought théir seminary has just come through some controversy concerning former seminar president Ergun Caner’s statements in his testimony of covnersion from Islam).

    • Wilson Hines

      Chris I would say you almost entirely would be needing to do correspondence/distance.

      My wife is going to be an R.N in May and I have some retirement ability. But, most importantly our bills are very low and one car is being paid off in two months, making things just that much easier. Our Mortgage is easy and we live on “family land.”

      She wants to reach out and get her B.S.N and maybe go on to medical school at UNC. She’s the only student with an 4.0 and the only student that could make a transition like so, at this point.

      All of these things makes it very easy for me to be portable. We don’t want to move, but we understand that moving is probably best. Educationally for me, with my goal of being an instructor, I can’t imagine taking correspondence and Patton has gone over that before, you may remember. Correspondence is good in certain situations (like yours) and bad in others (like mine).

      In any case, it is my full intention on moving to Dallas at Dallas 🙂 Her Dad lives in Knoxville and we MAY move to Knoxville and attend DTS in K-Town under certain circumstances and conditions, like getting the first year or two at K-town, but finishing at Dallas.

    • John Dyer

      If you just need some facts on size and cost, DTS has provided http://www.seminarycomparison.com/ to help people pick a seminary, even if it’s not DTS.

    • Wilson Hines

      John that is an amazing tool! Thanks so much for sharing that information.

    • Brian Manns

      The way i chose was location, very simply. I am a baptist. I live 30 minutes from southern baptist theological seminary. I hear it is a really good one. I am reformed, they are reformed. I believe in nouthetic counseling, they believe in nouthetic counseling. I chose southern. Not fancy but true, and I love it.

    • […] Michael Patton provides guidance for how to choose a seminary. He has a discussion on Dispensationalism as well. T.C. Robinson provides a brief […]

    • Robert Jimenez

      Also consider studying outside the USA without leaving the USA. There are a lot of good schools on line, and they are much more affordable as well. I am currently attending at “Kings Evangelical Divinty School”, and it is really good. Check it out for more information: http://www.kingsdivinity.org/

    • Bill Trip

      Wow! Really! I have to post this a third time in an attempt to get some feedback through the comment box.

      Okay here goes…

      I would like to know Who accredits the accreditors? There was a time
      when DTS was unaccredited similar to Tyndale Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth.

      Please read this article and let me know what you think.

      http://www.realapologetics.org/blog/2010/07/06/the-truth-about-education-and-accreditation/

      I agree with his assessment.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Is it very presumptuous for one to think he/she can leave their career, go back to University, then head to Seminary, possibly work out a Ph.D and eventually teach at the academic level? Is that too presumptuous? Am I being pompous? Am I being unrealistic? Should I just go back to work?

      As one who left their career at 44 to attend seminary full-time, as a single mother and with your similar aspirations I can attest to the fact that yes, you are crazy. But God never calls us to be safe or comfortably sane. There is something to be said for being a fool for Christ.

    • Wilson Hines

      Lisa, this is one of the best responses I’ve heard so far – period. You’ve encouraged me today.

      I am going to the DTS meeting in Washinton D.C. this coming weekend and I hope to get to the nitty gritty on some answers regarding my undergrad major and my plans.

      Thanks again!

    • Wilson Hines

      Today, I saw with my own eyes how in at least one particular case an online environment is an inappropriate solution for a seminary education. I could name the college, they have a huge reputation for being the “University is ranked second in the nation for online schools by OED Online Rankings 2009.” Oh well, I just saw something today in one of my professors, whom graduated from this M.Div. program, that made me realize how an online curriculum, taken as a whole, is a bad thing.

      The reason why is because he (a Regent grad) has never experienced graduate level interaction with students and professors. It is actually an undergrad O.T. Survey class, but he’s teaching it with a graduate level textbook, with which naturally comes more poignant discussion. You can’t teach on topics regarding textual criticism and form criticism and drop bombs like the short ending of Mark and not expect a reaction (questions) by the class. He almost had anarchy on his hands. It is an undergrad class being taught at a secular college. Some of these people didn’t know what was the Ark of the Covenant.

      Am I over simplifying this issue? Also, understand that I know and comprehend perfectly fine it is great to get an online degree for some circumstances – but not with the idea you’re going to become an academic.

    • Bible Study

      I have never read of a prophet or apostle or preacher in the bible attending a seminary, they were all taught of God. We cannot understand the bible through the wisdom of man.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Bible Study,

      The prophets spoke directly for God (Heb 1:1). The apostles spent time with Jesus in order to transmit his testimony (John 14:26; Acts 1:2). They were not separated by 2,000 years of history that has imposed varying interpretations on the text or experienced such diversity in traditions. Of course, they did not need seminary.

    • Abhi Kumar

      Lisa, what Seminary did you attend? What type of ministry are you involved in now?

      I was just wondering and wanted to know your journey as a single mom and what Seminary you ended up choosing and why.

      Good discussions people! 🙂

    • Greg - mbts.edu

      It is better to widen our view and get real life experience from university seminary right? However, everything depends on our own preperation. It is not the matter of how shiny the building is. What matter the most are our hard work and preperation. Great professors would surely help. But they would not help you do your homework of course!

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