This post is dedicated to my fellow classmates at Dallas Theological Seminary and all other seminary students

Seminary is hard work.  The curriculum is intense, the work load is demanding and assignments seem to over-shadow time that rapidly seems to tick away.  But there is much to learn – Greek, Hebrew, Church History, Homeletics, Pastoral Counseling…and the list goes on.  At the same time, there is a delight in absorbing all the rich education.  Yes, learning is fun.

Most people go into seminary with a great sense of call.  When the mire of requirements kicks in, it is easy for clarity of direction to get blurred into a myriad of questions.  Yet somehow, God has a way of refining, and in some cases redefining focus to keep going, absorbing the rich atmosphere of theological education in the context of an organically shaped Christian community of fellow students and professors.  At least that is the way it has been for me.  Learning is re-energized, goals re-clarified as the post-seminary prize of ministry accomplishments await.

There is much to learn and more often the lessons come in the form of unwritten curriculum outside of the classroom, outside of Greek and Hebrew and all the theological disciplines.  These are not easy lessons.  Juxtaposed to the written curriculum presents interesting challenges and well as the reinforcement that we are being used for a greater purpose to the glory of God.  The lessons come, we learn and grow.  Ministry purpose is clarified.

But I believe all the lessons, both inside and outside the classroom pale in comparison, to the greatest lesson to be learned –  humility.  All other learning is fruitless without this.  I am not talking about a contrived form of servanthood, but the reality of who we really are.  All the seminary education should reinforce the conclusion that only by God’s grace and gifting, are we able to participate in the learning program.  Only because he has made provisions.  And only because he has opened blinded eyes to embrace the beauty of his truth.  There by the grace of God go we.

I’m learning the hard way, that clarity of sight can get clouded with haziness of ambition fueled by the particles of learning.   Goals turn into assets that turn into expectations of how the education will be used to train others, to help others, to teach others.  Given the principle of self-focused rebellion, unchecked and unexamined self-importance can quickly turn seminary training into a rite of passage for greater recognition all in the name of Christ. Ministry goals turn into privilege of position and the presuppositions of elevation, most likely disguised in the cloak of ministerial service.

I don’t think there could be anything more harmful to the education we are so privileged to obtain and to the body of Christ, in general than to suppose a seminary education overrides the greatest command to “love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind AND to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-38).  Teaching this is one thing.  Living it is something altogether different.  But Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 5:3, that leaders are only exemplary servants.   If we go in as servants and come out a teachers, then I think we would have missed the whole point.  Seminary should improve our relationship with God and people.  No amount of academic education can validate if it doesn’t.

So I believe this does require frequent, piercing introspection to assess who we really are and who is greater in our theological training – us or God.  Internal dishonesty can eventually leverage unmitigated external demands of recognized capabilities resting on accomplishments, education and skills.  Pride is the ugliest mark that can taint the finest of seminary education, especially if it results in harmful treatment of God’s truth and his people all in the name of Christian education or pastoring.

Humility, on the other hand, embraces clarity and prompt dependence on grace and truth.  It is willing to look into the deepest recesses of the soul and listen for the reverberation of self – self-focus, self-promotion, self-importance.  It is ready to point the accusatory finger around and ask ‘is that me’?  Humility requires gut-wrenching honesty.

The body of Christ needs this honesty; it needs humbled servants.  It is already too riddled with less than authentic personalities who  have reversed John’s dictate and have increased, while Christ decreases.  People are hungry for truth, for grace and for genuine care of their souls.  Let’s not be the ones who cause further damage but to embrace Christ’s example, who “came not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28).  Let’s make sure that piece of paper never becomes more important than that.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon 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. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    3 replies to "The Greatest Theological Lesson in Seminary"

    • Warren

      Nice post; well thought out and well said. Ihad a professor who often said, “If people are ‘wowed’ by my message, my delivery, or my methodology, then I have failed at my job and cheapened the cross.” Words I try to live by, but no doubt fail at too often.

      Thanks for the reminder and for filling in for CMP.

    • WenatcheeTheHatchet

      One of my favorite wry observations was about a seminarian and young people in The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevsky’s narrator dryly observes that for a young man it’s the easiest thing in the world to imagine dying for this or that cause. But to sacrifice three to five years of his burning youth on tedious study to become a servant? No thanks most of them tend to say.

    • […] at The Parchment and the Pen, you can read a great post on the most important lesson to be learned at […]

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