(Lisa Robinson)

This is for anyone who is contemplating seminary, in seminary, has graduated seminary or has asked anybody in seminary what they plan on doing.  For those of you who don’t know, I am a student in the ThM program (systematic theology track) at Dallas Seminary.  At the end of this semester I will be about 3/4 of the way done and graduation is anticipated for Fall 2013.  I also happen to be a single mother (widowed since 2004), raising a teenage boy and work part time.  So the 5 1/2 year track that I’m on is pretty reasonable all things considered.

One question that I am frequently asked both from within the seminary walls but especially outside of them, is what are the plans after graduation.  Whether stated directly or indirectly,  the real question is what job will I obtain after graduation.  And you would think that makes sense, right?  After all, who would leave an upward rising, good career, pack up to move 1,700 miles to a city with no family to live on less income, juggle school, work and parenting (oh all right we’ll throw in writing too) to come out without employment at the other end? Oh and let’s not forget the $40K tab that comes with it.

To be honest, I have cringed at this question.  It’s not because I don’t have an idea of where I might end up or would like to be.  But because until recently,  I have felt compelled to respond to this question under the parameters of employment.  This is made infinitely more challenging  because I am a woman and have no interest in women’s or children’s ministry.  Nor am I seeking ordination for any pastoral roles.  Well, where the heck does that leave the options for some financial compensation?  Parachurch? Writing? PhD for future teaching?  Well, maybe, most likely yes,  but not necessarily for employment but for ministry.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to land a vocational position for that which I am being trained for.  I would love to leave the career in which I spent two decades in order to spend my waking and working hours engaged with activities that prompted me to go to seminary in the first place – encouraging others to think about how they think about God, how they learn about Him in order to worship Him.  It doesn’t really matter the venue or format, whether it be writing, teaching or speaking.  Being in seminary has not only increased that desire but placed some teeth on it.   Yes, I would love employment.

But what I’ve realized is that it is not about employment.  It is about ministry.  It is about the gospel.  It is about God and the people He sent His Son for.   It is about giving a reasonable defense for our hope in Christ.  That is worth much more than a job.  To coin the army’s cheesy slogan, it is about an adventure.   Positioning oneself to be educated and trained for impact on people is worth it.  If you believe that your ministry endeavors require seminary training and hesitate because of the employment question, that ought to raise in questions regarding motivation.  It doesn’t really matter that there is time, energy and money invested for theological learning.  People invest far more for material possessions that will not last.  We don’t do it for financial compensation.  The impact on people is priceless and the learning is indispensable.

So I no longer cringe at this question because I’ve dropped the idea that it must be about employment.  I don’t feel compelled to fit my educational endeavors into something that is going to gain financial compensation and fit neatly into a ready response.  But I do cringe at the student who make it all about employment and care little to nothing about learning or challenging their theology.  I do cringe at the student whose focus is so keen on pragmatic concerns to be employable that theological learning becomes a necessary drudgery.  When it becomes all about a job,  that might quite possibly lose the adventure of ministry because the gain of learning has been lost.  And where does that leave the impact on people who have questions and need direction amid the many voices seeking to provide answers?

Sure there are practical considerations.  The bills have to be paid after all.  So that might mean being bi-vocational.  Or it could even mean volunteer ministry while one is employed elsewhere.  Or one can actually get compensated for ministry.  In the end, we are trusting God to supply our needs and position us where we will have the most impact.  That could mean vocational ministry or it might be in a secular career.   If there is nothing else I have learning from being in seminary, is that there is an unwritten curriculum in the accelerated Trust in the Lord program. And I believe that has everything to do with trusting Him after seminary for whatever He has planned.

As it stands now, I don’t know what is after the ThM.  I don’t know if I will gain any financial compensation for ministry.  I might possibly continue on to the PhD.  I most possibly will be writing and continue teaching at church.  I might be going back to a secular career.  Who knows?  Well God does, and I’m looking forward to His adventure.

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

    17 replies to "What’s After Seminary? Not a Job, But an Adventure"

    • Doug


    • Jim Zeirke

      Lisa, I love you!!!! In the short time that I’ve been in seminary I have had so many people ask me this and when I tell them that I don’t know what I’m going to do after I get my degree–but God knows, they sort of look at me funny and say “Well, that’s nice.” I think I might print up a bunch of copies of this to had out to family and friends when they ask.

    • Elke Speliopoulos

      Lisa, I am so encouraged after reading your post. I am finishing up my MDiv in May (after completing an MAR in 2010). I, like you, have been a bit annoyed over the conversations – typically starting with “So…you want to be a pastor?”
      Yes, I went to seminary to learn more about the God I love and because my pastors were getting sick of me asking all these questions. I didn’t even truly put two and two together that I was IN seminary until mid-way through my first couple of courses, ha.
      Well, here I am, and I do not know where this road will lead me. Maybe to a PhD (my profs keep pushing me), maybe not. But I do know, like you, that women and children’s ministry is not it, neither is a pastorate – just a deep desire to serve the God I love in the best way I know how. Love you for writing this!
      In His grip,

    • I have never been able able to use my degree for vocational purposes. (I joke that my occupation is theologian, I have just never been able to get anyone to pay me for it.) But I agree that a job should not be the main and certainly not the only thing.

    • Paul

      Great points. Really, a ThM is worth it even if a person was a shoe clerk for the rest of their life but held an evening Bible study or two discipling others and helped friends who suffer tragedy. Learning a lot about God isn’t confined to theological professions.

    • Paul M

      Lisa, how do you do it with the timely posts?! I just visited DTS, and I am guilty of asking those questions of people what they were going to do when they were finished. I actually found it encouraging that many I spoke with didn’t know what they were going to do. And now, you have answered likewise as with other commenters adding to the encouragement.

    • Craig Baugh

      Lisa, what a great post and attitude. When I graduated from seminary (Harding Grad in Memphis, TN) in 1984 little did I imagine what the Lord had in mind for me. After “trying out” at churches for 9 months, the first people to offer me a job was the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington, DC. Yep, you heard me right! As soon as I graduated from seminary, I went to work for the US Government. After much prayer, I took the job. For the next 24 years, I worked a secular job that I came to love and ministered to small churches in the Northern Virginia area. In hindsight, this was the Lord’s plan all along, I believe. I still get the “are you a real preacher” comments at preacher meetings, but I firmly believe that God will use you in His kingdom whether it’s with a local church as pastor or in any of the many other non-traditional ministry roles for seminary grads. I retired from the US government in 2008 and then the Lord threw me yet another twist. As I said to myself, “Now I can really focus full time on local ministry at a my current congregation”, my wife recieved a position at the US Embassy in Berlin, Germany. So now I am using that seminary education in a totally different culture and environment. As long as you keep in mind who is running your life, you will be in for a fantastic adventure. God bless.

    • Rick

      Great post.

      Imagine if those of us who have seminary degrees, yet are not in paid ministry, could use that theological training to deeply think about how to impact that area we are in. One example would be Tim Keller’s city missiology emphasis. Imagine if churches and seminaries really supported such efforts.

      Michael Kruse is doing a good series at the Jesus Creed about the workforce and theology, and the lack of helpful resources to help us think theologically about business. This could be applied to other areas of the workforce and life in general.

    • Ananya

      Excellent post. I’ve often considered going back to school for theology but always wondered what the heck I’d do with it. Maybe I don’t worry about tomorrow. Maybe I just live my life.

    • Nick

      Great! I’ve grown up in the gaming industry and decided that ministry is really the ultimate adventure. Forget your TV shows, movies, and everything else. No adventure is better than the one you live.

    • Steve Martin


      No matter what you decide to do, the Lord will make good use of you, for His purposes.

      God bless you and speed you to an exciting adventure…whatever it may be.

    • Jeff Ayers


      You certainly have your plate full and seem to be able to keep all the balls in the air at the same time. (and a few more cliches i will spare you). But very impressive.

      4 questions:

      Are female theologians (not liberal) as much a rarity as it seems, or do I not travel in the right circles to be aware of them?

      Do you consider yourself a theologian (or will you consider yourself one upon graduation)?

      Is the female Pastorate allowed within your theological framework?

      What about females teaching Bible to males in the church?

      You are a very thorough, insightful, cogent and thought provoking writer—keep up the good work!

    • Ed Kratz

      Thank you all for your kind words. It’s nice to see that people are encouraged by what I wrote.

      Jeff, in response to your questions

      1) Yes, in conservative circles the number is quite low. In my ST electives, I am typically either the only female or one of two in the class.

      2) Well, I’ll punt to Charles Ryrie who says everyone is a theologian its just a matter of what kind 🙂 It’s interesting because many call me that but I think I might reserve the label until after graduation.

      3) Oooh, that’s a loaded question, especially since “theological framework” can take on a few dimensions. But if you mean from a complementarian perspective, ultra-conservative churches tend not women engaged in the pastoring task, the title of pastor. In some cases women can be part of the pastorate by virtue of responsibilities even if just to other women. With some who have multiple layers of leadership, there are women pastors but not part of the eldership. It really all depends on the governing structure. Views on ordination is split as well.

      4) Do you really want me to open that can of worms? 😉

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      God bless you, Lisa Robinson. And God bless your ministry as a mom to your teen-age son.

    • acha changkiri

      Thanks Lisa I am so encouraged by your words. May God bless you always.

    • C.H.

      Hello Lisa,

      I am a lawyer considering attending seminary. I just “feel” like it’s a step in my life that I need to take and as a risk-averse person I’m thinking but where will this lead me? What will I do? I’m completely interested and excited about the prospect of studying God’s word and learning and growing–but have never pursued a degree for the sake of learning! haha. Thanks for sharing your heart and experience, it has definitely helped me to keep my motives in mind and to know that I don’t have to have all the answers and if God is saying to “jump”–I just need to jump and trust him with the rest.

      God bless you and your family!

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