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.