10 Things I Wish I’d Been Told in Seminary

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My time in seminary was formative for my spiritual, and ministerial, life. I loved my time there, and was an important part of God confirming my call to full-time vocational ministry.


image credit: andynaselli.com

Seminary isn’t for everyone, but it’s incredibly helpful for some. Including me.

But seminary doesn’t teach you everything. It doesn’t fully prepare you for ministry, or tell you what hats you’ll have to wear. If you go in to seminary expecting it’ll give you every tool it takes to lead the Church well, think again. It ain’t happenin’. In fact, I learned a ton working in a coffee shop while in seminary.

10 Things I wish I’d been told in seminary

1. Your involvement in the community is vital.

Finding boards to serve on, roads to clean, and festivals to support shows that you love your community, your culture, and your people. It communicates that you care more than just about your local church, but that you see your local church is a part of a local community. It shows others you’re not just about yourself.

2. Rarely will the rest of the world care about obscure theology as much as you do.

This is the truth. You’ll run in to some young whippersnappers who care about transubstantiation. By and large, though, people won’t “care how much you know until they know how much you care.” (Rick Warren)

3. Leadership is crazy important.

You may be a solid communicator, but if you can’t lead you’ll severely cripple your congregation. You’ll struggle to recruit and keep volunteers, build a healthy staff, and build a healthy church culture. You’ll struggle when the issues you’re brought aren’t black-and-white, and when you can’t simply quote a verse and move on. Leading people through difficulties and change will shape your ministry.

4. People will care more about the application you draw from the text than they will you pontificating on the nuances of the author’s original intent.

This goes along with #2 (above), but it refers specifically to preaching. It’s not wrong that you publicly dive into the technical end of a text, but be sure to make a beeline to how people can apply that truth to their lives. Help people leave knowing what to do with a given Scripture rather than just a few random facts about it.

5. Weddings and funerals aren’t just about preaching the Gospel to people who show up…they’re about building relationships.

I was told about the value and necessity of preaching the Gospel at both weddings and funerals, and that if you don’t do that you’ve failed your calling as a pastor. What I wasn’t told was how important both events are in building real relationships with people in the most emotional times of their lives that they’ll remember more clearly than just about anything else. Building relationships during these events well builds a strong foundation for ministry, and helps garnish trust among people in your church and throughout your community. (because people other than your own church members will show up for these)

6. Remembering names will get you a long way relationally with people.

This should’ve been a class in seminary. Seriously.

7. You’ve got to be internally motivated to succeed as a pastor.

It’s easy to coast. I’ve seen too many guys slip through the cracks on auto pilot. If you’re going to succeed, you’ve got to create traction, recruit, train, invest, and stretch. Nobody else will do that for you.

8. People will constantly look at you for spiritual answers.

Constantly. The more you can give them hope, the better. You won’t have all of the answers, but you’re expected to. Constantly. Giving answers as to “why” is good…giving hope in the midst of pain is better.

9. Seminary is a bubble.

The real world doesn’t think, act, or talk like people do in seminary. If you act like a seminary student the rest of your life, you’ll be pushed to the fringes of real ministry.

10. Who you recruit to be on your leadership team (both staff and laity) will shape your ministry.

This is true whether you’re talking about deacons, elders, small group leaders, or kids ministry volunteers, recruit well. Don’t settle for hiring someone who’s not a fit on your team. Take risks on people, but know that they will shape your ministry.


Have you been to seminary? What do you wish they’d taught you?



Christ follower, husband, father, writer, small groups pastor at Saddleback Community Church. Communications director for the Small Group Network.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://www.brianandkrista.com Brian French

    Great post Ben. Particularly # 6.

    The one thing I wish I had received in seminary would have been job shadowing. Internships were required for graduation, but the specifics of what that should be we’re left to me. In hindsight, that is like a patient diagnosing his own condition from Wikipedia.

    I would make internships a 2 year process, not one semester.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Yes, a 2-year internship would be very helpful. It would make seminary much longer, but it would be so good at equipping you to do the work of ministry.

  • http://www.faithfulandfruitful.com/ Luke Simmons

    I resonate with #3. I went through a three-year church based training center and I’m now half way through seminary. Having planted a church and now leading it, I can testify that if all I had was seminary, I’d be in big trouble. It’s priceless for theological education, but miserable for leadership development and practical church leadership.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Yep, totally agree, Luke. Where are you going to seminary now?

      • http://www.faithfulandfruitful.com/ Luke Simmons

        I’m in the distance program at Reformed Theological Seminary.

        • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

          Nice. You like their online program?

          • http://www.faithfulandfruitful.com/ Luke Simmons

            The good and bad is that you can do it at your own pace and place. It’s good because in the midst of planting and pastoring a church, I don’t want to uproot my family and ministry to go to seminary. It’s bad because I often lack the time and/or discipline to go very hard at it.

  • http://undistractedchristian.com/ Tyler Hess

    I haven’t gone to seminary, but I did go to Bible college. I wish they had taught that you can still be an important member of the body of Christ without knowing if you are called to be a pastor or a missionary. Those aren’t the only two things a good Christian boy can do for Jesus, but it sure seemed like it, and I’m not particularly cut out for either of those two things, but I still feel like I have a lot to offer in other areas.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Yes, Tyler! That’s something that’s not talked about a lot but that should be!

    • Lamar

      The Church is a body in which every member, a membership of which is based on faith only in Christ with no requirement of a class, vote, or denominational swearing in, is to share Christ. Keep sharing Christ because you are qualified without Bible college or seminary. This is how the Church functions properly. It malfunctions when one person speaks and keeps all others from sharing Christ. You feel the way you do because the truth I speak of has been revealed to you.

  • http://www.jasonvana.com Jason Vana

    I haven’t gone to seminary, but I am looking into the possibility of doing a distance education program at a seminary that is a few hours away from me. I did the opposite route you did – I started with the doing and now am looking at the schooling. It’ll be interesting to see how different the experience is this way around.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      I wonder how different your experience would be. I bet it will be different.

      Let me know!

  • http://www.youthministrymedia.ca kolby milton

    Great post. I totally agree with a lot of those points. I found it helpful to be in seminary, and working in a church. This way you get the best of both worlds. I think seminary can become a bubble, and cripple pastors for good.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Thanks Kolby…you’re right. I worked in a church the last half of my time in seminary, and found it refreshing.

  • http://www.andygill.org/ Andy Gill

    Ben, what seminary did you go to?

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. You?

      • http://www.andygill.org/ Andy Gill

        Princeton Theological. In my first week. So goodtiming on this post haha

  • H.B. Charles, Jr.

    Great list.

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  • Jack Kaspersson

    From a seat in the pews … a thought for those pastors who record their sermons and offer them on the Internet. The “old way” of a preaching style and voice to match a building or tent’s acoustics is absolutely counter productive when coming through a person’s headphones. John Piper has begun what appears to be a wonderful series of “goodbye” sermons; the first of which was/is “I Am Who I Am – Exodus 3”. I would guess that that his Bethleham congregation was greatly and rightly inspired by Pastor Piper this past Sunday; but that sermon coming through the headphones with all the crescendos and whispers hurt my ears and left a taste of the man and not his message, that of the making of God known as a Christian’s dominant motivation. The point is that seminaries should be offering classes about this new-fangled teaching direct from the pastor’s lips to the student’s ears: whether these things be a matter of speaking skill or the later editing of a sermon or both?

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Hmm…interesting, Jack. Do you think this could be a “technical” issue that could be solved by different recording/editing equipment?

  • http://www.facebook.com/lsdjr72 Steve Doyle

    For me I wish seminary would have prepared me better for counseling. Yes, I had a counseling course at SBTS but it wasn’t enough, and it was too theoretical. I really think some deeper Biblical counseling principles and training would have been helpful. I didn’t realize how many people would be coming to our church with such overwhelming baggage. I was unprepared to to help carry their burdens.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Yeah, that’s a good call, Steve. Thankfully, I got my degree in Biblical Counseling. :)

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  • Brenda Tate

    I didn’t go to seminary but I have observed a lot of pastors in my 72 years.
    #1 is good…as long as the pastor doesn’t get so involved in the community that he neglects his flock.
    #4 True, true…” too much pontificating on the author’s original intent turns me off.”
    #6 True for everyone no matter what profession. Classes on this should be required in high school.
    #7 I agree
    #10 Amen

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Thanks for the encouragement, Grandmama!

  • http://twitter.com/danielbeckworth Daniel Beckworth

    Great post. Seminary is like a bubble. I totally agree. We can’t forget that as we strive to minister to our people.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Thanks Daniel!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003895159633 Josh Hunt

    My dad told me I would love seminary if I didn’t expect them to teach me to live the Christian life and didn’t expect them to teach me to pastor a church.

    Josh Hunt
    Good Questions Have Groups Talking

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Your dad sounds like a wise man, Josh.

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  • Danielle

    *The real world doesn’t think, act, or talk like people do in seminary.* How do people in seminary think act and talk?

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      It tends to be a lot of technical, theological vocabulary that’s thrown around. Most people don’t use those words on a daily, or even weekly, basis like seminary students do.

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  • easylou

    What I wish they had told me was, nothing prepares you for leadership like O.J.T.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed


      • http://www.facebook.com/terry.letourneau Terry LeTourneau

        Probably…On the Job Training?

        • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

          Ah yes…you’re probably right!

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  • http://twitter.com/davepatchin Dave Patchin

    Seminary prepares people to propagate the seminary’s theology. If you walk through your pastoral day, very few things you do that matter were taught in seminary. Leading people, loving people, and growing spiritually are nearly absent. Sadly, I fear seminary will die as a path to evangelical ministry unless they adjust their methodology and curriculum soon.

  • Dallas Vaughn

    You said seminary wasn’t designed to prepare you for ministry. What do you mean by that? What was it designed to do?

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      To me, it seems designed to give you a good theological foundation for ministry…but much of the day-to-day grinds of ministry are learned while doing ministry.

      • LG

        He said that it doesn’t FULLY prepare you for ministry. It’s so true. I had a fabulous M.Div. program at my seminary; but, no program can fully prepare you for ministry.

  • Brian Vinson

    I learned a lot in seminary, and some of the classes were helpful, too. For me, the best part of seminary was the “apartness” where God could work on me.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Yeah, that’s huge, Brian.

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  • Brian

    I’m old..but I got 7 out of 10 of the above in seminary… plus one that remains golden…
    “if you cannot live with ‘incompleteness, you will die in parish ministry.”
    Golden …7 x 7 …70 x 7

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      That’s awesome, Brian…sounds like you had a phenomenal seminary experience!

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  • Rick Diamond

    a. conflict resolution. b. going deeper in your own soul work especially your shadow and hidden crap. c. conflict resolution. d. silence and sabbath. e. conflict resolution. f. financial and organizational management. g. conflict resolution. h. nobody actually cares about theology, just about how to make it through life.

  • LG

    I wish we would have had some psychology and counseling classes. Dealing with people is such a large portion of the job.