I consume two things at a shocking rate: chips and salsa at Tex-Mex restaurants and anything published on the internet about women in the church. Both are compulsive. I don’t even realize it until the chips are gone or I have so many tabs open in my browser I can’t read their titles.
So, as I’m apt, I stopped Twitter scrolling for an article written by a woman titled “5 Reasons I’m Glad I Went to Seminary.” My neurotransmitters sparked. This was everything I love all in one, and I reacted as only a person motivated by a high dose of dopamine does.
When Your Occupation Isn’t Ministry
The point of the article is pretty straightforward. The author is a full-time stay-at-home mom whose use of her seminary degree is not obviously apparent. She doesn’t work at a church or run a Christian non-profit. So, she lists five reasons why choosing a theological education was a worthwhile decision.
If you haven’t noticed the article linked twice already, I’ll put a third link right here.
The reason for publishing this kind of article is a good and necessary one. We need to understand that not all seminarians are meant to take positions in the church.
The author is out to open our eyes to the value of seminary beyond pastoral, missional, or parachurch positions. Seminarians’ knowledge and understanding creates change for the gospel’s sake in a bunch of contexts. This article asks us to take a second look at the context of stay-at-home moms.
So, why would a stay-at-home mom who is “not even leading a Bible study” be glad she went to seminary? I could think of so many reasons. Legion are the helpful answers to this question.
Here’s a very small sampling.
First, to better serve the people in her church on a volunteer basis. In her time (whatever amount she has) serving as a small group leader for a women’s Bible study, mentoring a single or newly married woman, sitting at her table with one other woman looking at the scriptures, sitting on the board of a local YoungLives chapter. In whatever activity she takes on her education leaves her able to adequately help others grapple with the very words of God and help bring his kingdom to earth.
Second, to reach a group with a notable lack of Bible literacy—young moms—who often over-emphasize emotional experience, and point them consistently to scripture, encourage them in their personal study of the Bible, and remind them that they need Jesus more than coffee.
Third, to serve as an advisor and a help to the pastors, men and women, who are serving their church full-time. Biblical and theological knowledge should help her see the needs of her church. In particular, she knows the plight of the mom and women in general and can give helpful insight into how the church can both serve and utilize this group for the flourishing of the body of Christ.
But the answers I saw in this article were different than those. I’ve got some qualms with a list I feel is unhelpful.
I know you are going to read the list and think I’m crazy, so I want to explain why I feel these answers are unhelpful, even unintentionally harmful, to women considering attending or who have attended seminary.
Here are the reasons put forth in the article.
- Greater knowledge of God
- Deeper walk with God
- Realizing what I don’t know
- Understanding what I do know
- Honing my truth filter
You don’t need seminary for foundations of spiritual maturity.
So that we get each other, I want you to know I believe all five of these things are excellent pursuits.
My desire for every person who has and will profess Christ is for them to grow in knowledge of God, walk with him in a more serious manner, to recognize his magnitude, search out the riches of God, and to pull apart truth from lies.
I mean, the Fathom tagline is “Deeply Curious.” I’m the editor-in-chief of this publication. It should be a given that I’m pro these ideas.
But here’s the deal, you don’t need seminary to achieve the foundations of Christian maturity.
In fact, every stay-at-home mom who’s forming sin-laden children into fully functioning adults and every high-power mega-important business woman walking to a meeting in her red-soled Christian Louboutins can find her way into all five of these things without ever saying the word seminary.
The article acknowledges this: “Could a person learn all I learned without a seminary education? Probably.” Then she goes on to put seminary in a role the local church is designed to hold: “But it’s harder to do it on your own. There’s something to be said about surrounding yourself with trustworthy, godly professors who will guide you to a deeper faith in God and knowledge of his Word.”
She is right. It is hard to do it on your own—the impossibility of a lonely faith life needs to be recognized. And so does the value of seminary. Churches often fail to accoplish what seminaries do.
Seminaries offer an active shaping of knowledge, understanding, and contextualization of faith. And, yes, godly professors are amazing guides into knowledge that’s near impossible to find elsewhere, and education provides the structure to effectively mold minds. These things are likely to deepen your faith.
But you aren’t going to find professors or seminaries as the biblical precedent for the personal spiritual growth. The word of God and committed biblical community—in a local church, not seminary—are the mandated tools for a maturing faith.
If your end goal is to grow in spiritual maturity, then find a local church that faithfully teaches the Bible, commit to a group of believers that can be a part of your life on a regular basis, and get into a local Bible study. There is even free access to seminary lectures online. You’ll find you can achieve a deeper faith using this route.
Women, if you feel called, even if you will stay at home, go to seminary. But don’t for one second believe you need it for spiritual maturity.
Personal spiritual maturity doesn’t bear a multi-thousand-dollar price tag.
Speaking of access, let’s talk money.
A basic master’s degree would require around thirty hours of education. A low estimate for what that costs in tuition alone (no fees or administrative costs) is around $20,000. My own seminary degree required sixty-five hours. Two of our Fathom staff have 120 hours of master’s level education. I’ll let you do the math.
Then you buy books. For seminarians, this is tuition lite. If you aren’t in class, you’re reading or sleeping. And if you are sleeping you should probably be reading.
Yes, there are scholarships available. Yes, schools offer loans and some churches set aside funds to help seminary students. Regardless, the commitment is nothing short of financially impossible for the masses.
Those with theological education cannot proclaim that spiritual maturity available primarily to the affluent.
Seminary requires educational responsibility.
If seminaries aren’t ultimately out to create mature Christians out of the paltry ones that first set foot on their campus, what are they about? That’s easy: equipping servants.
A quick journey down Seminary Website Lane leaves no question that seminaries know what they are out to do: equip spiritual leaders for all manner of ministry pursuits (occupational or otherwise). See for yourself.
Reformed Theological Seminary: “The purpose of RTS is to serve the church . . . by preparing its leaders . . .”
Dallas Theological Seminary: “The mission of Dallas Theological Seminary . . . is to glorify God by equipping godly servant-leaders for the proclamation of His Word and the building up of the body of Christ worldwide.”
Southwestern Seminary: “Assist churches of the Southern Baptist Convention by biblically educating God-called men and women for ministries that fulfill the Great Commission and glorify God.”
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School: “Trinity educates men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work in the world.”
Fuller Theological Seminary: “Forming Global Leaders for Kingdom Vocations.”
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary: “Its [GCTS] mission is to prepare men and women for ministry at home and abroad.”
Seminaries are professional training grounds. And just like any other professional training it costs a significant amount of money. That’s okay. Advanced education is expensive.
But by partaking in training and committing to the payments, you are making a promise. Seminary is a commitment to treasure what was entrusted to you and turn around and give it away for the good of the church and for the kingdom of God.
In a separate TGC article, Mary Wilson asks some questions on how a woman should evaluate whether or not she is called to seminary. Everyone of her points directs the reader back to the idea of service.
Mary Wilson calls seminary “the first step to receive formal training for a lifetime of occupational servant ministry,” and points out that a desire for further training should “spring from a growing hunger to serve God’s people with the truth and grace of Jesus.”
And because seminary requires sacrifice and hard work she adds the encouragement, “We remember why we’re working so hard in the first place—we want to serve people!”
Stay-at-home mom, you should go to seminary.
There will be times where our ministry is our family, but we should not attend seminary hoping to better navigate the religion section of a Barnes & Noble or to get more out of our solitary moments with the Lord. We should go to seminary because we are burdened for God’s people. Stay-at-home moms can be equally burdened for God’s people as those in occupational ministry or jobs in business or the creative world.
For all seminarians, not just women, the application of our training doesn’t have to be readily apparent, but it does have to exist. If you are ready to fill up in order to pour out, go to seminary. The church needs you.
Cover image by Ben Duchac.