What Do You Wish You Had Learned?

question_mark.jpgThis particular question is intended for ministers (I realize this represents a variety of roles).  (If you are not a minister, there is a question on another post for you.)  

What do you wish you had learned in seminary?  

Many of us who have been in the middle of ministry for a while realize that there are many things that one just can’t learn in seminary.  They must be learned "on the job" and in the middle of life.  However, I do think there are some things that one ought to have learned in seminary.  If you don’t mind, I would be very interested in hearing what you think regarding this.  By the way, I do not ask this question to be critical of seminaries in general.  Rather, I would just be curious to know the kind of things you think are important and which can be taught in such a setting. 

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

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20 thoughts on “What Do You Wish You Had Learned?

  1. I learned a great deal about Greek and Hebrew, about the Bible and Preaching.  What I wish I had learned is how to balance the demands of ministry and family.  It is so easy to feel guilty for being out with people and away from my family, and also guilty for being with my family while there are needs in the lives of the people I serve.
    I would also like to have a clear way to know how to evaluate how ministry is going.  Attendance, Budgets and Baptism numbers leave out so much that is important to church health.
    Your blog is a blessing – thanks 

  2. if I may answer with a philosophical, big picture concern instead of one thing……someone said, "you reproduce what you are"I have come to worry how lecture, classroom settings (where important info is taught by great men) is really going to produce the kind of ministers that churches need.  I am not against education, but I think that is barely half of the equation.so maybe to sum up, I wish I had a internship, while in school, spending time with a mature minister and eldership, to get a balanced education,  

  3. Hey Jim, great question. I’m going to venture a few answers, but I want to add the caveat that it is possible that the school I attended ATTEMPTED to teach me these things but that I was not paying attention or at that age felt I knew all there was to know. But beyond that…
    *ORGANIZATION. How to organize a balanced ministry. Time management skills seem so out of my reach. I remember my first preaching ministry … sitting at my desk for the first time … and getting a ‘kicked in my guy’ feeling … what am I supposed to do now? I had no idea.
    *CONFLICT RESPONSE. Not resolution…so often that seems to be in the hands of someone else … but just how to positively respond to conflict within churches so as to bring about the best possible outcome.
    *WITNESSING. Lifestyle evangelism, not canned studies designed to manipulate the correct response…but how to share the Gospel in a natural way. Can this be taught?
    *SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE. The Disciplines are ancient … but I do not remember hearing anything about them when I was in college.
    Again…I may not have been listening, so I’m not pointing fingers…but these are the things that come to mind.

  4. Jim, there’s a quote from Good Will Hunting that sums up what I wish I’d learned 20 years ago. 

     Will:  "See, the sad thing about a guy like you is in fifty years you’re gunna start doing some thinkin’ on your own, and you’re gunna’ come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life: one, don’t do that, and, two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a XXXXX education you coulda’ got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library."CLARK:  "Yeah, but I will have a degree. and you’ll be serving my kids fries at a drive-thru on our way to a skiing trip."WILL:  "Yeah, maybe. eh, but at least I won’t be unoriginal."

    There’s more truth in that bit of dialogue than in anything I learned in preacher’s school or bible college.  I learned none of the most important stuff:  being present with God and others, the real nature of His kingdom, meditating on the life of Jesus, healthy exegesis, “being” is more fundamental than “doing,” spiritual formation, prayer, and how to cultivate love for the person in the pew next to me.  My education was totally disconnected from reality and I’ve been playing "catch-up" ever since.  I thank God for the Spirit and His mysterious, dynamic, and unpredictable program of "continuing education." 

  5. Brian,You make a good point.  There is so much more to getting ready for ministry than what can happen in a classroom.  Or, as you put it, "that is barely half the equation."  Thanks! 

  6. John,Great points–each one is very important.  Thanks. I like the way you express these.(By the way, I appreciate the graciousness in your answer) 

  7. Ben,I love your list (things you did not learn).  Maybe I love the list because these are the kind of things I think are particularly important in ministry (and life).  Thanks very much. 

  8. The value of developing spiritual friendships, discipling friendships, spiritual accountability and intimate connections with the ministry team you work with.  We have this now, but did not have it with our first church…and boy, what a difference it makes.  It is a gift to say our closest buddies are the ministry team we work with.

  9. Jim,  Great question, though I especially enjoyed reading the responses to your question for non-ministers – much more instructive.  I’ve thought a lot about the "inadequacies" of my education.  When I went off to ACU to prepare to preach, I’d only been a Christian for 2 years, and had never gone to church before that, so I was still figuring out who Jesus was while taking Greek, Hebrew and exegesis.  I’m not sure it had dawned on me that the church was filled with actual people.  But even though there were gaps in the curriculum, I absorbed a lot of "people sense" from being around and observing teachers like John Willis and Lynn Anderson who modeled a love for people while teaching Old Testament and Theology of Ministry.  I agree with Brian that internships would have been more helpful than additional classroom courses.

  10. Hi Arlene–I really like what you are saying about these relationships with the ministry team.  I would enjoy hearing you talk more about your and David’s experiences with this. 

  11. John,I had a very similar experience as you with some of the same people who you mentioned.  There is so much to be said for good internship experiences.  There is so much to be learned from other ministers and the body of Christ in a particular place. 

  12. Arlene,Good point.  I would enjoy hearing more of what you and David have experienced with these relationships.  Sounds like it has been a great journey. 

  13. has anyone noticed that the preachers are commenting less than the laity?  is this a first?thank you, ben for saying this, and I can add my ‘amen’:"I thank God for the Spirit and His mysterious, dynamic, and unpredictable program of "continuing education."  

  14. Dont the above comments just demonstrate that the "traditional" sort of training that most pastors recieve does not prepare them for ministry? The question, then, is whether it is simply a matter of curriculum or weather the role of pastor requires practical skills (which it surely does) that one cannot gain without practice. Its like riding a bike, you can be an expert on technique from a theoretical perspective and still not be able to ride. 

  15. I know this post is a little old … but I just found it and wanted to add my two cents.  The area that was so lacking when I went through school was grief counseling.  How to deal with grieving people.  How to support a family during the loss of a loved one.  Thankfully I moved to a church that had a minister that taught me this.  I was able to watch him and learn from his experience.  
    Maybe seminaries, preaching schools, colleges, etc … need to have a program like young doctors go through in clinicals, where they go work with another, more experience person just to learn how it’s done.
    Blessings – Trey
    PS – I like your site.

  16. Eddie,Good point.  Maybe another way of putting this is, "What is the best way to prepare a minister?  What does this person need in order to be able to best function in this particular role?"(There is probably a better way of framing these questions.  :))

  17. Trey,Good observation.  I had not thought of grief counseling in particular.There is so much value in what you say—-being able to watch, observe and learn from one who has been doing this a bit longer.Thanks for what you said regarding the blog. 

  18. How to keep a realistic discipline of reading and study going, that is helpful to oneself and one’s ministry. And how to do this in a way that is conducive to Chrisitan formation, which in the push and pressure of the academic in seminary, can be all but lost, to most of us (I think).