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Advice for Undergraduates Planning on Seminary

August 22nd, 2012 | 7 min read

By Jeremy Mann

In April Fred Sanders asked me to write to some THI students who are anticipating seminary in their future. Today I officially started an M.Div. at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, so it feels fitting to review the tips I wrote and share them here. I'd like to hear what others think (both Biola grads and not).

5 tips to chums considering the pastorate (with some personal examples):

1. Read your books: The people guiding your education right now know a lot more than you do about pretty much everything, vocational ministry included. Commit yourself wholly to their care while you have the opportunity. There will be occasions in the future when you can develop other important skills and affections, but resolve to consistently prioritize now what you can best do in this season of your life: carefully reading and talking about old books (writing about them is important too, but less important for now). With this priority in mind, do not let the syllabus, your classmates, or the general cultural expectations prevent you from thoroughly ingesting each text. If that takes reading some books twice, do it. Carefully attend to your own energy cycles and optimal conditions for study. Never again will you be able to read so widely and with such helpful support: be a good steward of this opportunity. A good indicator of this will be feedback from your mentor (and since success in Torrey depends much more on hard work than "a beautiful mind"-type insight, you should try to be in the top 5% of your class). If you start the program ahead, write more and periodically engage with stronger dialogue partners who will push you. A good quote on this topic: "When you are actually writing, and working as hard as you should be if you want to succeed, you will feel inadequate, stupid, and tired. If you don't feel like that, then you aren't working hard enough."2013 - Logo - Torrey Seal (2738)

2. Develop aspirational relationships: There was a time when pastors were usually the best educated people in town. This is not true anymore, so you need to be thoughtful about charting a course that will improve on the standard academic route to the pastorate. Most people will become the average of their closest companions. And while Sutherland Hall is a wonderful place with many great people, it does not have a high concentration of deeply rigorous thinkers, so you're going to have be proactive about building your friend base. I recommend a mix of people who are especially helpful given your current life-focus (see point 1) and then just generally wonderful people (given the likely longevity of many of these relationships). In addition to peers that will spur you on, regularly seek out the company of older students and alumni. Lunch once a month with a graduate student takes little extra effort and will be extremely helpful in keeping you humble and hustling. Note that this advice does not mean you shouldn't be good friends with your roommates or the random person on your intramural volleyball team; you just need to head hunt too. I did this by intentionally making friends with older students I respected, presenting at academic conferences, doing fellowships through think tanks/other colleges, taking classes cross-listed at Talbot, and interviewing pastors about both their ministry and their preparation for it. I've kept interviewing since graduation and now have advice, recommended resources, and the contact info from more than twenty pastors.

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