Let’s Address Missionary Objections to Seminary

For me, seminary proved to be a formative experience in spite of common objections.

My wife and I always envisioned landing on the mission field straight out of college. But as we approached my senior year, I began to rethink our plans. For one, I didn’t feel grounded theologically. Second, I didn’t know if we were spiritually mature enough for the rigors of ministry overseas. I can still remember a short conversation I had with the president of a missionary agency when he visited our college campus. He strongly recommended seminary.

 

Many people see seminary like calculus. What are the chances that you’ll ever use that textbook stuff in real life? If students or professionals are considering overseas missions, such sentiments may only intensify as they measure the length of study against the urgency of reaching the lost.

The reasoning can be something like this: “Won’t four years of seminary training delay my calling? Besides, seminary doesn’t answer the real-to-life questions of a cross-cultural church planter. Ivory tower understandings of theology are largely impractical for a life on mission.

True, seminary isn’t for everyone. Seminary is neither perfect nor necessary in an absolute sense (though some sending agencies may make it a requirement). Furthermore, seminary can’t answer every question or prepare a student for every context. But what seminary can’t do isn’t all that it does. In fact, for me, seminary proved to be a formative experience in spite of common objections.

“Seminary doesn’t get you overseas any quicker.”

My wife and I always envisioned landing on the mission field straight out of college. But as we approached my senior year, I began to rethink our plans.

For one, I didn’t feel grounded theologically. Second, I didn’t know if we were spiritually mature enough for the rigors of ministry overseas. I can still remember a short conversation I had with the president of a missionary agency when he visited our college campus. He strongly recommended seminary.

Today, sixteen years on, I’m thankful for his wise counsel. While seminary inevitably postponed our departure for the field, it enriched our arrival. In addition to doctrine, a seminary education has the ability to teach patience and endurance, lessons critical for life overseas. Because, for most missionaries, the challenge isn’t getting to the field. It’s staying there.

“Seminary won’t teach you the target language for ministry.”

Most missionaries will spend years focused on learning language. Many others will need to learn more than one language. So spending long nights in seminary studying dead, biblical languages can seem like a worthless expenditure of brain cells. Furthermore, if the prospective missionary struggles with grasping the biblical languages, he or she may feel hopeless at the thought of studying Mandarin or Arabic.

I also didn’t have the most encouraging experience with biblical languages. I still remember pulsing headaches of confusion in my 12:30 p.m. Greek class. Some days I felt way behind. I could barely keep pace with the lecture. Hebrew was even more difficult. One time I recall my professor peering over my shoulder at a sentence, pausing, then telling me that I had translated it perfectly—except into Aramaic.

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