The Thistle

Things I Learned in Seminary (Or Things I Knew, But Really Experienced in Seminary)

Recent Covenant Seminary graduate Staci King (MAET ’14) reflects on her seminary experience and the lessons she has learned–both in and out of the classroom. See the original post and read more of Staci’s reflections at her blog, The Tishbite Chronicles.

May 16, 2014.  Tonight, I will celebrate the culmination of my studies at Covenant Theological Seminary (CTS) at their 58th Annual Commencement Ceremony. I will be beaming with honor and gratitude for this accomplishment as I walk down the aisle next to my friend and colleague, Philip Ryan, as Master of Arts, Exegetical Theology recipients. While there are only two of us receiving this degree, there will be over 200 other beaming students proudly receiving degrees from other programs at CTS.

Study at CTS is not easy. Not simply because the coursework is rigorous, but because on top of this coursework, if you’re serious, you will be forced to look at the junk in your heart. Writing multiple papers, taking tests and exams, and reading tons of books every semester, while at the same time examining your heart, is weary work but comes with a priceless payoff.

As I’ve been getting ready to participate in graduation ceremony, I’ve asked myself, “What have I learned in seminary?” The answer is, “A lot.” Every semester, every day even, brought new insights and perspectives. There are things that I’m still processing from my very first semester at CTS, and I’m sure I will be processing what I’ve learned throughout seminary for a long time. Here are some of the things that have had the biggest impact on me thus far. (Note: If you read nothing else, number one is most important.)

6. It is easy to study the Word of God and not let its power grip you. Seminary has required study of Biblical texts and books at a deep level. However, even at that depth, there were times when I found myself studying for a grade rather than studying to grow and for the privilege of receiving, and better understanding, the words of our Creator. Scripture gives us a view into the heart of God. It offers us a view of our holy lineage through a wonderfully woven redemptive-historical narrative. It teaches us our true identity, children of God in Christ, and what it looks like to walk according to that identity. Scripture reveals the absolute power and stunning faithfulness of God’s love. Yet every day, there are many who read the words of Scripture, but are unmoved by them. Seminary students included. This lesson has taught me to slow down and remember what it is I’m reading as I study. The Bible isn’t a text book; it’s God’s book of life. And the life that is in it no grade can ever provide.

5. Our identities are fragile when rooted in the wrong thing. When I came to seminary, I had no idea what I was walking into. After not having been in school for over 20 years, I was a bit nervous. A ton of insecurities welled up in me. Was I smart enough? Could I handle the heavy course load? Was this really what I was being called to? As a woman, would I be fully accepted and acknowledged? Would I fit in? I hate to say that all of these questions were surely in my mind as I left Seattle. They weighed me down and, unfortunately, the weight would become far heavier before it got lighter. As with any school, seminary is filled with a lot of gifted, intelligent, and passionate people. All of these people together in one place is a breeding ground for identity crises. I, personally, found myself longing for the gifts, skills, and talents of others. My gifts were not quite enough. And not only that, but I, at times, lost sight of who I was truly meant to be because in essence I wanted to be someone else. My identity was rooted in achievements and works and gifts instead of in Christ. On the days when my identity was quite wrongly rooted, I would often feel the crushing taunts of inadequacy, ineptitude, and good ol’ self-pity. However, the more I have learned to be honest with God in this area, the more he has strengthened me in my true identity and given me peace. With this has come a renewed sense of gratitude and joy for who he has created me to be.

4. Perfectionism is not a virtue. It will rob you of joy and time, and warp your sense of worth and purpose. Striving for excellence is a great thing, but striving for perfection – not so much. I’m still trying to grab ahold of this lesson and live in it, but it is a hard demon to exorcise. However, I know that as I become more rooted in my true identity, perfectionism will eventually lose its ugly grip on me.

3. Know your call and celebrate what God has called you to do and what he has called others to do. God has given each one of us purpose in this life. He has equipped some for teaching, some for preaching, some for mercy, and some for organizing. The levels of ability for each of these things vary greatly. Some people are inherently gifted in their areas, while for others it takes hard work in theirs. As I mentioned before, it is easy to wish for others’ levels of ability and gifts. But we are not called to be as able or talented as anyone else among the body; we are called to use the gifts God has given us to the best of our ability. If God has called you to preach, and you’re not the best at it, you can believe he’s using your sub-par preaching ability for something and growing and blessing you in your obedience and faithfulness. Be confident in your call and be the best you can be. I have a few dear friends who are quite eloquent and gifted speakers. There have been more times than I can count that I have coveted their abilities. My time at CTS has taught me how to truly celebrate their high levels of ability and call, as speakers, without invalidating my own ability and call. In a conversation about this with one of my professors, a brilliant man, he said to me, as he handed me an Acts commentary about the size of a small dog, “I just received this today. It only covers the first two chapters of Acts. I can’t let this distract me from doing the work I’m meant to do. There will always be people who are smarter than you, more prolific than you, and more diligent than you. But you can’t let that keep you from your good work.” Those were powerful words that I needed to hear from a man I respect greatly. Each one of us is a small piece in the kaleidoscope of God’s plan, and each piece reflects uniquely. The light of His love shines through us as a whole to create an ever-changing, beautifully-colored pattern on a waiting world.

2. Relationships are vital. The reality of this truth was brought into sharp focus at seminary. If it weren’t for my relationships that were built prior to and during seminary, I would have been a hurtin’ woman. Walking with others, in close relationship and even not-so-close relationship, gave me a sense of grounding during this time. True relationships require you to step outside of yourself and into the hearts of others. God uses our communion with one another to strengthen us, encourage us, exhort us, and love us. His presence is truly felt in relationship with others. Deep relationships require vulnerability. With all the emotions I experienced in school, I needed people with whom I could be vulnerable; people who would let me fall apart in front of them, and remain with me as I picked up the pieces. And people who felt they could do the same with me. I am blessed to have several of these types of relationships in my life, and seminary has taught me to appreciate them in new ways. If I’m honest, I will admit that I was quite often the needier party in many of these relationships, while in school, but I have come to understand that this is part of the ebb and flow of life and relationships.

1. Finally, and by far most importantly, I have learned more and more that it’s not all about me. All that God has taught me, in seminary, points to him and is about him. Every aspect of my growth and education is for his glory (though he graciously allows me to experience enjoyment of it too). The precision with which he has cut into my heart throughout my life, allowing me to know him and receive his love more, has left me in awe of Him. God’s desire for us is to reflect and know his love and to proclaim his goodness and faithfulness to those around us; and he has equipped us to do so. And while I know that God gives us good gifts to enjoy, teaches us good things to grow in, and gives us a sense of joy and pride when we accomplish good things, these are not ends in themselves. To glory in and glorify the God of all creation is the end of all we do. There is no better lesson to learn.