10 Things I Wish I Learned in Seminary
This week marks three years since I graduated with my MDiv from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. It has been a fun adventure. I have learned and grown a lot. It has also been a sad three years as many of my friends have scars and some have even already left ministry.
So I have come up with these 10 things that I wish I learned in seminary. I do this not to critique PTS in any way but instead to be helpful to those who are just leaving seminary.
- People don’t care about theology for theology’s sake. In seminary you get excited about all kinds of theological questions. You can sit in the cafeteria or at a pub and talk Barth for hours. In a church, people don’t care that much. What they want is help and hope for living their lives. That does not mean you do not think about or preach about theology, you just have to make it applicable.
- I do not have to pastor to please my professors. When I left seminary I often thought about what Dr. Purves would think of my sermon or what Dr. Gagnon would say about my comments on a Greek word. But they aren’t in the pews at my church. In fact, I don’t preach to please the people in the pews either. Preach to please God and let the other things fall in line.
- It is ok to take a day off. I was not good at taking time off at first. I still don’t like to miss a Sunday morning. Still, I have learned that one of the ways that I can best serve my congregation is to give them the freshest and best version of myself. I serve them by resting so I need to do so.
- Churches have different expectations. The first summer after seminary I did a number of office hours at my church. You know what happened? Nobody came to see me in the office. When people wanted me they just called my phone. So I stopped having specific office hours. My church does, however, really care that I do Bible Studies and regularly visit the shut-ins. Find out your congregation’s expectations and do your best to meet the ones that are most important.
- All I can do is my best today. I have off days where I am tired and sick. Some sermons are preached when they are only halfway done. You should do your best all the time, but sometimes your best for a particular week is not the best you are capable of. That is ok. Do the best you can today under the circumstances.
- I have to work to keep my edge. In seminary you are forced to read and think about things that you would not normally choose to. In ministry, however, no one is pushing you to do that. It is easy to get stuck and not be growing and learning. You have to be intentional with a reading plan and extra conferences to be feeding yourself.
- There is never a good time for a funeral. It never fails that when I get a funeral it is on a week that I was procrastinating. I now have my funeral service components on a Word document with options so I can quickly put a service together. I also always have 1 or 2 sermons in the bag so that if I don’t have time to develop my Sunday sermon I have a back-up.
- Sundays are always coming. They are relentless. Because of this, I find it much easier to plan worship services a couple of months ahead so I am not scrambling every week. If I have to get out books on liturgy and pick hymns I might as well do it for a few Sundays at a time.
- People can be very mean. Several of my classmates are already not in pastoral ministry because they were so beat up by the churches they went to. We should expect sinful people to be like that, but somehow we all leave seminary expecting a perfect church. They are not out there. So care for people, but also care for yourself with rest and with support so that you can handle it better when your sheep bite.
- I will always miss my seminary community. There was something special about taking three years to live with and study with people that were on the same general life track that I was on. When you get out of seminary that community is never there the same way again. Make the effort to keep in touch with people and find other pastors where you end up.
Jordan Rimmer ’12 is the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in New Brighton, Pa. He earned his Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently working on getting his Doctor of Ministry. Before moving to Pittsburgh, he was the director of outreach and youth ministries at Glenwood Methodist Church in Erie, Pa. He is a husband and father of four children. Jordan blogs at jordanrimmer.com and tweets at @jrimmer21. His sermons are available for download on iTunes or at http://jordanrimmer.podbean.com.