To go to seminary or not? Here’s today’s question: “Hello, Pastor John, my name is Brandon, a 23-year-old college student from Georgia. I have felt a call to ministry and discussed it with the leaders of my home church. They have affirmed this calling and given me the opportunity to serve in youth ministry and preach on occasion.
“The issue I am facing is that I feel the urgency to be involved with ministry full time — to reach out to adults and the community. I know I am called to pastor, but with this urgency, I can’t help but want to skip seminary. Ministry means everything to me, and I know that seminary will help equip me for my ministry. But I feel pressed to jump into the work now. Additionally, I have this growing sense that we are not only in the last hour of the end times, but that we are in the last minutes, and that Jesus is soon to return (hopefully within my lifetime). Is my sense of urgency wrongly placed?”
Brandon, I think your sense of urgency is God-given and valuable. I hope you don’t lose it. That is, massive and eternal realities are at stake that you see. That’s true.
“Far too many Christians, including pastors, have lost their sense of urgency.”
At every moment in people’s lives, they could perish. They could slip into eternity at any minute. This includes everybody we know. We should feel a sense of urgency about that. Jesus could come and wrap things up historically in your lifetime, even my lifetime. I would love it. Oh, I would love it. Far too many Christians, including pastors, have lost their sense of urgency. They have settled into a kind of routine that doesn’t feel the sense of urgency of the danger that people are in. I’m glad you feel it.
Now, let me make four or five observations that might shape the way you channel this sense of urgency. A couple of my own experiences might be helpful, and then a couple of Bible references.
A Lifelong Problem
It is almost certain that I will see Jesus within twenty years, face to face. That would put me at 93. I do not expect to live till 93. My father died at 88, so that would be fifteen more years for me. I feel a sense of urgency not to waste my life.
It’s not just a matter of what kind of education to get at the front end of your life, but at every point in your life you’re going to feel this. Every chapter you’re going to feel this. You’re going to look at the possibilities of what you should do with your life when you’re 30 and 40 and 50 and 60 and 70 and maybe 80. You’re going to struggle with the precious days that are left and how to use them best.
That’s the first observation. I’m with you. In other words, I’m not looking from out here saying, “Well, you’ve got a problem, and I’m trying to help you solve it.” I have a problem!
School Is No Waste
Second, as I look back over 73 years, I have zero regrets, no regrets whatsoever, that I stayed in school until I was 28 years old. All I did was go to school from age 6 to 28. (I dropped out of kindergarten, so I started at six. My mother tried to get me to go at five, but I hated it, so she didn’t make me. Back in those days, you could do that.) I got my final terminal degree of education. It made sense that I should go as long as I could. Everybody that I trusted was saying, “Go ahead, finish your last degree, and then all the doors that God might call you through will be open.”
So if you have a willing wife, and the Lord provides the resources, I would go ahead and get all the education available to you that your heart would let you get. I don’t regret that. I was just talking with somebody last night who is going back to school at like age 60 from the mission field, because he feels lax. It may be that somewhere along the way, if you do plunge into ministry at, say, age 19, and you go try to plant a church in some unreached people group, that maybe ten years later, you’re going to say, “Okay, I’m going back to school.” That’s okay if you want to do it that way.
But I’m saying from my standpoint, I never regretted getting all the education I could, and you are going to be handling the precious word of God. If you want doctors to get a good education so that when they do surgery on you, they don’t kill you, you better know how to handle the word of God so you don’t kill people with it.
Jesus Was Thirty
I know that from the standpoint of being 23 years old, getting more education can feel laborious. When I was in seminary, there was a great deal of urgency among the students in the late 1960s. They thought they should be out marching the streets and doing more important things than sitting in seminary classes.
“As I look back over 73 years, I have zero regrets, no regrets whatsoever, that I stayed in school until I was 28 years old.”
One day, Professor Bromley, the church history professor, stood up in chapel and announced his text for his sermon. I’ll never forget it. Luke 3:23. He read it: “Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age.” He preached for thirty minutes on why we should stop wanting to leave seminary and do stuff right away. He urged us to be patient. And there are reasons why church leaders are called elders, not youngsters.
I remember thinking from that day on as he preached that sermon (I was between 22 to 25 years old at the time) that I had a goal that I would like to be done with my schooling and invested in a fruitful ministry by the time I was thirty. I beat it by a year and a half, which I was very pleased by. God was good to Noël and me.
Maybe a couple of texts to consider. Let’s start with 2 Peter 3:8–9. This is Peter’s response to those who said that the second coming is not going to happen because so much time has passed. They were saying, “It’s just a myth.” Here’s what he says:
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
Now I think that implies several things for you, Brandon. First, whether the Lord comes back within your lifetime or not, when he comes (and he will come), it will have been short in God’s reckoning.
Second, it has been two thousand years, and God has made no mistake — none. This was the plan. The day is fixed by the authority of God. It says so in Acts 1:7. When the Lord comes, it will be the perfect timing.
As we look back over the last two thousand years, are we not glad that hundreds of godly men and women devoted themselves to serious study, that they might write things that for us have proved absolutely life changing? I’m glad that the sense of urgency that, say, Jonathan Edwards felt, or that Luther felt, or Calvin felt, or Spurgeon felt, did not cause them to just go out and knock on every door and not write sermons or not write books that would have proved life changing for me, motivating for me, urgency-creating for me.
Finish the Race
One last biblical testimony. Here are Paul’s words as an old man:
“It has been two thousand years, and God has made no mistake — none. This was the plan.”
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6–8)
Now, Brandon, this is what you want to be able to say when you come to die. If it’s long or short, whether you live 80 years or you live to be 25, you want to be able to say, “I fought the good fight, I finished the race appointed for me, I kept the faith.”
God has a race for you — a racecourse. It’s a marathon; it’s not a sprint. And he has one for all of us. Ultimately, whether you go to seminary or not is not the main issue. The main issue is, Will you run the course with all your might, faithfully to the end? It is a marathon. You need to pace yourself. Find your pace. Find your gifts. Give yourself to lifelong growth in grace and knowledge, and serve the Lord till he comes or till he calls.