Considering Seminary, Part 3

Technically, as of July 7th, I am still a candidate for this job. In reality, I will never hear from them, probably not even the courtesy thanks, but no thanks. But the idea of attending seminary is once again lodged in my brain. It is different this time, especially my focus/reasons. Where originally I considered something like RTS for its focus on Bible Studies and Systematic Theology, now I am considering more practical theology courses. When, at one point, I wanted to basically be a monk, sitting by myself reading and studying and writing, now I am thinking of taking leadership and admin courses (maybe even preaching) and I’m less concerned about receiving deeper formal theological education. No longer did I dream of a PhD in Church History or Historical Theology but instead just considered a Masters in Church Ministry/Leadership/Practical Theology.

On top of that, I found out that many seminaries are basically free or steeply discounted for attendees. I also see a real need for leadership. Many people have the heart/head knowledge for ministry, whether at a church or an organization, but most lack some practical experience or managerial knowledge. Also, I saw this as my personal ministry. I could attend school part time, and probably never even leave my job. It’s possible going to school leads to a ministry opportunity, but most likely, I stay at a job/career that I really do not like but one that would afford me the ability to be more involved in ministry. I still suppose it is possible that I go on staff somewhere in a part-time capacity, but career change is no longer the goal.

Another interesting aspect of the situation is the massive amount of seminary courses that are online. I’ve downloaded more than 25 courses from iTunesU for free. RTS has almost every class you could need, including things like counseling and ethics; to go along with their three systematic theology courses and six to eight bible study courses. I went through Church History I and II last summer from Covenant. I’ve even found Greek Courses online. Now, if I were going to be a pastor or weren’t already connected with a network of Christians and other people in ministry, I would certainly want to be in person, making contact and having theological discussions. However, if you are someone who is just look for a deep knowledge/understanding or Theology or the Bible, you could definitely get by with the online lectures. Right now, I’m going through a group of courses from Gordon-Conwell: Interpreting the Bible, OT 1&2, NT 1&2 and then Theology 1&2.

Well, this has gotten long again, but all that to say, I realized I wanted to do a master’s program that would give me some leadership and church and volunteer management knowledge with less focus on Theology and Bible study (due to the other options available). Now, this means I really need to find a seminary in the area and figure out what would be the best fit. I’ll wrap up that story tomorrow.

Considering Seminary, Part 2

As I mentioned last time; the idea of seminary was basically gone from my mind. I had always figured I would go back to school at some point. After finishing my masters, I was probably at my job three months before I started looking at programs to attend. I was trying hard to move into economic development, so I mostly focused on masters programs in Economics. The other major idea was to go for a PhD. There are two top Policy programs here in metro Atlanta. That idea would come and go, but mostly stay in the back of mind for quite awhile. Even when I was considering seminary, I looked into going the Masters in Theological Studies route then heading to a school of Religion for a PhD in History of Christianity, I especially liked Emory’s.

So a few months ago, I decided I had to do something. I couldn’t take work anymore. I knew I had to try something. I started poking around at Policy PhD programs again. I noticed that Georgia State’s program offered a stipend of between $18-24K. As far as grad school goes, that is a huge payment. The sad/interesting thing was, I make so little, that I could get the stipend and work a coffee shop job and probably being in about the same amount of money.

I started really digging deep, looking at entrance requirements, possibilities of part-time, the commute from my home/office. I started throwing out the idea to close friends, asking for prayers. One day I met my pastor(PhD from Princeton) for lunch and mentioned this was something I was considering. He had the mindset of, if you don’t have to pay for it and it won’t negatively affect your job prospects, then why not? If it led to a new job, great, if it didn’t, I hadn’t really lost anything and at least I had accomplished a personal goal or bid my time until my boss retired and I took his position.

This put me in overdrive, I couldn’t sleep at night, it was all I could think about. I did my best to pray and really ask God for guidance. It was really a different world than when I considered going a few years before; mostly because of the pills. This opened up everything for me, I could teach, I could give presentation/seminars at conferences and it meant I could seek a professoriate and a think tank/policy organization at the same time.

As I researched more, doubt started to chip in. I read of the horrible job opportunities for professors (just google it, there is too much out there to link). I read that in many think tanks, you really don’t need a PhD, just a master’s or maybe two. I also saw that salaries were really not greater with a PhD. Another problem was that I had assumed wrong about the applicability of my masters (city planning) to a policy degree. My thinking was I would go into economic development as my specialty field. However, both GSU and Tech required the ‘core’ of an MPP, which was 24-33 hours of course work. I was pretty deflated, until I was looking at the background of the ED people at Tech and saw most had PhDs in city planning; so I headed on over to the City Planning Department website.

I was pretty encouraged because I saw their grads ended up in many different places and positions. Some even went on to consulting; which would be great money, almost double what I make now. I started to think about what would set me apart, what my research field would be. As I said, my main focus would be ED, but I kind of needed a hook, a way of looking at it differently. I liked the idea of doing research on affordable housing or ED from a Christian prospective; especially after reading Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll. Of course, this led me to look at seminaries again.

On top of all that, I was starting to doubt that I would even be accepted into school. Mostly due to my lack of academic research for the past few years and, even more so, my lack of academic references. Meanwhile, I was praying in earnest in hopes that God would lead me to a decision. I was really just not hearing a response. I felt no reassurance that this was the Will of God for my life. Then magically/providentially/mockingly a job came open at one of the research centers associate with Tech and their City Planning School. I applied with high hopes that this was God leading me, opening a door for me.

To be continued…