Considering Seminary, Finale

There are five seminaries and three extensions campuses located in metro Atlanta: Candler Divinity School (attached to Emory and one of the UMC seminaries), McAfee School of Theology (attached to Mercer and one of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship seminaries), Columbia Presbyterian Theological Seminary (PCUSA), Luther-Rice Seminary (unaccredited), Interdenominational Theological Center and extensions of Reformed Theological Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (SBC) and Dallas Theological Seminary.

The three extension sites are actually the closest to me, but I am unlikely to attend either for four reasons. First, theological issues for NOBST and DTS and related RTS may just be too conservative/fundamentalist for me. Second, I’m not sure how academically they are viewed if I were to go forward later with PhD or ThM studies (this was the advice of my pastor). Third, money; they offer very little in the way of scholarships. Finally, as I mentioned previously, my focus is going to be on practical theology and leadership, none of which I’d be able to hone in on with their master’s programs.

Luther-Rice is unaccredited (can’t go further in education) and is too conservative, CPTS and ITC are probably too liberal in their theology and all three are too far away/lack flexible course options. That leaves me with Emory and Mercer. They both offer really compelling masters programs; the Master of Arts in Christian Ministry at McAfee and the Masters of Religious Leadership at Candler. I’d probably lean towards the MACM at this point, mostly due to the courses offered but also because they have some online options. I have reached out to both to get info on admissions and financial aid. I will update as I hear back from them.

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…

Considering Seminary

Maybe three years ago, I had the idea to go to seminary. I started researching different seminaries in the area, learning the difference between a seminary, school of theology and school of divinity. Of course, then, I start looking at schools all over the country and thinking other crazy things, like pursuing a PhD. Lady MMT had a better idea, why didn’t I talk to some people and really get an idea of whether it would even be something for me? So, I emailed (this was pre-medication) my Sunday school teacher. We were at larger church then and our class was almost 50 people, he had been to seminary and was actually ordained, so he had a lot to offer me. On top of all that, he was a smart, successful and discerning man.

He mentioned a few things to me to start with about seminaries in general, such as accredited vs. unaccredited (his was not), cost, and seeking ordination. Then he got into the challenging parts, such as why? And his first question, I can still hear perfectly how it played out:

“MMT, how do you like your job?”

“Oh, hate it more than anything, why?”

“You can’t go to seminary as a way to escape a job you don’t like. You will fail everyone, yourself, the people you minister to and God.”

Like a freaking punch to the heart. He was right, though, my main reason at the time was more of a ‘why not?’ than an ‘I hear a Call from God’.

At the time, I was involved in leading a young married Bible study, but that was about it. I had always had a heart/passion for youth ministry, or at least I thought I did, so he suggested I contact the youth pastor and try to get involved there. I knew that I would never be a preacher and was generally unsure of what type of ministry I would go into, so it seemed like a great idea.

That’s how I ended up teaching Sunday school/Bible study to 11 6th grade boys. That is another story all together.

A year or so goes by and Lady MMT and I are looking for houses in a different area all together (somewhere we could actually afford). This led us to look for different churches. We found a few and, unbeknownst to me, LMMT decided to start contacting any church that didn’t have a worship minister listed on their website. One actually contacted her back, a church plant basically in the middle of where we were considering moving.

Long story short, she ends up on part-time staff there and we move. I jump in on the youth ministry there and start talking with the pastor (who went all the way to PhD in Theology) about seminaries. He was more or less opposed to most of what my previous council had encouraged me to consider. He was less focused on a fundamental mentality and emphasized the academic and critical integrity of different institutions. He even recommended against one of the institution where he had taught courses.

Between the house and escalating frustration at work, at essentially dropped the idea of seminary. We were working on an absolutely massive project at work, I was frustrated with my church ministry, and LMMT was considering spending more money on launching another CD. All that together, plus a bit of a darker general period in my life, really moved me away from God in general and ministry in particular.

In the past six months or so, all that has changed. I’ll wrap this up, though, to be continued….