Welcome to RTS Jackson! A seminary education is challenging. It’s important that you get off to a good start. Here are five strategies for approaching life and work:
1. Find a church home quickly. Sanctification of the Lord’s day, sitting under God’s word preached, receiving the Lord’s supper, and caring for and being cared for by God’s people is indispensable to your spiritual well-being and (if married) your family’s. Don’t prolong your search.
Your adjustment may be tough. Don’t be discouraged. It’s part of your preparation for ministry. All pastors work with people who struggle to fit into new church homes. A few years from now, you will too. Therefore, right now, you and your family’s struggles to fit in are equipping you for ministry. They are one of many ways God is at work to make you a sympathetic shepherd of your flock.
2. Don’t pit your studies against your devotional life. During my first year at Princeton, I stumbled upon a copy of B.B. Warfield’s The Religious Life of Theological Students and received perhaps the most helpful counsel of my seminary career: Make your turning to the books a turning to God. Before you open a text, ask the Lord to give you an increased knowledge of his character and of your need of grace. Seek from him a deeper understanding of his word and world. Fill your time in the books with prayers of adoration, thanksgiving, confession, repentance, and renewal. If you do, you’ll establish enduring study habits to the glory of God.
3. Guard your study time. Most of us only get one shot at seminary; misuse the time, and you will finish your studies inadequately prepared. Even if it were possible to learn later what you miss now, the forfeited opportunity costs are steep. For years you will labor without the benefit of what could have been yours from the start.
On campus and in church, you will be asked to serve in many ways. Before you say “yes,” make sure that your studies are squared away. Take to heart the old adage: “Do what you have to do, then do what you want to do.”
Don’t succumb to the temptation of thinking of your studies as competition to service to the Lord. Right now, your time reading and writing and in the lecture hall is your primary field of service. Should you serve in other ways? Most definitely, but not before you are sure you can meet your academic requirements.
4. Watch your spending. Most of the time, family conflict about money has its roots not in scarcity, but in negligence. Many students and their spouses don’t think carefully about their finances. The consequences can be dire: strained relationships, overwork, and, sometimes, withdrawal from seminary and the abandoning of plans for ministry.
Don’t let that be your story. Spend less than you earn. Get and stay on a budget. Put on paper where your money will go. If you don’t know how, ask for help, and the sooner the better.
It breaks my heart to hear stories of men who prepare for ministry, but then must turn down a pastoral call because their debt makes it impossible. Learn the fundamentals of financial management now, and reap its rewards for a lifetime.
5. Eliminate distractions when you’re studying, at home, and with the Lord. When you set aside time to study, be fully engaged. Turn off email and all notifications; silence your cell phone; refuse to surf the web.
When you return home, give your wife and children your full attention; put your phone, books, and computer away.
During your personal devotions, be fully engaged with the Lord and his word.
When you eliminate distractions and concentrate on the task before you, you’ll be surprised at how much you accomplish and grow in your work and relationships.
Seminary has its share of opportunities and trials. The lessons learned here will go with you to your first church; resolve to make these habits your own, and they too will follow you throughout your ministry.