Seminary and relational “in-between-ness” (spending time on what really matters)

Seminary can be an amazing time.

You’re preparing for ministry. And for one of the only times in life, you’re surrounded by people who believe something similar and are pursuing a similar calling. They may have different backgrounds. They may be diverse. But they have a similar passion. They’re preparing for a similar thing.

That’s instant community, right?

Actually, no.

I’ve been amazed at the number of people I’ve talked to recently who express a similar feeling. “I feel alone.”

These are all healthy, well-adjusted, fun people. These are people who have active social lives. But something’s still missing.

It’s something Grete and I felt when moving here. It’s something we still feel at times. Part of it is just realizing that real relationships take time. We were in Fort Worth for seven years – four of which included college. The relationships built there can’t be duplicated in nine months.

But there’s something more to it. Maybe it’s just this seminary. Maybe it’s every seminary. But life is packed. People are busy. There’s no room in the margins for connection.

I love Fuller. I love my classes. I respect the people here. I’m impressed with the students sitting in class around me. The diversity is encouraging. The people are encouraging.

But if this is the kind of community seminary students are experiencing, how on earth are we going to connect to a world that needs to experience the love, peace, hope, and life-changing challenges and call that God has to offer?

From the seminary’s perspective, I don’t think this is simply an issue of “it’s a busy time” or of people needing to make friends. It’s a stewardship issue. More than knowledge, ministry is about relationships. Now, relationships cannot be taught or systematized, but seminaries need to give the space – physically and time/activity-wise – for those connections – those future webs of support – to develop.

I often think about the triad of knowing, doing, and being. We’re getting the knowing down. Americans are pretty good at doing (getting better at the “obeying God” part of it). Maybe it’s time to be more intentional about the being.

I’m learning things in class that are filling me up with important, and potentially life-changing, information, and that’s exciting! But in my job I’m also learning it’s much more about the connections than the information. One of the most important parts of ministry is providing space for people to connect and be empowered to serve both in and out of the church.

Through seminary, I’m actually getting better at disciplined studying and thinking deeply. For the first time in my life, I’m able to focus on reading for more than 20 minutes! (I’m totally ADD). But now it’s time to get good at the PRACTICE of ministry and life.

Hear are a few skills I want to grow in:

Hearing God
Ministering by listening
Ministering by leading
Leading by empowering others
Having fun in life
Having real hobbies
Living consistently in relationships – healthy time with family and friends

I don’t know the answers. I don’t know how we’re supposed to balance school, work, family, God, friendships, ministry, and personal health. But I do know one thing, if you have to say “no” to something, it shouldn’t be a “no” to God, family, friendships or obedience.

So for all you seminary students out there, let’s be careful! It’s easy to get so filled up with information you miss the “life” part of it all. Methods and perspectives are great, but I want to know and love God and know and love others. That’s stuff you just can’t learn in books.

One response to “Seminary and relational “in-between-ness” (spending time on what really matters)”

  1. Good post Jon.

    My wife and I are currently feeling that need for more authentic community and connection… and we go to church!

    The problem is that our lives, too, have no margin and it’s killing us from the inside out. We know that what we need is to be connected with like-minded believers who will support each other.

    The goes back to an old post of yours about how we do church, but a lot of church systems just aren’t structured to build community. I’m reading a book by Doug Pagitt called Preaching RE-Imagined (the role of the sermon in communities of faith) and it’s premise so far is that church has been structured like a theatre production with a stage and an audience with the pastor as the actor and how this is probably not helpful in building community. Unfortunately I haven’t gotten to the good part yet where he shares a new way to “do” church. But I’m excited to see what he has to say.

    P.S. God bless you and your wife as you seek to find balance in school.

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