How to Choose a Seminary {Part 1}

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As if leaving the practice of architecture to attend seminary at the age of 32 wasn’t scary enough, I had no idea of how to decide on which seminary to attend. By God’s grace, I ended up at exactly the right school for me, but I certainly would have found it helpful to know what questions to ask when I was considering the options. After thirty years of being associated with seminary education—as student, staff member, teaching assistant, faculty member, dean, and accreditation visiting team member—I’ve learned a lot about what makes a school the sort of seminary I would want to attend. Perhaps what I’ve learned will be helpful for you. So, here are six questions I would ask when considering a seminary.

1. Does the school focus on the Great Commission?

The most important lesson I learned in seminary was that missions is not what the Church does; missions is what the Church is. Jesus’ Great Commission establishes the marching orders for his followers. He doesn’t command us to disciple our own nation or some of the nations; he commands us to disciple all the nations. A seminary should give full emphasis to what Jesus considers the task of every one of his followers. Its primary purpose should be to prepare graduates for Great Commission impact regardless of what they do or where they are.

2. Does the school emphasize the Bible or theology?

All evangelical seminaries will maintain that their programs are based on the Bible, but there can be a subtle difference in approach. Your seminary studies can be an exercise in education or an exercise in indoctrination. In the former, everything is viewed through the lens of the Bible. In the latter, everything is viewed through the lens of a specific theological system. A seminary should challenge you to search the Scriptures for yourself. Its objective should be to provide a context in which you have the freedom to develop your own theology and philosophy of ministry based on a careful study of what the Bible teaches.

3. Does the school balance the academic, the spiritual, and the practical?

We’ve probably all heard jokes about local church members going off to “cemetery” (rather than seminary).  That play on words is cute, but it highlights a potential danger of seminary education: failing to maintain a proper balance in your studies. A seminary should be intentional in balancing the academic (biblical content), the spiritual (personal character), and the practical (ministry competence). Its educational programs should be designed to prepare the whole person to think biblically, grow spiritually, and ministry effectively.

Written by Dr. John Harvey, Dean of CIU's Seminary & School of Ministry

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