The International Mission Board released a blog last week that answered the question, “Why put missions on hold to go to seminary?” (https://www.imb.org/2018/03/13/why-put-missions-on-hold-to-go-to-seminary/) I agree with the IMB’s answer. I’ve lived this question. I remember sitting on the floor of my apartment in seminary begging the Lord to answer it. While desiring to be overseas, I have been in school for 8 years. And through this time of study, the Lord has taught me a lot about its answer in my own life.
I was a journeyman. I returned from the field, ready to rush through my required 30 hours of seminary so that I could go back as quickly as possible. I wanted to go back to my previous city of service. It was a city with millions of people and very little Christian presence. I knew the language. I understood the culture. I knew the area. I had friends, both Christians and non-Christians, who treated me like family. The city was a conglomeration of lostness. The task was great. I needed to return.
But as I went further and further in my studies, I realized God was saying, “Not yet.” I wanted to go with 30 hours of seminary. “Not yet.” I wanted to do the 2+2 program, where I finished my degree overseas. “Not yet.” I wanted to complete my masters and go overseas. “Not yet.” Now here I am, working on a PhD. I could have done my PhD while working overseas, but as I prayed about options, I once again heard, “Not yet.”Through all the many times I’ve heard “Not yet,” I’ve recognized that the Lord is working in my heart and in my circumstances in ways I don’t always understand. Click To Tweet
Through all the many times I’ve heard “Not yet,” I’ve recognized that the Lord is working in my heart and in my circumstances in ways I don’t always understand. He prepares me for the mission field, yes. But he also uses my time here to deepen my relationship with the Himself and chisel away the sinful parts of me. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned while in seminary.
1. God’s request for my obedience sometimes means I stay.
I often equate obedience to God with crazy leaps of faith, big moves, and grand adventures. But this isn’t always the case. David Platt talks about putting a blank check on the table. But what happens when I write that blank check and instead of asking for $10,000, God asks for $5.86? What if I say I will go anywhere and he asks me to remain where I am? I desperately want to cross oceans for Lord, but do I know how to rest in his presence in the monotony of every day?
This struggle is all the more real to this millennial generation. We were raised to find adventure. Many of us long for other cultures and great stories to share. And seminary seems… so boring. We suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Why am I missing out on this great adventure so that I can work and go to school? But if God calls us, we must obey.
When I obey, I submit to God’s authority as Lord of my life. I allow him to take his rightful spot as the lead character in my life’s story instead of claiming it for myself. Even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when I’d rather be on the field. Even when I think my life’s impact would be greater out there than at seminary. My obedience is a form of my worship.
2. God reminds me that I am not the savior
For me, the heart of this question sometimes boils down to a pride issue. I am needed on the field. These people need me. But the truth is, God allows us to be participants in his mission. Lost people don’t need me to be found. They need Him. Christians in that part of the world don’t need me. They need Him. I can take a very good desire to fulfill my role in God’s mission and, if I’m not careful, substitute myself as the savior.If God calls me to seminary, he will still fulfill his purposes around the globe. Click To Tweet
If God calls me to seminary, he will still fulfill his purposes around the globe. Other missionaries are going. Global Christians are reaching out to their neighbors. While he asks me to respond in obedience to a call to stay and be trained, I can take joy in the recognition that God is already working in the mission field I intend to join. And instead of going as a savior, I go as a friend, a co-laborer, a learner, and a partner.
3. Life is a journey, not a destination.
Many attribute this quote to Ralph Waldo Emerson and it has a lot of truth. In my seminary journey, I found myself viewing seminary as only a means to a goal. To be clear, seminary is a training ground, but it’s not just a training ground. One day, I realized when I view seminary as only a training ground for something next, I miss out on what God has put in my life today.I found myself viewing seminary as only a means to a goal...One day, I realized when I view seminary as only a training ground for something next, I miss out on what God has put in my life today. Click To Tweet
I lose sight of the fact that God loves my lost neighbor, Julie, just as much as he loves the lost woman in South Asia. I cut corners on my health or the time I spend intentionally building relationships because I view seminary as “a season” and claim that one day I will be able to develop those habits “when life calms down.” I’m overwhelmed with school so I let my prayer life or my evangelistic endeavors slide, vowing to pick them up later. Seminary is a training ground. But it’s also life. Today, I am a student at a seminary. Today I’m also an employee, a friend, a daughter, a neighbor, a church member. Though I prepare for tomorrow, I’m not promised tomorrow. And the journey of seminary – the opportunities to learn about God, to be chiseled into his image, to face the furnace of life, to step up in my local church, to challenge other believers to consider God’s mission- this journey is worth every minute.