May 24, 2011

Great Expectations

Every summer this idea of our expectations fills my mind in a big way. That's because every summer I go with a bunch of students & some adult leaders to camp. At camp, amazing things happen, lives are changed, & you can feel the weight of God's presence. Then of course we go home, & after a few weeks, those feelings begin to wane. Why is that?

I believe with all of my heart that the difference is in our expectations. We go to camp, & we expect God to do great things. In fact, if something didn't happen, we might be tempted to ask for a refund! However, when we get home do we expect God to show up or do we expect "church" to happen? We can't have the "camp experience" every time we gather for worship or for some activity, but we can have the most important element in that experience: God Himself. All we have to do is expect Him to show up, invite Him to show up, & at times beg Him to show up as we repent of our reliance on cool production, great music, & ministry tools in general that try to manufacture an encounter that can only take place when God shows up. Don't get me wrong; I love all of the technical advances & tools we have available to help set the stage for an encounter with God, but those things are not the encounter. If God doesn't show up, it was really a waste of time.

God shows up when we expect Him to. He honors our desire, our pursuit for Him & Him alone. As we get ready to head to camp next week with our group, my prayer is not that God would show up at camp, but that he would make His presence known & felt each & every time we gather as a group or come by ourselves to Him in prayer or in His word, that when we walk away, we know we've been in His presence & that we've heard from Him.

May 20, 2011

10 Things I Learned In Seminary-Part 3

Here are the last few lessons I picked up in the course of my studies for my Master's Degree, & yet again, none of them are academic lessons.

4) How To Synthesize Thoughts & Communicate Them Clearly
Trust me, this is a big deal for guys like me who are preachers. We tend to want to include every detail or bit of info that we pick up in our research. However, you can't do that when you've been given the assignment of reading a 400 page book & summarizing both the content of the book & our critical thoughts of it in 3 pages! You have to learn to communicate only the essential.

3) You Have To Know "Why" Your Seminary/School Is Training Students
Before you enroll in any school & pay those nice tuition bills, you better know what that school is producing. What's the reputation of the school you're considering? Does the "product" their producing match up with your goals post-graduation? Make sure that your vision matches the training you'll be receiving. Many seminaries are supposedly training pastors & leaders, but there is little evidence to back it up. Instead, they are producing very smart pastors who don't know how to lead anything. Do your homework!

2) Online Or Extension Work Is An Amazing Advancement, But It's Not For Everyone.
I managed to complete an entire Master's Degree without ever setting foot on Liberty's campus or inside a classroom. However, I dont' think everyone could do that. In fact, I don't think I could have done it 10 years ago. I just didn't have enough self-discipline or motivation. However, if you've got the maturity & drive to take advantage of these programs, do it, but again, make sure the school your looking at has been doing this long enough to offer a quality online or extension experience.

1) Waiting To Pursue A Seminary Degree Was One Of The Best Things I've Ever Done.
When I was in college I was constantly told that I had to tackle my Master's work immediately after graduation. However, the most common argument I ever heard was that if I didn't do it then, I would never do it. To be honest, that wasn't the most compelling argument. The other argument that was more implied than actually stated was that only seminary grads are ready for ministry. Frankly, Scripture doesn't back that up, & experience hasn't really taught me that either. I waited until I wanted to pursue the degree & until God began to nudge me toward that degree, & it took about 10 years for that to happen. However, in that decade I learned things that no classroom could ever teach, & I learned lessons that actually prepared me for seminary rather than the other way around.

Thanks for reading my thoughts. Hopefully someone reading this is contemplating either seminary or furthering their education in general & these insights will get you thinking about things that maybe you haven't thought about before.

May 17, 2011

10 Things I Learned In Seminary-Part 2

Picking up today where I Ieft off in talking about the real lessons learned from my seminary "education".

7) Don't Go To Seminary "Because" Or For The "MDiv."
This goes to motive. Yes, it's true, for better or worse, that the typical church system is on where a seminary degree will open the door to more opportunities, but is that really the best reason for pursuing a Master's Degree or a PHD? If you're going to pursue that kind of training, do it for the training, not the piece of paper at the end, & that leads me to the other point. Don't just go get an MDiv because that's what you think you have to have. Over my 10+ years in ministry I've learned that most of the problems that we face as pastors & as churches are not due to the fact that our leaders need more doctrine, biblical, linguistic, or church history education. The problems that plague so many churches are due to the fact that the leaders aren't really leaders. When choosing a degree, choose a degree that will equip you in an area you know you need. That means you'll have to actually research schools & the different degree programs instead of just being a lemming who jumps off the same cliff as everyone else. If you need the MDiv, great go for it, but make sure that's really where you need to be trained.

6) Never Read A Book Without A Highlighter
This doesn't just apply to seminary, but that's where the lesson really became concrete for me. Because I was consuming so much information every week, necessity dictated that I have a huge stockpile of highlighters. However, I've transferred that principle over to all my reading. After all, how in the world am I going to track down that great idea or quote from a particular book if I haven't highlighted it, underlined it, or in some way pulled it out of the sea of letters & words surrounding it?

5) How To Process Lots Of Material Quickly
The way my program was designed, I had assignments due at the end of every week that included discussion boards, papers, & quizzes or tests. In order to do those assignments there was LOTS of reading. Some weeks I had around 300 pages of reading to do. That meant I learned really quickly to find & process the important material. By the end of seminary, most of the time I was only reading headings & the first lines of paragraphs. If the first line was something that resonated, I would continue. If it was just more supporting material for another idea, I moved on. This may be one of the most practical lessons because life requires us to take in, process, & act on lots of information at a faster & faster pace every year.

Check back tomorrow to read more lessons learned.

May 16, 2011

Ten Things I Learned From Seminary-Part 1

Last week I wrapped up my Master's Degree coursework through Liberty University. As a result of the intense workload, I haven't really been blogging much, especially in the last year. So I wanted to get back into it this week by sharing some important lessons I learned while during my time in seminary. Most of the lessons probably aren't what you'd expect because they have nothing to do with the curriculum of the seminary.

10) Seminary Doesn't Make You More Qualified For Ministry.
For you "church people" out there, if you think a piece of paper from a school makes someone more qualified or fit for ministry, you are insane! You're basically saying that God can only work through people who have not only the academic but also the financial means to pursue a degree. I knew when I was in college back in the 90s that I didn't "need" seminary to pursue my calling. Oh yeah, & just in case you need the Bible to back up this idea, Acts 4:13 reminds us that the apostles were "ordinary, unschooled men". Being with Jesus trumps an impressive seminary degree every day of the week.

9) Seminary Doesn't Really Make You Smarter.
Let me explain this because it's a very personal lesson. I was blessed to get my undergraduate degree from one of the finest universities in the nation in a major that was preparing me for ministry. Plus, I'm a learner by nature. I love reading. I love listening to other people in ministry who are further down the road than I am. So when I started seminary, I already had a huge foundation of "knowledge" through my formal & informal education. That means a lot of the information from my courses was not new, but it did reinforce & remind me of things I had learned over the years.

8) Doing Master's Work & Full Time Ministry Demands Boundaries.
If you decide to pursue a graduate degree while doing full time ministry, you better be ready to draw some hard boundaries in your life. Full time ministry will consume every moment of your life if you allow it, which isn't healthy to begin with, but when you add the label of "full time student" to your life, you're really piling it on. This means you've got to learn to say "No". You have to be willing to say, "Sorry, can't do that, I've got 2 papers & an exam this week." You also have to look at your calendar & plan your semester, & you have to prioritize your course schedule. Professors don't care if you overloaded your calendar with meaningless meetings that caused you to turn in a below average paper 3 days late. Create clear boundaries. It's a lesson that you'll benefit from beyond your time in seminary or grad school.

Check back in tomorrow as I continue to share some lessons I learned from pursuing "higher education".