There is a growing amount of research available about the benefits of online distance education (ODE) for seminaries. Flexibility, the ability to apply learning in real-time—it is beginning to be studied and documented well, and of course online seminary degrees are becoming increasingly prevalent. But there are still some wonderful institutions for theological training that only provide residential training—and it’s often an intentional move. The question is: why? Why should you, a future seminary student, consider picking up and relocating for the sake of the theological training?
Many future students are married with children, own a home, are deeply engaged in a local church, and are a part of a thriving community of believers and non-believers. To move for a seminary education means a financial cost, a social cost, and is often complemented by a really natural and understandable fear of the unknown. I have dealt with this tension myself. What if I do all of this for the sake of ministry training, and I only wind up losing whatever stakes in ministry I have now?
To overcome these objections, we need some practical help and resources, as well as some theological categories. We need to know that if we’re called, and if it is wise to move in order to seek further training, that God will come through and provide us our needs—not just “daily bread,” but the community and resources to thrive and flourish as people who are responsible with our money and not trying to do the work of God in isolation from the people of God.
While we at The Seminary Student focus primarily on resources and institutions, it’s worth reflecting on the theological undergirding.
A Theological Encouragement
Many times in the Gospels, we find a pattern: the disciples say something self-self-laudatory, and Jesus replies with a guiding rebuke. But in Mark 10:29–30, Jesus gives comfort. Peter quips in verse 28, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus replies, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”
There are three quick things we’ll look at about this passage. First, note that in this life we will receive more than what we abandon for the sake of Jesus. I think it’s very fair to say that if you leave your family and friends for the sake of Jesus, he will provide you those same comforts and blessings multiplied exponentially. Family and friends are gifts from above, and he is able and willing to give you more of that good gift.
Second, this is a promise from the Lord in the context of not just “anytime you leave your family,” but when you leave them “for the sake of the gospel.” What this practically means for seminary students and future ministers is that if you leave family and friends expecting the Lord to provide, we must ensure that it is truly done for the sake of the gospel. This is where I’d love to have a section called “Three Steps to Verify Your Calling”—but this is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say, search your heart and present it to the Lord through prayer and seeking wise counsel in your family, friend, and local church context.
Lastly, note that in addition to receiving houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and lands, you are also guaranteed to receive persecution. Are you prepared for hardship, for the sake of the gospel? Are you prepared for persecution? When we take radical steps for the sake of the gospel, the world sees us as subversive and foolish. Be prepared! But know that it is worth it.
Well, there you have it. This reflection is not intended to overcome objections per se, but merely as an encouragement for those of you who may be called to uproot for the sake of theological education at a residential-only seminary.
Remaining Residential—on Purpose
While many seminaries are beginning to offer fully-online degrees and hybrid degree programs, there are some schools that have not made the technological leap. Some, if we’re honest, are just too small and under-funded. These will probably move toward online education in the coming years, particularly as it offers hope of further funding.
Yet other seminaries, for the sake of academic integrity and personal, spiritual formation, are remaining a residential-only institution. This article will focus on what these seminaries represent, though of course a student who desires what is posited here could go to a seminary that does both online and residential. But here we find the values distilled and concentrated, and held-to with a measure of intentionality.
Why Residential May be the Way to Go for You
If you aspire to pastoral ministry, you will need theological training—of course. But intentionally-residential seminaries hold as equally important the student’s spiritual formation. Though Paul charges Timothy to “guard sound doctrine,” he also teaches him that the church’s elders must be men of integrity, faith, and self-discipline. A residential, campus-oriented (and community-oriented) seminary education can provide an ideal opportunity for ministers-in-training to flourish spiritually, and grow in a community of like-minded and highly-motivated individuals.
One of the oft-touted benefits of online education is the ability to both serve in ministry and pursue formal theological training. Yet this relies highly on your local church context. If you’re already involved in a church (which you ought to be), your church may or may not have the capacity to work with you through your education. Some of you might have ministry opportunities, like the ability to preach and teach, but for many of you this just won’t be feasible. Because some residential seminaries are deeply engaged in an integrated learning environment, academics can be applied to real boots-on-the-ground ministry. Local seminaries, like Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana, have forged close-knit relationships with local churches. Often students will be able to secure ministry internships locally while pursuing their degree—and some even will be called to fill pulpits of the institutions’ constituent churches. These will provide particularly Master of Divinity students with required hours in preaching and teaching that they’ll need to graduate.
Three Steps to Take if You Are Considering Relocating for Seminary
First and foremost, talk to your enrollment representative or student advisor at the seminary, and ask what resources they have to help you. They are likely to have the information you need, or know where you can get it, to address your questions of what it’s like to live there, how expensive it is (or isn’t), how family-friendly, which neighborhoods are safe or not, and (most importantly?) where to get some great local food.
Second, visit the city or town. Really, it’s worth the time. Most residential seminary students only decide that relocating for seminary is a good fit after visiting the campus and seeing the city. Make sure you ask your enrollment representative if the seminary can help pay for your trip out! This is in no way uncommon.
Third, visit some local churches. Get the lay of the church landscape as much as you can, and ask your seminary representative which churches students often attend, and why. If you are going to move, you (and your family, if applicable) are going to need more than a student body community — you’ll need a church community. Transfer your membership, dig in, and get involved there. You won’t regret it!
We Want to Hear from You
Did you move for seminary? Or did you decide not to? We want to hear from you. Leave a comment, and let us know why you made the choice, what factors mattered to you, and how it’s worked out for you!