“what seminary should i go to?”

Someone asks me this question once every couple weeks:

What seminary or grad school (theology/religion) would you recommend?

It’s hard to give a simple answer without understanding a person’s context:

  • Who are you?
  • What’s your biblical and theological worldview?
  • Do you want to go into vocational ministry or into academics?

But for the sake of this blogpost and because the majority of these emails I get are from folks wanting to go into pastoral ministry:

  • What would your recommendations be for someone that is seeking to go into pastoral ministry? Why?
  • Where did you go to seminary or grad school? Would you recommend it to others or not?
  • Where are you currently at? And…?

My experience:

I graduated college in 3 three years (something I regret) and went directly to grad school at Princeton Theological Seminary (Masters of Divinity). I came to faith at 18 and without really knowing what I was doing, I took the advice of the pastor of the church I was serving at as the Youth Director (a PTS graduate) and drove cross country to start my seminary education in 1992.

And depending who you speak to, PTS is the most liberal school ever in human history or too conservative. Again, it all depends what context you come from. I personally had a difficult time the first year but eventually grew to appreciate PTS for convincing me that the world is a larger marketplace of ideas, thoughts, philosophies, and religions and I (and the church) have to earn the right to engage the marketplace.

Far from perfect. Wished I was better trained to be a pastor but then again, I’ve heard that from practically every single pastor from whatever seminary. But if anything, I have regrets about not making more of my experience at Princeton.

I also spent a semester at Regent College (Vancouver) for an additional degree but the $7.99 all you can eat sushi (in 1992) wasn’t enough to get me to drive there every week. Driving there when the rain started pouring in November/December kinda broke me.

Your turn.

132 Replies to ““what seminary should i go to?””

  1. Yeah the themes of a ‘good but imperfect’ seminary education and ‘wishing I had made more of it’ are universal. I went to Midwestern Baptist Seminary here in Kansas City MO. MBS is like the little brother of seminaries, trying to grow up to be like the big boys. I wish I was better trained. But the professors were passionate about the Bible, believed it to be true, and gave me a solid classical education. For that, I am glad to recommend it. Some people would be turned off by the term ‘Baptist,’ but I survived 3 years and an M.Div as a non-Baptist. Just consider it a cross-cultural experience.

  2. I also think an option that should be on the table for everyone asking that question is ‘none.’

    Not that seminary is bad, but rather that seminary isn’t needed.

    Needed for the Church as a whole, but not needed for leadership in the local church.

    (Of course I am a part of an association that doesn’t require much of anything to be ordained.)

    I think pastors should be required to learn how to pray, learn how to disciple others in the ways of Christ, and learn how to raise, equip, and send other leaders out into the world. Seminaries are notoriously uninterested in such pursuits.

    Again, seminaries are needed, book learnin’ is great, but it is secondary to the task, and the emphasis on seminary training often eclipses what is central.

    So before I told someone what seminary to go to, I would first ask, “What community of faith are you intimately committed to? …and what have they sensed God doing in your life? …and how have you begun to pursue that calling within that community? ..and why would seminary training help further that calling in that context?”

    Acts 4:13

    1. Yeah, Steven, that’s very good insight. I both came from a church that didn’t require a seminary degree for ordination and pursued an M-Div – while working as a pastor. It’s a tough and longer road to finish but the ability to put your training in dialogue with “real-time” ministry is a great way to go. I value the role of community in calling out and affirming what is already present and being seen in a woman or man.

      1. Are seminary degrees needed in the local church? They are not absolutely necessary (certainly the church existed 1000 years before academia was instituted), but I think having someone who is seminary trained either on staff or in the congregation is very helpful. I do agree, however, that there is a definite need for internal leadership development ministries that can “home grow” their own leaders.

  3. Regent University located at Virginia Beach.
    Fuller Theological Seminary located at Fullerton, CA
    Alliance Theological Seminary located at Nyack, NY

    Theres others I can list but Ill leave it at that for now.

  4. I’m in my last semester at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for my M.Div. I warmly recommend it as a place that has strong Evangelical convictions but encourages dialogue between all Christian Traditions. I believe this is the best environment to study theology. In addition, you can take classes at Harvard Divinity School, Boston University Div School, among others, through the Boston Theological Institute. They also have a Downtown Campus that focuses on a more urban, diverse demographic.

  5. “Wished I was better trained to be a pastor but then again, I’ve heard that from practically every single pastor from whatever seminary.”

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say that their seminary gave them the perfect amount of training to be a pastor…or “over trained” them.

    Isn’t training someone to be a pastor (provided they are going into ministry instead of academics) the point of a seminary?

    Are they really all failing at this?

    1. Can anything really train one to be a pastor other than pastoring? That’s like saying something can train you to be a parent? Going to seminary doesn’t mean you’ll walk out the perfect pastor. It means you’ll have tools you wouldn’t have had if you hadn’t gone, and often tools that would be rather difficult to get outside of that context, in my opinion. This coming from a seminary grad in a tradition that doesn’t have formal ordination requirements.

    2. I believe that this is common among all professions. I am a computer programmer considering going into the ministry. I don’t think that my bachelors degree in computer science enabled me to be a great programmer. Indeed, there are many folks that I work with who do not have a degree (much like the ministry). I also know doctors and lawyers who, after graduation, got a rude awakening on the reality of their professions. Ironically, doing the job seems to be the best way to prepare for the job.

  6. I second what Ben said. My husband and I are both almost through an MDIV and an MA (respectively) at Gordon-Conwell’s Charlotte campus. The multi-denominational environment has been challenging and stimulating. And, in response to seminary not preparing you to be a pastor, I think there are some things that a school just can’t prepare you for. I don’t think it is that the seminaries are failing (though, some are worse than others, I’m sure), but that vocational ministry requires pastors to function in many different roles. If a seminary were to cover all of the theological education AND the practical/operational things, an MDIV would take 10 years!

  7. went to biblical seminary in hatfield, pa. I worked full time while commuting there every tues night/one saturday a month from baltimore. (about the same distance as your seattle-vancouver drive).

    The drives were great, because I had a couple other classmates to ride with, and grew very close with.

    the education was definitely more practical/hands on, and less rigorous in terms of theology.

    But the long commute really impeded in the opportunity to grow closer/learn from my professors, and working a full time job really made it difficult to be 100% on top of my academic work.

    but i don’t regret it at all, even though I came out less sure of a call to full time ministry than I went in with.

  8. I do think that seminary, by and large, doesn’t really “train people to be pastors” all that well. I mean, I obviously have not been to every seminary. But what seminary does is train people in reading about, writing about, and thinking about the historical theology of the church. And I believe this is needed in the church as a whole. The problem is that this was historically equated with ‘training to be a pastor’, when really it is just one of many important skill sets that a pastor needs to have. While most seminaries do try to offer decent ‘apprencticeship’ style programs, where you are supervised by pastors and churches in the area, I’m not sure they work best as one small facet of a program that is still primarily academics. I’d be interested to see new models of training and learning break out that recognize the kind of ‘real-world training’ that pastors need so badly, while still recognizing the importance of having a mature, educated theology.

  9. I’m currently a student in the MA in Theology (emphasis in Christian Scriptures) program at SPU. I’m actually a transfer student from Gordon-Conwell – I attended undergrad at the nearby-but-confusingly-unaffiliated Gordon College, and I took some classes at Conwell in the year after I graduated.

    While I knew the Gordon-Conwell area well, my family and closest friends are all east of the Mississippi, and moving is danged expensive, my husband and I are so glad we crossed the country and have ended up at SPU.

    Conwell is a respected school within conservative-ish, Reformed-ish Evangelicalism. And I do miss New England in the fall! But I’m moderate-ish and not-Reformed. And in, at least a couple classes, it seemed as though I was penalized for being moderate-ish and not-Reformed. I would genuinely recommend Conwell if someone is really interested in Semitic and Ancient Near Eastern languages. However, I vividly remember once driving from my house to Conwell’s campus to take an exam. It’s on a winding road in the countryside, on top of a huge hill, and this particular day everything was wrapped in fog. And, at least in my experience of the school, that’s what it was like: a little removed from what is going on in the world below, and quite wrapped in a very particular conservative-ish and Reformed-ish fog which no one dares to question.

    While Conwell was technically non-denominational, SPU is a Free Methodist school. Yet I’ve encountered more diversity within the School of Theology faculty – Reformed to Wesleyan, conservative-ish to liberal-ish – than I did at my non-denominational experiences at Gordon College and Conwell. The university as a whole and the School of Theology in particular are committed to genuine interaction with all sorts of Christian traditions (my boss in the Physics Department is Greek Orthodox). The diversity within the faculty and the student body is handled with respect and openness.

    Additionally, the program is very committed to making sure that our studies interact with the world. Our ethics classes and our doctrine classes are joined (so this quarter we have a class which is “The Doctrine of God and Environmental Ethics”). Doctrine and actions aren’t separated into categories of “intellect” and “life” that never touch one another. If our doctrine isn’t driving us to interact with the city around us, something is off.

    Professors are pushing forward, pursuing research which lands them as leaders in their fields. Professors are asking questions about what is going on in the world. Many of the professors have been pastors before becoming professors, too, which means that the discussion of how theology plays out in the church isn’t some removed abstract idea but something concrete and real.

    The program at SPU is in its first year, so the students are closely-knit even though many of us are in vastly different walks of life. One thing which seems particularly unique about SPU is the Theology and Business track – students can graduate with their MA in Theology and an MBA at the same time. In a world where far more pastors may end up needing to be running businesses in some way, I think this is marvelously forward-thinking.

    As far as some of the comments about seminary generally, I’ve appreciated having ministry experience in some form before and during my seminary studies. It’s way too easy to just be heady about studies if you’re not applying them. Additionally, I’ve brought new questions to my studies because of my ministry experience – my studies are richer because of it.

    I think that education is vitally important for ministry. Now, whether that education needs to be astronomically expensive and result in an MDiv is another question. I hope that as seminaries, denominations, and churches think about the future, they’ll be thinking of what education looks like – how to fund it, how to support students, and what it means to have an educational “requirement”. (I know the Free Methodist church is doing some good thinking in this area, actually.)

    Other seminaries I’d recommend (after SPU) include George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland (we’d seriously considered it, but couldn’t find jobs in Portland!), and then Regent College in Vancouver (but, again, it’s hard to get work visas in Canada). Apparently the “godless” Northwest is the place to be for a religious education!

    1. I too am an SPU alumnus from ’05, but in Comp Sci. A theology/christian scriptures pairing was considered (and pitched heavily to me by Rob Wall), but I ultimately decided on CS because of the potential to monetize the degree and my fascination with solving technical problems.

      Julie’s experience with the faculty is spot-on in my opinion. They are much more than just professors, but active participants in the global community and often putting their education to work in ways you don’t often see in academia. In one particular example, one of my favorite CS profs (Phil Prins) took a nearly academic year-long sabbatical to go do some technical consulting/missions work in India. More importantly, the faculty REALLY love their students and deeply desire that they succeed. Another prof (an adjunct no less) that I took a circuits class from even offered to meet with me on Saturdays at his home to help me study the material (As per usual, CS folks don’t often understand hardware and EE folks don’t often understand CS). It was incredible.

      In recent years I’ve begun considering a masters level theological education and was stoked to hear that SPU now has a program. It no doubt is awesome as SPU already has a highly regarded theology department. This MA/MBA track is definitely something I will consider.

    2. I think you are exactly right “the ‘godless’ NW is the place to be for a religious education!” I go to GFU Evangelical Seminary and there is no other place I would rather be!

  10. My Advice:

    1. Go somewhere local – within driving distance. This might not work if you have high expectations that the school and you agree on every jot and tittle, but most seminaries teach the basics so closely to one another, you can barely discern the difference.
    2. Do it while working for a church or while volunteering for a church as a small group leader, ministry director, etc. A church that gives you access to the church staff as mentors/friends and not just as a congregant.
    3. Don’t take on debt to get through seminary. I did and I regret it – big time. I am a slave to my debt. Jesus said something about serving two masters – thankfully, God’s grace applies to me, because my creditors have none.
    4. Take Greek or Hebrew and Hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) first and see if you like it or not, because this makes up 90 % of your work in an MDiv. Taking a class from Ben Witherington, DA Carson, or John Franke might be really cool, but it will not expose you to the nitty gritty reality of seminary – Greek, Hebrew, OT and NT Survey Courses, Exegesis Courses, and Preaching Courses (if being taught expository preaching).
    5. If you take Greek and/or Hebrew and Hermeneutics and you don’t like it, don’t keep taking classes. Get a Spiritual Formation certificate or an MA in Leadership/Theology/Counseling at one of the hundreds of seminaries offering them these days. You will get a certificate in advanced Christian Living. You will read ancient and contemporary practioners and you will think theologicall about the process of being Christian. You will be a more effective congregant, small group leader, friend etc.

    As far as being prepared to be a pastor, I would say this: without the biblical and theological training provided by seminaries or other bible schools and training programs committed to teaching hermeneutics, one can not be as effective a pastor. You have to be a pastor to learn to be a pastor. It is like no other profession. And, if you engage the pastorate without the ability to engage scripture on a deeper level, it is too tempting to measure success and failure according to the world’s notions of such, and that is just impossible and wrong. The bible teaches about a different kind of leadership than the world teaches.

    And, if all that chafes you, go get an MBA. You will be more prepared to succeed in the world and it will be much more financially rewarding.

    And for those who might say the postmodern turn makes hermeneutics irrelevant, I would say – FOOEY. It makes doing church status quo irrelevant, but it does not diminish the necessity to faithfully engage the bible and allow God to speak into culture through it, with it, and by it.

    1. “You have to be a pastor to learn to be a pastor. It is like no other profession.”


      I forgot to mention that I served at churches all three years during seminary. I also took 1.5 years off after my 2nd year to work as a full-time pastor in Korea.

      While the classes in itself didn’t full prep me for my journey as a pastor, the total experienced set the arc of the trajectory that has enabled to be more aligned to this calling on my life.

      1. I’d agree. I bet if you ask any doctor, they’d say med school didn’t prepare them to be a doctor… it prepared them to LEARN to be a doctor. Residency/internship is where the rubber met the road, and it’s hard work.
        Seminary can provide you a framework to help you be prepared, but much of ministry is cutting your teeth the hard way (epic fail after epic fail). I do agree that seminaries could do a better job of having hands-on experience…

      2. I am a co-pastor in a local community church in SW Michigan, and I work with my wife. We both have MDivs and I have a post-graduate degree.

        I will add more later about possible seminaries, but I must admit that becoming a pastor is just like most other vocations (what have been labeled professions). Teachers, lawyers, business people, etc. don’t complete school with most of the specific skills to do a job; graduation is an invitation to learn more and practice. Most businesses and firms and schools don’t expect a newcomer to start day one out of school completely competent – this is why so many fields REQUIRE continuing education. This is also why most organizations commit significant resources to ongoing learning.I believe the church’s lax commitment to continuing ed. is what is “unlike” other vocations.

        I also believe seminary is necessary for developing theological frameworks and critical discourse in a deeply pluralistic world. Without critical and constructive theological frameworks, by what measures do we engage and equip our beloved congregations in gospel, economy, and politics? I am not sure the “no creed but the Bible” traditions are robust enough for a theological hermeneutic that stands strong in the public marketplace of ideas.

        Also, education makes space to reflect, wonder, and mature in discipleship. Seminary education is by all means a place of grace.

        It is true that seminaries are failing on some marks, but part of the failure is based on completely erroneous expectations on behalf of graduated students and congregations that believe “training” is completely possible – it is education (and graduate at that) not vocational-tech.

        I appreciate all of the comments,especially the ones that congratulate their schools, but I am perplexed at the waffling toward anti-intellectualism (seminary is not needed to lead a congregation) and over-expectation on schools (every pastor says seminary didn’t give them great training).

        Finally a philisophical comment: Training is what militaries do with soldiers. It is not critical thinking or adaptive learning – it is training. They prepare you for EVERY possible situation and you have the skills to execute the mission. The training model, which has validity, assumes “every circumstance can be known” which is true in many military situations. It is not true for the larger world that pastors and congregations maneuver. Training is not what we want to do for pastors – education and formation is. This may seem merely semantic, but there is a long philosophical tradition that argues otherwise.

  11. just to affirm what julie said, yes gord-con is more conservative and reformed, though I would add that profs here, even the reformed ones, definitely encourage dialogue from the non-reformed, and are very careful not to polemicize the non-reformed. students might be a different matter. also, i would add that gcon is not “conservative-ish” when it comes to gender roles — the faculty is more egalitarian than complementarian. all that being said — before choosing a seminary, i tried to find a seminary that was “perfectly in the middle” btw conservative and liberal, academic and spiritual formation. I dont think that seminary exists — they all lean one way or the other. But let’s not say that the academic doesn’t matter — this just another reductionism. this is just like saying that spiritual formation doesn’t matter.

  12. I am in my first semester at Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle. I recommend it but I don’t think it’s for everyone.

    I checked out 9 different seminaries all over the U.S. and ended up only applying to Mars Hill. But my second choice would have been Fuller Theological in LA or Northpark in Chicago. I also have a friend who went to Boston Theological Institute and highly recommended it.

  13. I would invite (and yes strongly encourage) you to check out George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland. I am in my third year of MDiv studies in a cohort based Virtual Learning Community. My cohort of 13 men and 6 women has truly developed a community via the online experience and face to face times. Online studies are a plus for those not in the Portland, OR area is the opportunity to be part of a VLC.

    GFES is Wesleyan in their heritage, but you will find a diverse and committed group of seminary professors that are “practioners” — deeply committed to Christ and the Church. Another plus is GFES commitment to equipping leaders for ministry in the “traditional” church and the emerging church. And they do it. The program I have been part of provides the integration of spiritual formation, leadership, and Biblical and theological studies…and they are integrated and connected.

    If you are interested in DMin studies — they currently offer three programs in Spiritual Formation Leadership, Semiotics & Future Studies (Leonard Sweet), and Global Missional Leadership (Jason Clark).

    As a woman I am grateful for their egalitarian commitment that goes beyond words.

      1. I would also recommend George Fox Evangelical Seminary. I am 23 and am about half-way through the MDiv. program. The professors are amazing, the students diverse (background and theology), and the education is inclusive (not just teaching one view). The pastoral education is practical, and the theological education is legitimate. There is a passion at George Fox for closing the rift between academia and the church.

        Also, this isn’t what you asked, but if you are seeking an Bachelor of Arts in Religion you should seriously consider Houghton College in Western New York. Amazing.

      2. There is a George Fox University (four year liberal arts college + numerous graduate programs) based in Newberg, Oregon with campuses in Salem and Redmond,Oregon, and Boise, Idaho. There is also George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland. They are closely affiliated. GFES is considered part of GFU.

    1. Carol, George Fox was the founder of the Society of Friends, so there is much more than Wesleyan heritage there! I was puzzled enough that I visited the seminary’s site: http://www.georgefox.edu/seminary/about/mission.html
      “The first students came from the founding denominations: the Evangelical Church and the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends.”
      🙂 I grew up Quaker, so I couldn’t resist! The Quakers have been egalitarian and had women pastors in the early 1800s (a woman Quaker pastor founded Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania).

      1. Ann,

        The Western Evangelical friends (of George Fox college) are very different from the Hicksite Friends we grew up with, check out this web site for the history. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Religious_Society_of_Friends
        The Hicksite Friends broke off in the early 1800s have been relatively unconcerned with Christian doctrine, and are NOT orthodox, even more so now they are either Deist or even Universalist in emphasis. So, being unconcerned with Christian doctrine, proper church practice is almost each meeting sets its own rules. The evangelical friends of the West have Pastors, elders, even deacons, and many do NOT allow women to be pastors because church doctrine is more important to them. For example on the issue of I Tim. 2:10-12, 3:1-10, and Titus 1, they would consider the words of Paul, God’s word (and so determinative), not just Paul’s misogynist opinion. Hicksite friends having women pastors formerly (very few of their meetings now have any pastor) is just evidence of their heterodoxy, and depth of getting deceived by the enlightenment.
        I do not understand people who “grow up Quaker” who do NOT even care to properly learn the history of the denomination. The Hicksites were viewed by Evangelical/Orthodox Friends as being heretical even nonchristian, and rightfully so. Ignorance veiled by “growing up” something is silly.
        The current Hicksite friends now can hardly be called “christian”, as they are essentially deist or even universalist, with a moral standard that is impotent. For example, pacifist regarding war, but avidly pro-abortion (baby killing), even hostile at Pro-life folks who dare disagree with their “enlightened” views. There is a reason we both rejected our heritage.


  14. What would your recommendations be for someone that is seeking to go into pastoral ministry? Why?

    I would ask them why do they want to do pastoral ministry. I would encourage them to continue to love and build relationships with people first. Then consider seminary. I found Seminary pulls you away from dealing with real issues and doesn’t adequately prepare for the “real world.” Shepherding people is more heart than academics.

    Where did you go to seminary or grad school? Liberty University. Got a great education.

    Would you recommend it to others or not? Yes. I would also recommend Gordon Conwell or SBTS.

    Where are you currently at? And…? I finished my Masters in 07 and I currently serve in the City of Hope Outreach in Conway, Ar.

  15. I spent 5 years completing my M.Div. and divided it up between two schools. I didn’t plan it that way, it just happened.

    I spent 3 years at Western Seminary in Portland. An evangelical school out of the Baptist tradition. Conservative with a strong emphasis on practicality.

    I then completed my degree at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI. Calvin has a pretty strong reputation for being pretty academic. As the name suggests, they’re Calvinist through and through. Very strong in the Biblical languages and Reformed theology. They also placed a big emphasis on discipleship and mentoring. I couldn’t stand the politics and arrogance, but generally speaking, fairly solid.

    All in all, going to two school with drastically different approaches was good. I got the practical tips at Western and was challenged academically at Calvin.

  16. One piece of advice from my recent experience at Regent College in Vancouver:

    Go AWAY for school.

    I agree with most of what Jason Smith above said, but this is one element where I would recommend differently. I think it’s better to move away from home to do your seminary if you can, particularly if you don’t already theological studies in your (undergraduate) background.

    The reason is, just as the pastorship is like no other profession, so theological education is like no other kind of education. It shakes you up, changes you down to your core. It’s an exciting, but terrifying and sometimes painful process. The best resources you have for going through it smoothly and healthily are your fellow students and professors as a community. But if you’re too close to home, you’ll be tempted to fall back on your college group, friends, and spiritual mentors there when the going gets challenging. And as much as they will want to love and support you, chances are they will not be able to actually help unless they’re in seminary themselves.

    Deliberately move close to or (if possible) on campus, and away from your home church. Especially during the first year. Be in intentional community with other students and professors, those who understand what theological education is really about and what the issues are.

    Of course, I’m not advocating abandoning the church while you’re in school. Do get involved with a church near your school. Do stay involved in ministry during your schooling. This is very important, as others are also saying. Just not at your home church.

    This was actually the first piece of advice my pastor gave me when I started seminary. He told me: “Don’t come home during the first year.” I didn’t listen to him. Regent College is less than 3 hours away from where I live in Seattle. I came home about every other weekend during my first year, and now I regret it. Sorry Pastor Shin if you happen to read this: you’re wiser than I gave you credit for at the time.

    Now, about Regent College itself:

    It’s a great school, and I do recommend it. Theologically it seems to be somewhere in between Gordon-Conwell and Fuller: less explicitly Reformed than the former but less exceptionally diverse than the latter. The professors range from conservative high Anglican to typical evangelical Presbyterian to good old-fashioned Pentecostal, but no one I would consider “liberal”. The current generation of professors are relatively younger and not yet as well known, but the emeritus profs include such giants a J.I. Packer, Gordon Fee, and Bruce Waltke, and they occasionally still teach. Thinking there is often progressive but well-grounded. There’s also a strong theme of social justice and environmental concern, as well as a strong program in the arts. And it’s very international; I’ve rubbed shoulders with Christian leaders from every continent in Regent classrooms.

    Regent’s particular strength is in marketplace ministries. They do produce a number of MDivs, and I know a number of pastors in this area with a Regent MDiv. But I would say the bread and butter of the school is the MCS (Master of Christian Studies) which is more of a lay degree focusing on spiritual and theological formation for those not necessarily going into traditional full-time vocational ministry. You have largely the same classes available to you, including the hard-core language and hermeneutics work, but you have considerable flexibility to tailor a program to your vocational needs. I, for example, studied philosophy and theology of technology, trying to answer the question of what Christian theology has to say about the high-tech industry in which I work.

    1. Ah, Regent. As an alum, I’m definitely in agreement with Daniel’s assessment here. My one lament about Regent is that the current transition in faculty has been a difficult one, and I think they know that they are not what they used to be (for now at least). That said, there are remarkable scholars and practitioners at Regent, and Vancouver is an amazing city.

      Additionally, I’m obviously biased, but I think SPU has put together an amazing program that’s definitely worth consideration regionally, if not nationally. More info here:


      Stellar faculty (myself not necessarily included), a university setting, diverse & ecumenical, interdisciplinary opportunities, and a real passion for cultural/vocational engagement- these are real distinctives that SPU can offer.

  17. Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (NEGST.edu). A decent seminary, but more importantly, incredibly life-changing experiences. (Also probably the best missions program in the world.)

  18. I did 1.5 years on campus at North Park Theological Seminary and I’m finishing up online while working full time in Youth Ministry in another state. As a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church I wanted to proceed in my studies the the Covenant’s Seminary in Chicago. There are two other local seminaries in the Twin Cities (MN) but NPTS felt right not only “denominationally”, but also for their focus on social justice, racial reconciliation, and academics/faculty (not in any particular order, I may add).

    I have been challenged by staff and faculty at NPTS since day one in thinking theologically and taking God’s word into my heart, being and mind. I have been challenged to make decisions regarding my faith that I was once afraid to answer, I have been encouraged and taught how to think like a theologian (emphasis on the like, I am still learning), and embraced for who I am -that is to say, I have never felt that this institution has had an agenda to “crank out” a certain type of student.

    Not only has NPTS focused on what I’m learning, they equally focused on HOW I’m doing. Through the guidance of several faculty I have been able to wrestle emotionally, spiritually and cognitively with questions, confusion, difficulty, my calling, etc. I cannot thank these select members enough for their care for me as I have journeyed through Seminary, and into my calling.

    NPTS’s focus on social justice has also opened my eyes and mind to realities of a broken world. NPTS has more than utilized their geographical location in the city of Chicago to teach students about social justice, how to care for the hurting and broken, as well as how to see our place and responsibility as the Church (the whole Church) in a world desperate for active love.

    Racial reconciliation has also been an important piece of NPTS as they have pushed the envelope in discussion and action regarding racial issues. If I could sum it up, NPTS is not afraid to work with and in these issues, they have sensed a calling and are responding faithfully.

    Let me close with this: NPTS is a locally and wordly focused, interactive theological institution, humbly striving to take part in God’s Kingdom work.

  19. I just enrolled in North Park’s SemConnect program. I have a bachelor’s degree in music education, and I’m serving as a worship pastor in an Evangelical Covenant church in Tulsa. I take the “pastor” part of my calling very seriously, and I’m working toward commissioning in the denomination, which is a permanent ministry credential. In order to do that, I have to take at least four sem classes – OT, NT, Church History & Systematic Theo.

    I hope to go on to get my M.Div. eventually, but with a wife and 4 kids and a full-time church job, it’s gonna take a looooong time.

    I look forward to experiencing NPTS, even though it’s long-distance. I love my denomination and have such great relationships… This will be hard work, but I know it will further those relationships and equip me further for ministry.

  20. i believe that seminary should be taken seriously not necessarily as a prerequisite to ministry but a filling out of sorts. in other words, most would do themselves a favor by waiting until they got a little scruff under their nails so to speak… a little life experience.

    as the median age at duke divinity school seems to be getting younger and younger, along with such youthful vigor and brilliance came a ridiculous amount of immaturity and aimlessness. these kids had no clue how the texts would and should translate into real life ministry contexts.

    however, i believe my experience there was quite fruitful as i knew my objective going in and what i needed to get out of it – which then helped me to navigate classes that would broaden the scope of the ministry i had already been doing 10 years prior. consequently, seminary actually stretched the boundaries of what i thought was possible in my own life.

    duke divinity is without a doubt a rigorously academic institution but if you’re grounded, it can be a wonderful place that expands your scope, broadens your language, and deepens your understanding. it is one of the few seminaries that has the highest concentration of african-american theologians as profs and a center for reconciliation as well as offering women’s studies certificates.

      1. yeah, your discount is pretty much your tent and friends who are willing to stay up all night….you gotta camp out for ’em! needless to say, b and i have never gone:)

        1. even if you don’t camp out for tix, you can get in most games for free by waiting in a “walk up line” and showing your student ID at the door.

  21. Here’s some love from an NPTS student. I loved my experience at NPTS! I know it was a mix of the students as well as the classes. The community there created a learning experience outside of the classroom. We would often carry on the conversations from class. I was stretched, pushed, and formed in a place where I knew my professors cared for me and were open to helping me through the struggles I was having. They were available and more than willing to walk with us as we wrestled things that shook us, caused us to question, and even family and personal issues that arose in our lives. Now working in the Evangelical Covenant, I’m thankful to have so many of my classmates also working in the denomination so I will be able to see them at various events so we can continue to support each other in ministry.

  22. This is a great thread, thanks for info thus far!

    I’d be interested in more thoughts about what the pros/cons are between an M.Div and MA or MCS, especially for those who might not be looking to do traditional full-time ministry or pastoring afterwards. From many comments it seems that an M.Div is discouraged if you don’t _need_ it, or aren’t interested in academia.

    What other questions should you ask yourself before you apply for an M.Div or MA?

    Jason Smith, I appreciate the note on not going into debt. I’m waiting to finish paying off my undergrad loans before I try to do grad school full time.

    Does anyone have any comments on getting an MA or Master’s in Christian Studies (or equivalent degree) as a part-time student? Pros/cons?

    Also, any other feedback on Seattle-area schools? I’ve heard about SPU, a little about Mars Hill, what about Seattle U?

    1. I am all for George Fox Evangelical Seminary & it seems like SPU has a good program. However, if you want more options Fuller also offers different Master’s degrees in Seattle.

    2. Hey Darwin,

      I can only speak specifically regarding Regent College (which is of course not to be confused with Regent University) but I imagine it can’t be too much different at other schools.

      Basically, the difference between the MDiv and MCS is that the MDiv is more tightly structured and focused on the basic skills for vocational ministry, and is somewhat longer, while the MCS can be quite flexible (but doesn’t have to be) and is a little shorter. The former is intended for those going into full-time vocational ministry, but some people use it as just a thorough, structured education in applied theology and then go back into the marketplace. Similarly, the latter is intended for those who want to learn to live Christianly and think theologically in general, or for those who want to use it as a springboard to higher degrees like a ThM or PhD; but some use it as preparation for vocational ministry as well. Both programs are academically rigorous–they’re both masters degrees– and they both have some amount of emphasis on Christian formation.

      Some schools (Regent College included) start you off as an unclassified “graduate student” and make you apply for the MCS or MDiv program after a semester or two, so that you’ve had a chance to see a little bit of what the school is like before committing to a program. I think that’s helpful. I hadn’t worked out what I really wanted to focus my study on until fairly late.

      On being part-time, I was part-time for much of my MCS. I can say it’s tough. I often found it difficult to switch back and forth between thinking about my job and thinking about my studies. A few times, I found that they collided outright: my studies were amounting to a severe criticism of my job, leaving me less capable of doing either because I was constantly second-guessing myself. (Though that’s largely an artifact of what I was concentrating my studies on.) But I think the hardest element of being part-time is that you lose a lot of opportunity to immerse yourself in the school community. I can’t emphasize enough how important that community is.

      Sometimes you have no choice if you need to be working to fund your education. However, if you can go full-time, even for just part of the time, I think that helps tremendously. One plan that may work well is to do the first year or so full-time, and then go part-time for the second half. That way you get the benefit of the community while you’re focusing on foundational and formational classes; and later when you’re doing more specific and advanced work, you have the opportunity to practice and reflect on what it means in your profession.

  23. I’m a North Park Theological Seminary grad. As an Evangelical Covenant Church pastor I found the experience invaluable, as it seems that the ECC is a unique place to do ministry and the exposure to the tradition and culture of ECC can really best be found at NPTS.

    As for its “stand alone” merits, the emphasis is definitely on training for pastoral ministry. Almost all the faculty have pastoral experience themselves, so the content of seminary isn’t exclusively cerebral– there is plenty of discussion on how theology fits in our life in Christ and life in the church. But though its emphasis is on practical pastoral training, that doesn’t take anything away from the academic merits of NPTS. There are lots of profs there who can stand toe-to-toe with the best scholars in their fields. NPTS is a smaller school, and one of the assets of that is a robust community life. My family experienced a great personal tragedy during my studies there; and the faculty, staff, and student body rallied around us in an unprecedented way and cared for us better than we could have ever asked for.

  24. I am in the third year of my MDiv at Mars Hill Graduate School and have so totally loved it because of how important personal transformation is in the program. I have grown in ways that I dont think would be possible at another seminary because I was forced to look at myself, and how I relate to others in in very personal ways. It’s a very intense place emotionally, but I cant imagien being anywhere else.

  25. I attended North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago IL. If one is indeed serious about being prepared to minister as a pastor or lay leader I highly recommend seminary. If one is preparing for parish ministry with God’s people, seminary is absolutely necessary. No where else will you receive a combination of how to function as a critically thoughtful theologian; as well as biblically literate (in both Hebrew and Greek) in order to comprehend and intellegently interpret ancient text for contemporary times. If one is serious about God’s commandments, then one should have a complete knowledge of what precedes Western ideology and contemporary thought in terms of worship, liturgy, and spiritual formation.

    As an African American woman with roots in the African American church, I am well versed in my own cultural context in terms of theology and the bible. However, I am required to know and understand the historical perspectives of those who spoke, wrote and passed on the Christian faith in order to make it a relevant Word for those who are still in need of saving grace and God’s word for salvation and daily living in all context. From a global perspective, one cannot minister in the church with just common knowledge and the ability to pray; one needs to be deeply commited to being a daily observer of God in the world through different cultures, religious faiths, beliefs, and community settings. A seminary trained pastor and lay leader should be able to be fully present with people; this only comes about if one is prepared to sit with the sick and dying, those who are grief stricken, families facing divorce, domestice violence, substance abuse, racism, sexism and classim–obstacles which hinder people from being what God created them to be “very good creations”. A seminary trained pastor should be speaking into people’s lives in order to liberate people’s bodies, minds, and spirits for wholistic living. The Word is a transformative power that comes by the work of the Holy Spirit. A well trained seminarian trained pastor should be able to baptize, administer the sacraments and know what they mean by celebrating communion, and appreciate different worship styles with people from other countries, continents, and ethnic backgrounds.

    Seminary is a place to unpack one’s call, identity, and sort through the nuances of what it means to be present in the lives of people who live on the margins and need Good News. Social justice is part of the work of people who are called to minister beyond their cultural, racial, gender, and socioeconomic context. Every minister of the Gospel should be more like Jesus, a liberator from paternalism, materialism, and colonalism which keeps people bound to being individualistic as opposed to the beloved community Jesus intended. Seminary is a place were women and men can sit together and discuss what the church should look like for this present age as well as the next generation; what kind of legacy will be left; how to reach those who are without God in their lives; and nurture each other as well as support each other through the tough times of ministry. Women should be seminary trained just as men have always been. I brought Womanist and African American scholarship in theology, spirituality, and bible with me to seminary; but North Park Theological Seminary gave me the gifts of honing my intellectual, spiritual and theological skills with what the church was 2000+ years ago, how it’s evolved, and how to be prophetic in the community I live, work and serve in. So the question is a hearty yes, go to seminary; and if you want to experience Chicago, diversity, and students, faculty and staff who are doing it well and learning together come to North Park Theological Seminary.

      1. Agreed. Great insights, Velda. Thanks for sharing. I give it a +1.

        (PE, you should consider a voting/liking system for your comments – at least the long threads that are hard to navigate for people who don’t have hours to read 100+ or 200+ comments at once 🙂

  26. as a duke grad, i would second the flaws and virtues that gail pointed out. the only things i would hasten to add are duke’s terrific field education placement program that provides valuable ministry experience as well as some much needed financial assistance (it would be good to like methodists, though there are other options). also, duke’s truly a wonderful place to learn how to read scripture theologically — an approach you won’t readily find at schools committed to the modern critical enterprise, conservative or liberal.

  27. I was one of the first SemConnect students at North Park Theological Seminary, beginning back before it was even called SemConnect — and before anyone could guarantee that the light at the end of my tunnel would actually be an accredited degree! I spent 6 years completing the Master of Christian Ministry degree (with a concentration in Faith & Health) and another 2 years working for a certificate in Spiritual Direction. I now blend massage therapy, spiritual direction, and hospitality into a comprehensive retreat ministry. My pastoral work is almost entirely one-on-one.

    I can echo everything Erik said about North Park. I highly recommend it to anyone who isn’t satisfied with the rigid boxes of conservatism or liberalism. Because the Evangelical Covenant Church has a long-standing commitment to theological diversity within unity, North Park is a great place to explore and wrestle with theology’s messy in-between spaces. I’ll never forget John Weborg saying, “Seminary is the place where it should be safe to ask all the forbidden questions.” That was always a deep and genuine safety for me at North Park.

    North Park also has a program where active pastors rotate into seminary teaching roles for a year, and professors similarly engage with congregations. There’s no “ivory tower” atmosphere, no faculty teaching in utter isolation from the trenches of ministry. I think there is the best possible balance between theology and spirituality, between academic and practical preparation, and between spiritual and social priorities.

    I came away from North Park feeling strongly that seminary is vitally important for pastors. There is NOWHERE in my personal environment that I can engage in that level of gritty theological challenge among people with such solid academic knowledge and diverse backgrounds. I was stretched so much farther than personal study or mentoring could have taken me. (Not sure where I would find a mentor for my particular mode of ministry anyway!) In my lily white Protestant world, I also wouldn’t have had opportunities to listen to other cultural perspectives or to appreciate the voices of other religious traditions.

    No, seminary can’t fully prepare anyone for ministry, any more than prenatal classes can fully prepare anyone for birth and parenting. But it’s a key preparation nevertheless.

  28. I could write a lot, but I will keep it short.

    I chose Fuller Seminary for my MDiv and MFT for several reasons.

    1. I wanted a school that was academic rigorous, and engaged the world, but was committed to it’s center (Jesus Christ); or commitment to it’s Evangelical roots. Meaning, they weren’t afraid to challenge our faith intellectually, etc, and expose us to lots of ideas and thinking, but I knew they were committed to Christ.

    2. Ethnically Diverse. Both ethnically (about 1/3 international students–primarily coming from Asian countries–but still about 80 countries represented).

    3. Gender Diverse. A lot of seminaries are full of men which I really think limits one exposure to the gifts that both genders have to offer…you end up getting a lot of thoughts of men in some places. Fuller is about 50% men and 50% women.

    4. Theologically Diverse. There are about 120 different denominations on campus and that made classroom discussion awesome. A Presbyterian next to an Anabaptist, next to a Quaker, next to a Baptist, next to a Bible church person. Fuller also challenged us to think outside the box.

    5. Location. Living and serving in Los Angeles was great. It’s like having the world at your doorstep.

    Those were my reasons…..


      1. I must have missed that one. I’m currently four quarters into the MDiv at Fuller NW (just down Nickerson from SPU) and it has been a wonderfull experience so far. I echo Rhett’s reasons. The only thing I’d add is that in order to get an MDiv from Fuller NW, you have to join a cohort. This means taking one class every quarter together with the same students for 12 quarters. You fill in the rest of the degree as you like, before, after, during, whatever.

        It’s awesome. The time together as a group puts meat on the bones, so to speak. There is real community and spiritual formation in addition to all the academics and scholarship.

  29. Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary representing right here!!

    1) Interdenominational
    2) International
    3) Evangelical

    GCTS is a GREAT school – with an amazing faculty. Some top names, among evangelical circles, are professors here. The Preaching department is excellent. The international vibe is inspiring. And the interdenominational blend is freeing – in the sense that they don’t just represent one specific side of Theology.

    This church is highly Evangelical – emphasizing the Inerrant truth of Scripture, preparing men and women for ministry, and reaching a number of denominations.

    The location is amazing, as well!

  30. Find a seminary that is good at formation no just information.

    1. Western Theological Seminary, Holland MI
    2. Regent College Vancouver, BC
    3. Luther Seminary Minneapolis, MN
    4. Gordon Conwell, Hamilton, MA

    Also, I would recommend that you have marketable skills – business, a trade, professional – before going to seminary.

    I also echo the advise to work your way through sem. It keeps you balanced and out of debt. If you think that you can borrow your way through seminary and pay it off on a pastor’s salary THINK AGAIN.

  31. 1) Find a seminary that insists on an internship and requires spiritual formation/spiritual direction/mentorship or counseling. Seminary classes teach you how to work with theology and the text; being a pastor means learning how to work with people. Know yourself, know your issues, whatever it takes work through your shadow side/unmet needs/codependency/addictive issues. Where ever you go, and whether it’s full-time or part-time, don’t allow the stress and the amount of information you plow through to lose your heart and relationshipw with Christ.
    2) Went to Multnomah Seminary and Western Seminary – loved them both. MS for pastoral studies (started out thinking hospital or Army Chaplaincy), WS for MA Counseling. Both places found community to grow.

  32. Sadly, as an undergrad at Azusa Pacific University in the 80’s I told my Bible prof. I wanted to study Hebrew because I was so turned on by scripture that I wanted to know what was actually said originally. And he said “Why would you want to do that? What would you do with it?”

    To this day (20 years later) I still have an incredible curiosity and desire to study the original texts. My question is which seminaries are affirming of women but don’t expect women to become a pastor’s wife or a whatnot?

    1. Melody,

      Regent (Virginia Beach) was a place where women in ministry were celebrated–not tolerated–which was a huge blessing. They also have a strong female presence on the faculty which is very helpful. Why don’t you try out their intro to biblical languages course online and see how you like it? 🙂


    2. Biblical Seminary, Hatfield PA is a place where women thrive and which also offers Biblical languages online.

      Online Hebrew is delivered in a synchronous format, that is, students stay on a schedule. We’ve found that “at-your-own-pace” language courses are difficult to maintain; it helps to have to be accountable to turn things in each week. We follow a textbook, and chapter material is reinforced by a video or narrated Powerpoint. Students turn in work and take quizzes twice weekly (Mondays and Thursdays). The grammar book uses examples and exercises pulled directly from the Hebrew Bible. By Hebrew 2, we are translating extended portions of the Abraham story in Genesis.

      For Hebrew 1 we also engage in a fasting exercises. Fasting provides a good parallel to the discipline required to learn a language.

        1. In fact, we are particularly blessed by the women in our MDiv program. Most of them are working in ministry or in secular jobs and choose to attend full time in our 3-year, one night a week, one Saturday a month program. We have a couple of women in our DMin as well…hope to have more!

    3. I actually left an evangelical seminary that wouldn’t let me preach in a preaching class because I was female. My move to North Park Theological Seminary was blessed with acceptance and grace and preparation for pastoral ministry for 20 years.

    4. I actually left an independent evangelical seminary because as a woman I wasn’t allowed to preach in the preaching class! My transfer to North Park Theological Seminary in 1977 was blessed with grace and love and great preparation for twenty years in the pastorate. (Yes, I preached weekly.)

  33. I graduated from Valley Forge Christian College (Assemblies of God) with a Bachelor degree in Pastoral Ministry in 96 and an MA in Practical Theology from Regent University (Virginia Beach, not Vancouver) in 2005.

    Some observations, first on Regent specifically, then on seminary/pastoral training in general.

    Regent: Regent is an evangelical school with a strong “renewal” emphasis. The school itself is working to create a definition of renewal as we speak; however, it is generally used to indicate a strong focus on the renewing work of the Holy Spirit with themes of charismatic/pentecostal theology and practice. That being said, students not identifying themselves as charismatic tend to feel very comfortable there as well. Highlight of Regent–diversity on multiple levels such as: gender, age, race/ethnicity, denomination, and ministry calling. Also, Regent is a University comprised of several other “schools” (psych/counseling, law, communications, government, global leadership, education) in addition to the School of Divinity, so you can package your degree in a way that fits your calling. Many Divinity students add counseling, TESOL or business courses to round out ministry training. They also have a tremendously strong online component that allows you to study from home, study from home with short on-campus residencies, or be on campus yet with the option to add an online class if your work schedule doesn’t permit you to be on campus at that time.

    On seminary/training: First, I wanted to go right from bachelors-to-masters; but, as was wisely recommended to me by an undergrad prof, go out and do some ministry after bible college rather than jumping right into seminary. I knew what I was looking for, had a greater sense of what was–and wasn’t–my calling, and was starting to get a better idea of areas of strength/weakness that needed to be addressed.

    Next, if you’ve done undergrad work in a ministry area, you might consider doing an M.A. (much shorter and cheaper) rather than the full M.Div., which can–in some instances–seem a bit redundant. Also, if you are thinking that you might want to go on for a Doctor of Ministry or a Ph.D., most likely your 60 hour M.A. will be suitable to gain entrance (perhaps with an extra few credits). That way, you can use the extra year’s time and tuition that you’re saving from the M.Div. as a start on your first year of doctoral studies (should that be part of your future).

    A few final thoughts:

    –Don’t rule out a school just because it is too far from home OR too close. After discerning your passion in ministry, go where the school’s mission and faculty can support your calling (if you’re not planning on being behind a pulpit, you might not go to a school that focuses its resources on homiletics, etc.)
    –Don’t dismiss online options too easily (for part or all); some wonder, “can ministry/spiritual formation actually be taught online in the first place???” I’d answer a resounding yes! In fact, the Epistles themselves could be considered the ultimate in Online/Distance education, with writers training, correcting, and encouraging from remote locations! Also, great strides have been made to eliminate the psychological distance that comes with online education by using more audio/video/chat components.
    –Don’t be afraid to get diverse! The best classes were ones in which students weren’t all coming from or heading to the same place in ministry. I’ll never be a military chaplain, but my ministry and personal spiritual formation has been significantly impacted by the ones that I’ve rubbed elbows with throughout seminary…as were the leadership coaches, hip-hop preachers, and scholars-in-the-making.
    –Finances: Pay down your undergrad debt before taking on master’s debt…and apply early so that you are first in line for scholarship possibilities. And, if possible, keep an eye out for jobs (staff, not teaching 🙂 at the seminary that you are interested in attending (for you, or your spouse), as many of them come with full tuition remission plus the bonus benefit of having collegial access and relationships with professors that can help you out a great deal.
    –VISIT as many schools as you can. As a great prof once told me, “You gotta get ON SITE to get INSIGHT!” I’ve found that to be very true in several key decisions in my life.
    –Finally, remember the Habbakuk principle: make the vision plain on tablets and though it tarries, wait for it–in the end, if this dream is of the Lord, it won’t lie! It may take awhile for timing issues to work out (paying off old debt, finding housing), but don’t be discouraged! It is an EASY thing in the eyes of the Lord to provide for your education!

    Whew…done now 🙂

  34. Hi Pastor Eugene,

    Thanks for adding me on FB.

    I graduated with my M.Div. this past year from Fuller Seminary and highly recommend it to anyone, particular women, going into pastoral ministry.

    I echo everything that Rhett Smith stated above.

    In addition, not only are the professors top-notch, but they are incredibly affirming of women in ministry. I always felt like I had a voice in classrooms that was just as valuable as my male colleagues’, which was quite different from my experience working in a conservative Chinese church in TX.

    During my 3.5 years in seminary, I was also pregnant half the time with my first 2 sons. My husband was also in seminary with me pursuing his M.Div. Together, along with the help and support of the tight-knit Fuller faith community, we were able to get our MDivs and raise a little boy (and after graduation, another little boy!).

    Fuller offers a quality seminary education (and is constantly looking at ways to improve its degrees) and teaches students what it means to live as a loving body of Christ on campus. Housing is mixed where families and singles live together and have opportunities to deepen relationships with one another as a family of God. As expensive as seminary was for both of us, it is hard to put a price tag on the invaluable relationships and experience we had during our short time there.

    As for which degrees to pursue, if you’re a woman and you want to work in the local church, by all means, get your MDiv.

    1. Grace! Your story sounds like mine. I just graduated with my MDiv and had two kids as well during it (My son after two years and my daughter in the middle of my last semester). My husband was finishing his bachelors degree. I noticed there weren’t many in my situation. I had a couple other classmates (female) who also had babies around the same time I did, so processing what it meant to be a pastor and a mom was so important. I’m still figuring out what that means. But my seminary community at NPTS was so incredibly supportive and never questioned my ability to be a pastor and a young mom.

  35. Every seminary should require MDivs to take CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). If your degree doesn’t require it, you should take it anyway. I learned more about myself, my theology, and pastoral care in 3 months of hospital chaplaincy as I did in three years of church ministry.

  36. I think you’ve laid a good framework here Eugene. I think a bigger question than which seminary to go to, is how to go to seminary. I go to seminary with too many students who are completely overloaded with classes. They barely take time to think through what they are learning and are not able to put it into practice in some form of ministry. I think students and seminaries are to blame for this. A much bigger question is how to do seminary, not which one to go too. Every seminary, whether liberal or conservative has something to offer.

    As far as choosing, I would just recognize that perception is often partly true. And this perception is going to shape your entire ministry life. What you learn in seminary you carry with you.

  37. I’m surprised to not get much feedback from folks from Baptist seminaries, mainline or catholic/jesuit schools.

    and how about folks from Trinity, Bakke (Seattle), Canadian seminaries…?

    1. I had four requisites for seminary: 1) an intentionally ecumenical faculty, 2) a strong academic reputation as I was considering going on for a PhD, 3) a strong emphasis on spiritual formation because it’s paradoxically easy to lose sight of one’s faith in seminary, and 4) a safe place to study the theological issues around the topic of women in ministry.

      I visited three schools, meeting with admin folks, profs and students. When I got stuck between a choice of two of the schools (A and B) I contacted a prof of school A who received two degrees from school B. I had never met this man, but he sent me an email reply that looked as if it could’ve taken an hour to write. It answered all my questions and more.

      So, if you need help deciding on a seminary, determine what’s important to you, do some legwork to find out which schools offer what you want, and then get help from insiders who can fill out particular questions. It worked really well for me.

      So where did I go?

      The only school I found that matched all of my criteria at 100% was Regent College.

      I might have had a fantastic seminary experience at other schools, but my 4 years at Regent were some of the most precious and important years of my life. I learned how to think, and yet also how to be humble in light of my smallness and God’s bigness (hello, we have 3 lb brains). I learned the importance of “becoming” human and the necessity of community. I learned to be comfortable with mystery while also learning how to honestly and carefully approach Scripture. I learned more about some of my hang-ups and how grace needs to be a mantle that is worn and shared with others. I learned about the mission of the church and how clergy aren’t any better than anyone else even though church structure might support this view. I learned how my faith in the 21st century came into being from thousands of years of history of real human beings. I learned about social justice and care for the earth. I learned something about how Canada has been affected by the attitudes/actions of the U.S. and why it’s important to be concerned about the whole world even as we concentrate on our own locality.

      What I didn’t learn was much about pastoral care, but that wasn’t the overall goal. As it was said earlier, the goal of seminary is to give a person some important tools and experience to become a pastor. The tools don’t create the identity.

      To learn pastoral care I did a year of CPE in a large hospital in Seattle. My 4 years at Regent gave me invaluable training spiritually and academically, and my one year as a chaplain gave me crucial experience and training in how to be with people. I am predisposed to appreciate a pastor who has both tracks of learning.

      One more thing about Regent: the architecture of the building (yes, it’s only one building) intentionally places the atrium, the place where people meet to chat, drink coffee, and swap stories – in other words the place where the community gathers informally – as the center of the school. It’s people and relationships that are the center, not the classrooms, and not even the chapel. If we do all kinds of learning and yet have not engaged with people then we are missing something vital.

      So I love Regent College. I’m beholden to this school for what it has given me, and for the fact that I was able to add to the community when I was there – it’s the whole dialectic, perichoretic thing. And wow, do I ever have some great friends as a result.

  38. I’m a second year student at Princeton Theological Seminary. It has been a great experience and I feel like I have grown in my faith since coming here. I also agree with Eugene that it has given me the impetus (read kick in the butt) to think about things, people and viewpoints that I may have missed out of otherwise. Princeton is a beautiful area, close to NYC, Philly and the shore. There are some great people here and my wife and I have made some good friends. That being said, it may not be the first place that I would recommend to a friend who knows that they want to pursue a call to ordained ministry (unless it is in the PCUSA church, and then you cant beat PTS). There are certainly opportunities at PTS to be formed for ministry but you have to pursue them; they will not automatically find you. PTS is called a “hybrid” seminary – seeking to pursue academic rigor and scholarship but also seeking to do so in the service of the church. They probably err on the side of academic and scholastic formation rather than spiritual. If you are thinking about ordination, but also think you might be called to a more academic context in the future PTS might be a good compromise. Coming from an evangelical, nondenominational southern background, it has taken me over a year to begin to feel like I can be comfortable in my own skin, but that is probably my baggage, not Princeton’s. Finally, there is a range of theological perspectives here. I agree with Eugene, depending on who you ask, you will certainly have different opinions about whether PTS is too “liberal” or “conservative” although I must admit, there arent many people making the latter claim that I have heard. But there are some solid teachers here who love Jesus and have a wonderful heart for the church. Just, make sure you talk to people here and try to find out who they are and seek them out.

    I’ve heard it said that coming to PTS is like getting a suit at Men’s Wearhouse. If you go in, and you know exactly what you want, then you will end up with a pretty good suit for a nice price. But if you wander in and just get whatever the salesperson hands you, you never know what you are going to get!

  39. I would like to point you towards Columbia Biblical Seminary and School of Missions, part of Columbia International University in Columbia, SC. I graduated there in 2004 and got a wonderful education. We now have many classes available online. It is a wonderful opportunity for someone in full time ministry to work towards their degree while they continue to serve.

    I should mention that I work in the DIstance Education dept. at CIU.


  40. I earned the MTS and MDiv degrees from Calvin Theological Seminary, though I grew up Episcopalian and not Christian Reformed, and am grateful for that education. An InterVarsity staff worker advised a friend of mine to attend a seminary like Calvin because of its being grounded in one historical, confessional tradition. Rather than studying at a generally evangelical school with a diverse faculty, the student at an institution that grounded in one particular tradition draws deeply from that history and could have a cohesive frame of thought. On the flip side, some students who grew up in that particular denomination or tradition would, however, benefit by spending some time at a more general evangelical seminary to gain more exposure to other Christians and traditions within/around evangelicalism.

  41. Well, I’m not at Dallas, but my husband is. Methinks it has a reputation for being more conservative than the crowd on here usually is. For that reason, I was pretty nervous when it was my husband’s first choice when we considered graduate schools a few years back.

    I have been pleasantly suprised. I have audited classes with my husband and gotten to know several professors. My impression of DTS being a school that discourages questioning and is stuck in conservative dispensationalism has been quite off-base. I have found most Professors to be very open to dialogue and a variety of opinions. Their four-year THM program is brutal but academically excellent. Students learn Greek, Hebrew, Exegesis, and Theology.

    However, I will throw out that most of the discussion up until now has been about going to seminary to be a pastor. My husband’s goal is to be a professor overseas somewhere – to continue to train up well-educated church leaders in theology and church history. What one looks for with the goal of theological education is different than what one looks for if the goal is pastoral work.

  42. I’ve personally chosen the “Good Will Hunting” version of higher education. So I read a lot. I just can’t justify taking on a lifetime of debt to go to school, especially when I’m not that great of a student in traditional classrooms. I learn the subject matter just fine, but I struggle with the tediousness of classrooms and the typical assignments and such.

    My suggestion though, is anyone who is going to seminary to go to a seminary with a tradition different than your own. The best professors I had in my undergraduate classes for theology and bible, had gone to seminaries very different than their own background. One was a Nazarene who went to a Catholic seminary, and the other was a Pentecostal who went to a Presbyterian seminary. In doing that, you are challenged in your thinking in ways that you just wouldn’t be if you went to a school where they teach what you already believe. It makes you stronger in your beliefs and a better teacher in the pulpit, classroom, or wherever.

    1. that is what i wish i had. but i wasn’t willing to move and my program was 50% off (=no debt), and seemed what God wanted me to do at least for a trial year. sometimes we dont understand these things!

  43. Ok Eugene, here’s your Baptist (BGC) shout-out…

    I am in my first year at Bethel Seminary in St Paul, MN, a program for working adults called SemPM that meets 1 night a week (2 classes for 2 hours each) year-round for 3 years. I think that delivery system is great.

    I never wanted to go to Seminary. I am there because my specific program sounded like it would help me develop personally as I work with youth in the hood, and as I struggle to intertwine my “liberal” politics and gender views with Scripture. Note: The seminary itself is not extremely progressive in those areas, but it is growing. To be honest, I was quite nervouse about strong evangelical ties as I wanted to explore away from that foundation.

    Oh, and the program was offering a 50% OFF grant for all new students, since it is a new program. That was the hook.

    My program is an MA in Community Ministry Leadership with Dr. Mark Harden. Holistic ministry is the key, which i like a lot. Some of the other professors in our general courses are …not as progressive. So I learn about having a voice. Our program attracts women and people of color which also enticed me.

    It’s quite the journey.
    If I had wanted to go to Seminary as my goal, I would’ve moved to Chicago and gone to North Park. Otherwise, Union Theological Seminary here in St Paul is very theologically diverse.

  44. I went to North Park Seminary. I believe 6 years out that CHicago Seminaries have the best set-up, as well as Boston, Atlanta, and Berekly due to their consortium programs.

    Seminaries in these cities have the possibility of collaboration, a key practice of ministry today. I went to North Park, and I was grateful for the faculty. I wish I had taken advantage of other Chicago seminaries.

    Atlanta has the Interdenominational Theological Institute (check name?) and the amount of Black and mainline theological schools makes the theological tradition rich, not too mention the richness of Atlanta.

    If I could do it over again, I would have still attended North Park Sem. but would have made it a point to cross-fertilize in schools for which I have little connection, especially CTU (Catholic Theological Union in Hyde Park).

    I would pursue an education that would allow me to leave with the necessary frameworks to live “unapologetically evangelical, endlessly ecumenical.”

    1. By the way, we are clearly in an evangelical audience here. It would be interesting to have this conversation with less evangelical leaning seminary grads and students.

  45. Thanks for the discussion, it’s nice to see what’s out there.

    I went to North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. NPTS is my denomination’s school (Evangelical Covenant). I am 3 plus years into my first pastorate and completed 1 year of chaplain residency prior to that.

    I can say from my experience that I would not be in ministry today if it were not for my seminary/cpe experience. That is not to suggest seminary prepared me for everything I have encountered so far, but it gave me a solid theological and biblical foundation to start from.

    I was challenged academically and spiritually. NPTS focuses on spiritual formation as a person, and gives you the tools you need to do good academic work. I found the professors to be both challenging and collegial at the same time. I actually found seminary to be spiritually devotional. I found it to be a time in which I actually grew deeper in my relationship with Christ as I grew in my understanding of his call on my life.

    I would say that seminary is crucial for becoming a pastor – but it takes the right seminary for each person; mine was NPTS.

    I would also echo the comments of another poster on this thread – CPE is invaluable in learning about yourself as a minister. It is an amazing experience if you allow yourself to be open to it.

  46. ****Baptist Seminary****

    I’m a recent graduate of George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University. I recommend Truett Seminary for numerous reasons:

    1) Academics. Amazing scholars as professors. I’ll give one example. Dean is David Garland. Check out his commentary on Mark in NIVAC, 1 Corinthians in BECNT, or 2 Corinthinas in NAC.

    2) Spiritual Formation. Each student is placed in a “Covenant Group” upon entering seminary. You meet with this group once a week over six semesters. You follow guided material and benefit from taking the time to focus on spiritual formation through seminary work.

    3) Practical. The MDiv requires a serious mentorship semester. It is not a semester where you just sit in a church office. It is serious practical experience.

    4) Resources. Being a part of Baylor you have access to the resources of a large university. The library is amazing!

  47. I just read the entire thread and found it refreshing. I believe scripture is clear that preparation is a good thing for spiritual leaders. Gordon-Conwell seems to be a main player.

    I went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for Undergrad and MDIV. I was there in the Ken Hemphill years so it was great. I went Baptist only because I married a Baptist girl and went to Baptist churches. I didn’t grow up in the church. So, I needed seminary.

    Seminary is what you make of it. The school is important. But ultimately it is all only a guide. It takes study and library time. The atmosphere is also important for morale. But if a student doesn’t take advantage of it, the experience won’t be as good as it should be.

    I did DMIN work at Gordon-Conwell with Haddon Robinson. Gordon’s preaching faculty is excellent. I highly recommend @gordonconwell. I still believe they in the top 5 seminaries in the world.

    @SWBTS is good for Baptists. It’s cheaper too! (if Baptist). SWBTS has an excellent preaching faculty. Maybe the best out there right now.

    If a pastor did not want to leave the field, the best option is Rockbridge Seminary (www.rockbridgeseminary.com) I’m presently a faculty member for this “fully online seminary.” You will get the theology and practical excellence at this school. Dr. Daryl Eldridge is president. He’s one of my mentors. I developed great relationships in this “online seminary community.”

  48. Let’s hear some more love for North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL.

    We’re committed to many of the values reflected by P.E.’ readership: URBAN, MULTI-ETHNIC, JUSTICE with a strong Biblical foundation and strong ecclesiology.

    We’re in the city, we’re part of the Evangelical Covenant Church, and we’ve got a faculty member that tries to emulate Eugene Cho as much as possible. 🙂


  49. Hi everyone, I love that these questions have been opened up for so many to contribute. As Eugene said, so much of the answer depends on your own story up until now and the story you are striving to live from here on out.

    For me, I decided to go to seminary to help me be a better pastor and church planter. I’m about a year and a half into my program at Bethel Seminary where I am pursuing a M.A. in Transformational Leadership. And I love it. The sem is definitely more progressive in their methodology than most, and unlike the complaints of so many others, my program is highly practical, helping me to actually lead and pastor better, not just think better.

    And because I am in a “In-Ministry” program, I haven’t had to stop doing full time ministry to be a student. So I am putting what I am learning directly into practice – refining my ideas and methods along the way. Not to mention that the cohort model has allowed me to learn from 20 brilliant people who are doing amazing things all over the world, people who have become some of my closest friends in the world. It’s been a great journey.

    Hope this proves helpful!

    1. I did the In-Ministry M.Div at Bethel (St. Paul). It was wonderful. Showed up on campus 4 weeks a year. Developed relationships with amazing people doing ministry all over the country. The most important thing is that I got to learn while doing. I pastored a small rural church in Illinois while going to seminary. Awesome experience.

  50. I went to North Park as well. It was a tremendously important time. I went from a Big Ten undergrad experience to an intimate urban graduate school experience. NPTS also brought a mix of urban, evangelical, social justice, Biblical and theological/historical disciplines together.

    The faculty was great and the community forged in an intense 4 years last beyond anything. Did NPTS prepare me for everything? No. Where does? Am I Covenant? Yes. But I currently serve at a non- Covenant setting equipped for broadly ecumencial work. Which I attribute to NPTS’ beautiful and odd Evangelical tradition with it’s Pietist Lutheran roots and strong anchor in the city of Chicago.

    1. Hey George,

      It does happen. If you want to speak with people directly, I may know one or two cases I can hook you up with when you guys get back. (You may know them already anyway.) But my interpretation of what I’ve seen is generally this: People have bad experiences at seminary for a variety of reasons, but I think the most common theme is that they’re expecting it to be something it’s not.

      Remember that seminary is graduate school. It is (or at least it should be) academically rigorous. Expect to spend a lot of time in the library. Expect a ton of reading, writing, memorizing, analyzing, reflecting, agonizing. Expect to pull many late nights on a seemingly endless stream of papers. Expect to work very hard, particularly if you struggled as an undergraduate, or if your undergrad degree wasn’t in a related field. (I’m generally a very good student, and I even had a masters degree before I started seminary, but I was a computer science major, so I had to struggle to catch up when faced with Biblical literature and history of western philosophy.) If you’re not excited about working toward a graduate-level academic degree in Biblical, theological, and ministry studies, then seminary may not be not the right place for you.

      Don’t go in expecting a 24/7 Holy Ghost party. (Though, depending on the school, you might have those on an occasional basis.) Don’t go in expecting your classes to be inspirational messages in the style of your favorite pastor. A few professors manage to do that and still cover the academics adequately, but it’s not a priority for most. Don’t expect the school to fulfill your spiritual needs. Even though you’re reading for academics, you also need to (separately) read for devotion. Even though you’re praying with classmates and going to chapel, you still need to be part of a church community. And despite the “Bridal School” reputation you might hear about, don’t go in looking for the ideal place to pick up beautiful, spiritually mature members of the opposite sex. I have, much to my surprise, met a few people who were down on school because their love life wasn’t going the way they’d want. (Not that that’s an issue for you–I hope–but I think it’s worth mentioning in the larger discussion.)

  51. @Daniel Azuma: thanks for the response… and you’re right, don’t think viv would be too happy about me considering seminary and looking to get another wife. 😉

  52. wow lots of comments and couldn’t read them all so i’m not sure if this has been talked about at all–but i am part of an alternative seminary program that adapts a sort of apprenticeship model rather than a strictly academic approach. i believe more traditional seminaries are trying to adapt and include more of this sort of thing, but it simply cannot logistically be done at an institution with over 30 students.

    if seminary is truly training for ministry, for pastoral ministry (not just preaching on a sunday morning), then it isn’t about acquiring lots of knowledge, though that has its place. it is about abiding and spending time with God and his Word. it is through this constantly filling of the well that we offer people living water from–not scrambling to constantly prepare talks and titillate our audience, if indeed you are still orienting pastoral ministry around one prime head figure.

    of course all of these thoughts are not my ideas, but the values of the program i am a part of. the smaller scale makes the academics less rigorous, which honestly sometimes makes me wish i had more access to deeper studies in specific areas. but then i have to remember that learning those things isn’t what ministry is all about.

    i’m getting to this post late so who knows if anyone will read this, but that’s my two cents.

  53. As an undergrad a year and a half into the “three year path” to my bachelors in Theology and searching for the ‘perfect’ MDiv program, I am curious as to why you regret completing your bachelors in three years?
    On a related note, I think the choice of seminary/grad school has to do with your personal angle or, heaven forbid, bias, by which you interpret Scripture. Personally, I’m looking into Messianic/OT focused programs, but also considering a more ‘conservative/traditional’ university, simply to broaden my horizons, after my choice of a very charismatic undergrad school.

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