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Congratulations on considering a call to ministry! Going to seminary will be a major commitment of your time, finances, and energy. But what you gain, a deeper knowledge of God, is precious and cannot be rivaled. Therefore, in order to maximize the benefits of your time at seminary, please allow me to pass along a few helpful suggestions.

On Studying Hebrew and Greek:

  1. Use GreekDrill. It is a Greek vocabulary flashcard program which tests you using not only the lexical forms but all possible forms of the words. No other program allows you to study words as you would find them in the text. It has a free 21 day trial period.
  2. Do not use language helps. Okay, use them a little. But force yourself to do the hard work even though it is 2 AM, you have to go to work at 4 AM, and you haven’t fed your fish in a week. If you use the language helps too much you will become dependent upon them and the grade on your final exam will earn you the moniker, “Ichabod.”
  3. Buy a marker and find an empty classroom. Write out every paradigm. Wear comfortable shoes.
  4. Download and install free Greek and Hebrew fonts from BibleWorks.
  5. Give your laptop a Greek or Hebrew keyboard by purchasing keyboard stickers from eBay. They are transparent stickers you place over your current keyboard and allow the English letters to show through. They are inexpensive and durable.
  6. Play with your language settings in Windows. You can set Windows to switch between English, Greek, and Hebrew. The Hebrew will type right to left. Assign each language to a hot key. For example: English = [ctrl] + [1], Greek = [ctrl] + [2], and Hebrew = [ctrl] + [3]. That way you can type in English, immediately switch to Greek, throw in a Hebrew word, and return to your native tongue before your coffee has a chance to cool.
  7. Favor the language classes. They are worth the hard work. When you have to make a choice between studying Greek and doing “okay” on a history test, choose the Greek.
  8. Don’t take your Greek New Testament (or your Hebrew Old Testament) to church. It is distracting to others and only serves your own pride. You most likely won’t be able to translate fast enough to keep up, thereby decreasing and not increasing your understanding of the passage. You work too hard studying the languages only to nurture a prideful attitude and render your investment useless to the Church. One of the best things you can learn in a language class is humility. Often you don’t know as much as you think you know.
  9. Leave your tools in the shed. As a pastor or teacher you are a servant of God’s Church equipped with the tools of Greek and Hebrew. You have been entrusted with these tools in order to cultivate a more fruitful understanding of Scripture. Therefore, after using the tools to the best of your ability you should set them aside and present the fruit of your labor as a feast to feed God’s people. You should not bring the tools of Greek and Hebrew to the congregation for them to choke on. It is not their business to know how to use the tools. So what benefit will come from displaying them week after week? It will only cause harm to God’s people as you unwittingly imply to them their inability to accurately interpret their English Bible. Nothing could be further from the truth! Some of God’s most faithful preachers and missionaries never studied the languages! So leave your Greek and Hebrew in the shed where they belong.

On Preparing for the Future:

  1. Celebrate your first day on campus by buying a commentary. (Get your parents to buy it.) Each time you have to write a paper buy another one. Celebrate all minor holidays by buying a commentary. That way you will graduate with a substantial collection and reduce trips to your school’s library. Use Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey and Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey to help you select the best commentary for what you require.
  2. Keep two easily accessible files on your computer, “Ideas for Ministry” and “Recommended Resources.” Have them open during class and record any book, audio resource, website, or great ministry idea your professor shares. I use One Note for class notes which allows me to keep all these files immediately accessible and organize them by topic.
  3. Begin a sermon illustration file. Include quotations, news stories, statistics, and any other material that would help you develop a sermon point. Label each entry by topic, scriptural reference, and source.
  4. Type out or photocopy the table of contents of every book you purchase. Then file hardcopies by topic or better yet create a searchable database. This will help you locate resources in your own library for future research papers, sermons, and teaching opportunities. Otherwise you will completely forget about that one perfect chapter in a seemingly unrelated book.

On Saving Valuable Time:

  1. Use StyleEase. This software installs in Microsoft Word and automatically formats your papers. There is a special “Seminary Style” edition for our particularly unusual requirements. You can find it at StyleEase.
  2. In addition, figure out your school’s formatting before you arrive on campus. Format a document to use as a title page template. Then when needed, plug in your assignment’s title and class information. Format it now and use it for all the papers you will write over the next several years.

On Maximizing Your Classroom Experience:

  1. Use ratemyprofessors.com to help you select classes.
  2. Avoid new Ph.D.’s and favor professors who have been teaching for many years. Nothing against new professors but the older ones are usually better. They have had more practice, done more research, and fielded many more questions. Avoid professors you have never heard of, cannot find in an internet search, and are not recommended by a few other students.
  3. Go to a theologically solid seminary. Do not compromise for convenience. Your theological education is too important to the future of your congregation. In my undergrad I sat through hours of what I can only describe as insanity. When discussing this with pastors I would often hear them say, “Yeah, there’s one of those professors at every school.” But the truth is there isn’t one of those at every school. I encourage you; find a good seminary where you don’t sit around wasting your time debating if God is a woman or if sin is wrong.
  4. Don’t sit in the back row where you will be tempted to not pay attention by checking Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, or your favorite blog.
  5. Consider recording your classes. If you are consistent you could complete seminary with an entire M.Div. on tape.
  6. Go to as many chapel services and guest lectures as you can. Sometimes one lecture can open doors for you that an entire semester will not. Guest lecturers are often very good; otherwise they wouldn’t have been invited.
  7. Test everything with Scripture. Even the best professors have an off day.

On Considering Odds and Ends:

  1. Get married. Wives are awesome.
  2. Don’t get a puppy. Puppies are still awesome.
  3. Check out wtsbooks.com. It is the bookstore of Westminster Theological Seminary. Their prices are so low they are depraved. Shipping is incredibly effectual and only $4 no matter how many books you buy. If your order is over $35, shipping is only $1; an irresistible grace for poor seminary students. (You just know these guys have been reading Isaiah 55.)
  4. Buy a coffee grinder. You’ll need it. It will help wake you up in the morning. Buy vinegar to clean your drip coffee maker. Find the instructions online. Buy a nice coffee mug. You will be spending significant time with it. It may become your best (or only) friend.
  5. Take a C. Do not sacrifice your Scripture intake, prayer time, or family to the demands of seminary and when you begin to, let that A go and accept a C. God will be honored by your poor grade.
  6. Get exercise or you will slowly gain weight from all the sitting you will do.
  7. Buy a compact Bible to carry to class. Everyone I know ends up doing this. Make it easy on yourself and select your preferred translations as soon as possible. That way you can familiarize yourself with it before you graduate.

If you found this post helpful, please let me know by rating it. I also invite your comments. What have you found helpful or worth passing along to a future seminarian?

There is nothing more valuable than Jesus Christ.

About a month ago I came across the story of a missionary who discovered an unknown people group; the “‘Sayang.’ After seeing where these people lived the missionary asked one of them why they lived in such a harsh place. A young man who spoke English answered him by explaining that the people would never move because there is an old story among them that one day they would be visited by an outsider with something “precious” to share with them.

What could be more precious than the Gospel of grace of Jesus Christ? And what could be a better opportunity to share the Gospel with an unreached people group than the opportunity that God in his soveriegnty arranged for this missionary?

For anyone who is interested here is the link to a video which tells this amazing story. Unfortunately, this is not the original video I watched several months ago but it still tells this basic story. If anyone finds the other video please let me know.

For centuries, they’ve waited

Scripture teaches us that, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46) It is because Jesus and the forgiveness he offers is of infinite value that a man would be willing to joyfully give everything he has if it meant he might make Jesus his own. Jesus is the “pearl of great value.”

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