On or about this time ten years ago, I began classes at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. My classes that first quarter were Greek with Dr. Voelz and Pastoral Ministry with Dean Rockemann. During my 3 years on campus, I took classes with most of the professors there, although I did miss a few, some to my regret, others to my pleasure.
To be honest, my Seminary experience was quite different than what I expected. I heard a lot of stories before arriving, and while some were true, the reality is that they were probably truer several years before I arrived, and were less true when I was there. The reality is that the Seminary had changed quite a bit just from the mid-90’s to when I came in 2003; professors had retired or gone elsewhere, and what was left was a Seminary in transition.
And during my time there, and now since my departure, that transition has continued. Professors come and go, and those who are there have yet to establish a firm hold on molding the institution. There is also seemingly constant restructuring and remodeling the curriculum.
To that end, my reflections are like those that I heard before I began Seminary; true, but not nearly as true as they once were.
In my humble state, I do offer my advice to those who are just beginning, in the hopes that several years down the road they too might look back and offer their own words of wisdom to the new class.
+ Go to chapel. You may think you can do better; but you will never again have the opportunity to sit and listen to someone else preach, see someone else lead the liturgy, have someone else pick the hymns. Once you are in a congregation, you are the only one who will do these things, and the only time you will sit in a pew is when you are on vacation.
+ Buy books. There are a lot of churches within a few hours of the Seminary, but most are a long ways away. When you show up at a congregation, you immediately have the premiere theological library in the county, and quite possibly for several counties. That means when you are researching something for Bible class or for a sermon or for a paper, if you don’t have it, nobody is going to have it.
+ Play sports (intermurals). Staying in shape and not gaining a lot of weight is by far the hardest thing to do as a pastor. You will largely have a desk job, that involves going to people’s homes and sitting on a couch; i.e.: you will not be burning a lot of calories off. Also, you may not have anyone to play with either; church demographics are largely older, and not every town has a YMCA or gym that you can play in. Play sports now that you have the opportunity, because you may not have that chance in the future.
+ Be wary when you leave. When you graduate from Seminary, you will be well trained and well equipped for what lies ahead. But once you are out, it is hard to stay in theological shape, especially when so many of those fellow pastors who surround you have caved into bad habits a long time ago. This is especially true of preaching. I firmly believe that it takes a year of preaching every Sunday to develop your own routine and style; that means that you will be tempted to fall into bad habits and take the easy road out when it comes to preaching. Be wary, and strive to remain a firm and orthodox Law/Gospel preacher.
+ As you are so blessed, get married before you leave Seminary; because once you are out, it ain’t gonna happen. Or at least the odds are heavily stacked against you. Either the demographics will work against you, or, you will discover the impossibility of marrying a member of the congregation you serve.
As I look back on my time in St. Louis, and particularly in this day when so many are questioning the value of a residential M. Div. program, I can honestly say that I would do it all again. And not only that, I would encourage, and do what is necessary to make it required, that everyone who desires to enter the office of pastor to complete the residential M. Div. program.