10 Tips for Success in Seminary

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Seminary is hard. That’s a fact. It’s a big investment of time and money, so it pays to make sure you are doing all you can to have success in seminary.

With the right mindset and the right tools, the workload can be made more manageable. It is crucial that as seminary students we practice good study habits now so that we will be prepared for a lifetime of diligent and productive study of God’s Word.

1. Invest in the Right Tools

I used to own a cordless drill that, even after a fresh charge, would die in less than a minute. But I kept using it! Even though a manual screwdriver would have done a better job, I continued to use the poorer tool. When I finally replaced it I realized how much time and effort I had been wasting. It’s the same with our studies: good tools make you more efficient. This may mean spending a little more money up front, but as with many things in life, an investment in a quality tool ends up paying for itself down the line.

What are the right tools?

Get a good Bible with a strong binding that will last you for years. Invest in quality notebooks or note-taking software for your classes. Invest the time and money in developing a task management system so you can keep your course reading and assignments straight. Never miss a deadline because you’re disorganized! Whether it’s a calendar, a notebook, a spreadsheet, or specialized software, invest in getting organized at the beginning of each semester to keep you sane.

Don’t be frivolous with your spending, but also don’t be afraid to spend a little more money on a tool that will save you a good deal of time and effort.

2. Do Your Homework as Worship

Dr. Murphy, Associate Professor of Old Testament at The Master’s Seminary, gives some great pep-talks. One of his best gems of wisdom is his injunction that we must do all of our course work as an act of worship to God. If our studies are simply perfunctory or merely done to receive a passing grade, we really will serve the stereotype of seminary becoming a cemetery for our faith. The Word of God is not a book to be studied coldly, it is revelation from the King of Kings to His creatures. Whenever we study the Bible, whether for morning devotions or an OT synopsis paper, we must do it as an act of worship.

A great little book on this subject is How to Stay Christian in Seminary by David Mathis.

3. Get Organized

Without neglecting the spiritual, much of our success in studies depends on our ability to manage our time well. The course load is heavy, but if you put the right amount of hours toward the right tasks you will get everything done. And the key to managing your time well is organization.

Are you the guy who is always depending on fellow students to know when things are due? No one should ever hear you say, “Oh, was that due today?” Does your plan for writing research papers consist of reading a stack of books, jotting down a few notes, crossing your fingers, and hoping for the best?

You must get organized!

Desk organizer. Organization is a key to success in seminary.

Take the time at the beginning of each new semester to set up your binders, purchase your books, and create a schedule that provides enough time for you to get your school work done while still maintaining your other responsibilities.

4. Get Your Priorities Straight

Another key to managing the seminary/life balance is having the right priorities. Here’s a simple guideline for priorities that I think has biblical warrant:

  1. God,
  2. Family,
  3. Church,
  4. Seminary studies.

That means, devotional life is a bedrock non-negotiable. You don’t cut it out of your morning for a semester because you are taking some tough classes. Then comes loving your wife, church involvement, and seminary studies. When done right, each flows out of the one preceding it. Harmony!

This balance is not easy, nor is it always attainable in certain seasons, but that shouldn’t stop us from striving for it.

5. Go at your Own Rate

Is a heavy class load causing you to struggle to provide for your family? Are you failing to keep up with personal devotional time? Do you have to say “no” to ministry involvement in your local church because you’re too busy learning about how to minister in a local church?

See the irony?

Well, there’s a simple solution to that. Lighten your class load. You can take seminary slower. You say, “But I’ll have to pay more per credit if I’m not full time!” True, but the alternative may be much more expensive spiritually. There is no virtue in rushing through seminary if the price tag is neglect of God, family, and church life.

6. Talk to Your Professors

One of the unfortunate trade-offs of taking online courses is that you exchange personal interaction for convenience. If you are privileged enough to be attending seminary classes on campus, lay hold of the advantages that situation affords you.

Interact with your professors! If you are one of those guys who just comes to class then teleports to the library or back home, you are missing out on one of the most valuable components of your education. Your professors would love to interact with you. And, guess what, some of them actually know a thing or two! They’re teaching dopes likes us because they believe that training the next generation of ministers is a worthy use of their lives. Obviously, then, they would be happy to answer your questions and give sound advice if you would just go to them.

You’re here to receive an education, and much of that education actually happens outside of the classroom.

7. Pray Like the Devil is Chasing You

Because he is.

You are training for the ministry. The Accuser has your number. You’ve got a massive target on your back. Satan wants to take you out; he wants to make you proud, or discourage you and convince you that you cannot do it. If you aren’t watchful for his attacks, you will most certainly fall.

You aren’t just training for battle, you’re in the battle. So, if you want to have success in seminary, suit up!

8. Make Time for Your Fellow Seminarians

Fellow students are a massive blessing. If you want to have success in seminary, don’t neglect them.

If you just buckle down, class-to-library-to-home, and you don’t socialize a bit, you’re missing out. First, you’ll be super weird and the world’s most awkward pastor. You need to have social skills, Skippy. Second, you’ll miss out on amazing fellowship and learning opportunities with godly men.

God is doing amazing things in the lives of fellow students. Share your life with them, and pray for one another. Besides, networking—these are the guys who you will want serving in your church, and they may want you serving in their churches down the road. So get to know your fellow seminarians.

9. Do Ministry!

You are never too busy to do ministry.

Listen, if you are just packing theories into your head and not putting the things you are learning to work, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Besides, the body of Christ needs your gifts. Just because you’re taking classes, does not give you a 3-4 year break from body-life. Seek out opportunities, no matter how small.

Remember seminary is not taking a few years off from ministry so you can learn to do ministry.

10. Get Over Yourself

Look, you seem like a smart fellow. You’re headed to grad school after all! But, mate, you are not the bees-knees. You aren’t even the bee’s cankles.

You’re the scum of the earth. You are the chief of sinners. If Paul considered himself nothing, don’t consider yourself something. Don’t think that your school is lucky to have you at their institution. Don’t frown because at the first chapel you aren’t asked to preach to the student body on the exceeding value of the nature of true awesomeness.

There is nothing more disgusting than an arrogant servant, the term is almost oxymoronic. Yet so many pastors are filled with an appalling level of hubris. How terrible if academically you are a success in seminary, but spiritually you come out a failure.

Get it out of your system now.

You will wreak havoc in ministry if you don’t. If you view seminary as the stepping stone to construct your tiny kingdom. Watch out. Better yet, get out! Do you really think the church of the King of Kings is the anvil upon which you will forge your empire?

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:31


What a blessing to be taking seminary classes! Do not squander this opportunity. Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

You’re in seminary. Praise God. Take full advantage of this time for His glory and you will find success in seminary.

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