Succeeding at Seminary • Jason K. Allen

12 Keys to Getting the Most Out of Your Theological Education

April 2021 • Paperback • 978-0-8024-2632-1

Seminary is an important step toward ministry—but only when you make the most of it.

Many seminarians finish their education with regrets and missed opportunities. They feel spiritually drained, they never connected with their professors or colleagues, they are plagued with a long list of “What Ifs?,” and worry they wasted this time. And many, as they enter the ministry, discover gaps in their education and are left thinking, If only my seminary had taught me that.

Prepare for your calling and make the most of your theological training with Succeeding at Seminary. Seminary president Jason K. Allen provides guidance for incoming and current seminary students on how to maximize their education experience. You’ll learn how to select the right institution and weigh the pros and cons of online or in-person classes. You’ll also receive tips for developing rapport with peers and professors and get insights for how to navigate a work, study, and family-life balance to help you survive the rigors of advanced theological learning.

Seminary can offer the opportunities and education you need to flourish in ministry, but only if you are ready to make the most of it. With Succeeding at Seminary, you’ll get the guidance and encouragement you need to maximize your seminary opportunity and excel in your calling.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Jason Allen is the fifth and youngest president of Midwestern Baptist Seminary. He has served as pastor and interim pastor of Southern Baptist churches in Alabama and Kentucky over the past fifteen years. He currently serves the church more broadly through writing and preaching ministries, including his own website www.jasonkallen.com, where he writes on various topics including higher education, theology, preaching, and cultural and local church issues. He and his wife, Karen, have five children: Anne-Marie, Caroline, William, Alden, and Elizabeth.

CONTENT PREVIEW

Delivering sermons in a preaching lab can be a humiliating endeavor. Whether it’s the artificiality of the environment, the intimidation from the professor, or the critical feedback from “that guy” in class, it’s an experience we would prefer to forget. But the experience is essential, especially for students who haven’t had many other opportunities to preach.

Homiletics classes teach you not only how to preach, but, in general, how to deliver God’s Word. Such courses should clarify – or at least begin to clarify – your gifting to preach or teach. Every pastor must possess at least a baseline ability to study and deliver God’s Word. Beyond that baseline gifting, there is a range of ability that varies with each person. Due to a host of factors including gifting, experience, self-discipline, and natural/physical gifts (or lack thereof), ministers are more-or-less proficient in proclamation.

Some enjoy preparing messages and long to preach as much as possible. Others find the study more of a grind, and preaching a daunting responsibility. Seminary is the time to sort out where you fit on the spectrum.

Throughout seminary you should also clarify, as best you can, your aptitude more broadly. Perhaps the Lord has given you a gentle and compassionate spirit that will lend well to counseling in God’s church. Or maybe He has given you a desire to disciple and train up the next generation. If so, your first foray into ministry may be focused on student ministry. Perhaps you are detail-oriented and don’t necessarily desire a full-time preaching role. You might be suited to be an executive pastor, who largely handles church administration.

My point is not to narrow what the Lord might be leading you to do. I simply want you to discern, in conversation with others, how He has gifted you and how that might be expressed in ministry.

On the flipside, you should also discern your limitations. Again, some are more suited for one ministerial role over another. For me, during seminary, and in my earliest season of ministry, I sensed two particular weaknesses – youth ministry and counseling ministry. I love children, including teenagers, but I sensed God had wired me to best minister to adults. I trusted that as I faithfully ministered to parents, it would lead to healthier families and therefore healthier adolescents.

Even by way of personality, I connected better with senior adults than teenagers. I felt more comfortable visiting the shut-ins and making hospital visits than hosting lock-ins and pizza parties.

Similarly, I struggled with counseling sessions. To be clear, I believe a pastor must be able to counsel church members. I’ve maintained that discipline and am genuinely glad to counsel a church member for a session or two. And yet I have often found ongoing sessions to yield diminishing returns for the one I’m trying to help.

For me, then, studying and preparing sermons, leading the congregation and ministry staff, and shepherding families was more natural and aligned with my gifting. In the same way, friend, seize ministry opportunities that will align with your gifts – and dodge those that will depend on your limitations.

ENDORSEMENTS

This is exactly the right book for seminary students—or anyone considering a call to ministry. Jason Allen wonderfully combines the most practical observations and the most passionate encouragement for those called to serve the church—and are therefore called to prepare for that service. Sound wisdom is found here, and Jason Allen writes not only as a seminary president, but as one who knows the student experience firsthand.
R. Albert Mohler Jr.
President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

This book serves the health of tomorrow’s church. We need men who aspire to the work of pastor-elder and get a focused season of training to acquire the skills they will need to preach and teach well for a lifetime. Seminary is not about filling your freezer with fish but learning how to fish for yourself—acquiring the mindset and abilities you need to keep reading and learning and freshly teaching God’s Word for decades. I love that Jason shares this vision—and that he checks our subjective sense of “call” with the objective reality of marriage. If you are married, that calling is clearer and surer than any “call to ministry” you may be pursuing. From beginning to end, this book rings with such wisdom, and will not only help you stay Christian in seminary but perhaps even find what it means to flourish in this important season.
David Mathis
Executive editor, DesiringGod.org; pastor, Cities Church, Saint Paul; adjunct professor, Bethlehem College & Seminary, Minneapolis; author, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines; coauthor, How to Stay Christian in Seminary

This easily digestible work is both timeless and timely. Potential seminarians, you need to be asking every question listed in these pages. I found myself wishing that it had been written in 1991, when I needed it the most. Thanks to Jason Allen, you need not have any such regrets.
Bart Barber
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Farmersville, TX