I talk here a lot about things we can do as Worship Leaders to grow in our knowledge, craft, and leadership. However, there may be a cap on how much self improvement and development we can do on our own. There is a lot to be said for a great mentor or even online courses, but what about the traditional option: Seminary.
I personally decided to go to seminary, but we’ll get to my story in a bit. It feels like I talk to Worship Leaders almost weekly about whether seminary is the right option for them or not. Especially heading into a new year, this has been a hot topic of conversation recently.
Since this has been on my radar, I wanted to take some time to speak directly to Worship Leaders about whether seminary is the right option for them and maybe what might be the right next step for you!
First, let me tell you a little about my story. In undergrad, I ended up (after SEVERAL changes) majoring in Philosophy & Religion with an emphasis on Religion at a Liberal Arts college (Go Seahawks!). Right after I graduated, I started working full-time for a church. After considering it for a year or so, I decided to start seminary to get my Master of Divinity (aka the Pastor degree).
I attended Liberty University online, mostly because it was a great education at a great price, with a lot of flexibility built in. I was able to zoom through my degree program, but about halfway through my program, I ended up not working at a church. I was at a crossroads.
Do I finish a degree that I might never use professionally, or do I pivot to a degree that is a little more practical outside the church? I decided to pivot, and ended my seminary work halfway through with a Master of Religion with emphasis in Worship Studies. I then started to work on my M.B.A., also through Liberty.
Why do I tell you all that? Because I think its important to keep in mind that even the best laid plans can change. Your life will change while you’re in school. Your job situation while change while you’re in school. Its important to keep some perspective and to make decisions with your best outcome in mind, rather than bulldozing ahead because its what you started out to do.
With that said, let me make 3 statements about seminary for anyone, not just Worship Leaders:
Don’t Let It Be a Fallback.
Seminary shouldn’t be something that you do just because you don’t know what else to do. If you don’t get a full-time ministry job right out of college, don’t just default into going to seminary and racking up even more student loans because you don’t know what else to do.
Just like any other post-graduate education, it needs to be an intentional decision with a desired outcome. There are WAY too many people who go to seminary & grad school just to delay growing up in the real world. There are also a lot of people who go to seminary & grad school because they know that’s the right next step for them. Please, be a part of that second group.
Know Why You’re Doing It.
To piggy back on the first statement, you should truly KNOW why you want to go through seminary. Honestly, I started seminary for two reasons. First, I wanted what seminary could offer me: a structure education to deepen my understanding and practice of ministry & God.
Second, at the church I was serving at the time, I knew that I would never be able to be considered a pastor until I had a degree on the wall. This wasn’t a denomination thing, but rather a culture thing. Unfortunate but sometimes true, especially with us younger folks in ministry.
If you can’t point to why you want to go through seminary, then its probably not the right step for you. Intentionality is everything, and this holds true for academics. This is especially relevant to those of you who will choose to work and go to school, either online or residentially. If you don’t intentionally know why you want to be in seminary, then you’re not going to want to work for it when it gets really difficult.
Seminary Isn’t For Everyone.
Yup, I said it. And I’m not specifically talking academically either. I really enjoyed my seminary experience, and I would do it all again. However, I don’t think that everyone who is going to serve in ministry NEEDS to go to seminary. I believe that everything learned in seminary can be beneficial for ANY believer, but I don’t believe that God calls everyone to go through something like seminary.
Is it helpful? Yes! Is it necessary for successful ministry? No!
Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way, how can you tell if seminary IS the right next step for you? Here are 4 questions you can answer to help you find your way:
(Please note that these are NOT meant to be 4 checkboxes to clear, but rather 4 questions to help you process your own thoughts about seminary for you.)
1. What Will Seminary Help You Do?
This question is all about motive. Do you want to be ordained, but your denomination requires a certain level of education? Then seminary makes a lot of sense. However, if you just want to know more about the Bible, then maybe seminary isn’t your only option. Know the purpose of seminary for you.
2. Can You Do _______ Without Seminary?
Now that you understand what you think seminary will DO for you, consider if you can DO THAT without seminary. For example, if you want to get ordained but first need more education like above, then you can’t do that without seminary. However, if you just want to know more about the Bible, there are LOADS of ways to do that without seminary. This helps you verify if seminary is the BEST option for you.
3. How Will Seminary Impact Your Life?
Consider how seminary is going to change your life, in the very real, practical, now sense. Your choice to attend residentially or online will dictate the time part of it, and add on all the studying/reading you’ll be doing as well. How will this impact your time with family, friends, or doing anything else? How will this impact the margin you have at work? You need to consider these things BEFORE you make your decision.
4. How Will You Be Paying for Seminary?
This might seem crass to some of you, but some of you might just be dumb (still love you). If you feel like God is calling you to go to seminary, but you can’t afford to do it financially, then maybe it’s not the right move for you. I’m not saying that loans are out of the question, but if you can’t afford the payments afterwards, then don’t do it. Over-spiritualizing a stupid financial decision doesn’t make it wise.
Hopefully this has helped you to start the conversation or clarify your thoughts on seminary for you, Worship Leader.
My one last comment on seminary for Worship Leaders is that most programs are woefully behind on helping us with our practical duties, especially with the modern, band-driven worship teams. I have had to teach myself most things things that I do daily (including Music Production, Creative Planning, Planning Center Software, etc) because it wasn’t taught in seminary.
Please don’t hear me say that a theology of worship and church history aren’t important parts of seminary, because they are PARAMOUNT!
However, I believe that MOST seminary programs need to wake up and shift to help prepare worship leaders for the tasks of today. Things like songwriting, recording, general music production, and many other things should be taught to help round out a Worship Leader’s seminary experience for ministry today.