Seminary and the Soul

Someone recently made this comment:

“People do what you inspect; not what you expect.”

For weeks now this simple statement has echoed in my head like a yodeler’s mountain call.

It forces me to examine life anew.

I begin with seminary.

Seminary has surprised me. The things I thought I would learn are quite different from the things I’m actually learning. For example, I expected seminary to be a rich season of abiding spiritual intimacy with the Father. Certainly professors expect their students to remain “connected to the vine.” They expect us to maintain all the good Christian disciplines.

But I’ve discovered no one really inspects those key spiritual disciplines. Here’s a short list of things that do get inspected:

  • Proper formatting for papers
  • Proper identification of Greek and Hebrew morphology and syntactical categories
  • Ability to synthesize various views in order to better articulate your own
  • Ability to read, comprehend, and process about one book a week (on average) for 16 consecutive weeks.
  • Proper formatting of exegetical, theological, and homiletical outlines (Say what?!)

Now all these skills are beneficial; in their proper place they are, in fact, quite important. It’s just that an inordinate focus on these academic exercises can give seminary students a false sense of security in ministry. Their measure of “success” in the classroom does not necessarily translate to “success” in the field.

I move to the Church.

The phrase causes me to think about what Northern American churches, in general, inspect:

  • Annual giving reports and budgets
  • Attendance reports
  • Number of converts
  • Number of folks (local or distant) who benefit from church programs
  • Number of volunteers and/or paid church staff

What’s interesting is these two lists share a common denominator: each inspects the externals. No doubt external measurements can serve as indicators of the internal state of ones soul – but not always.

I’m living proof…

…and maybe you are too.

Externally, we are adept at putting on a good front. We successfully create pseudo-images of “togetherness,” even when our lives are a mess.

“People do what we inspect….”

Finally, I move to God.

The phrase also reminds me of what God inspects:

I Samuel 16:9 “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Hebrews 4:12 “The word of God…judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

God’s eye inspects the unseen. He peers beneath the external veneer and evaluates what matters most – the heart.

So what I am actually learning through seminary is that the health of my soul – that is the vitality of my walk with God through Jesus – is the single most important thing in ministry. I know…it’s not really rocket science.

But, I am learning (yet again) that no one else is responsible for my spiritual growth.

Seminary is not designed to nourish the soul like I originally thought. Rather, it is there to equip me in all those important external skills, which can be a great asset in ministry.

But if my soul remains broken, unhealed, untouched by the power of the Gospel, then I will never be able to give to others out of the overflow of my own heart.

I will never be able Jesus with skin on.

And I will never truly ministry to the souls of others.


Recommended Readings:

Barnes, M. Craig. The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009.

Crabb, Larry. Inside Out. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2007.

Nouwen, Henri J.M. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: Image Books, 1966.

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About Brian

committed to living life thoughtfully, joyfully, and Christianly
This entry was posted in Under the Hood: Soul Care. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Seminary and the Soul

  1. Rochelle says:

    I totally understand what you are saying. Will be praying for your personal walk as well as your studies. This is something we all struggle with I think. And as humans we feel the need to constantly be evaluating how we are doing no matter what it is. And because we cannot see what only God can see, we make up these external measurements. You’re right, sometimes they are good indicators, but sometimes they are not. It’s a good reminder that we are never in a position to judge someone else or their effectiveness in ministry.

    • Brian says:

      Rochelle: Thanks for praying for me specifically in this way. You make some great comments, but I especially like your last one, “It’s a good reminder that we are never in a position to judge someone else or their effectiveness in ministry.” I got to thinking last night after I posted this that if we “inspected” Jesus’ ministry with the metrics we use to evaluate the church, we might find ourselves sorely disappointed. And yet…

  2. Pingback: “Gravitas”: The Whole Soul | right lane reflections

  3. emily says:

    Hey Brian! Finally getting to check out your blog tonight, and I like what you’re saying with this one especially!! It is SO easy to put on a good front, use the right Christian language and think we’re all that and a bag of chips……but really, God sees all of our motives and intentions and it’s good to be reminded that we never fool Him. The awesome part though is that He loves us anyway!!

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