As I’ve mentioned, Danny Zacharias has written a book titled Surviving and Thriving in Seminary: A Practical Guide for the Wide-eyed and Mystified that you can receive for free from Amazon.com. (To learn more about how to get it, go here. If you comes across this interview after June 25th, 2013, don’t worry, it is listed at $2.99, which is still very inexpensive!) I asked Danny if he’d be willing to answer a few questions about his book and about being a seminarian. He obliged!
(1) What is the message of your book?
The book contains lots of little messages rather than one central message. I wrote the book to try and provide some wisdom and guidance for seminary students. Life is so hectic today and there are lots of things clamoring for student’s attention. In the midst of that reality, seminary need to remain a priority.
There are lots of changes that occur in the life of a seminary student. Many of these things don’t really get talked about, and students often have to learn the hard way. I’m hoping that this book can help them recognize and be proactive in some of these matters.
(2) Why did you write it?
I really tried to make the title say it all. There are some seminary students that come in and simply do not survive. There are other students that come in begrudgingly or do not fully embrace the experience. I would see that as going through the motions, but certainly not thriving. I want students who are going to seminary to fully embrace the experience, to learn all they can, and to come out the other side as a better person, equipped for the challenges of ministry. There is mental preparation involved; a proper mindset is needed; productivity is important; and technology can be leveraged to help the process.
(3) What is the most important thing a person can do to succeed as a new seminarian?
I have a chapter in the book titled “you have to own it.” I think that title summarizes a big message of the book because it is about mindset. You have to own it when it comes to your financial reality. You have to own it when it comes to doing assignments properly. You have to own it when it comes to managing your life and time. No one is as invested in your education as you. If you’re in seminary, you are in the midst of fulfilling your call by God — so own it.
(4) What are the perks of going to seminary, especially at a time when many churches do not require academic degrees for employment and when many seminary graduates struggle to find jobs?
While ministry training and preparation may take many forms today, it shouldn’t be ignored or fast-tracked. Christian ministry is relational and incarnational. The enduring value of seminary education is that you are choosing to study with people who have achieved excellence in particular fields. Rubbing shoulders with like-minded peers and choosing to learn under wise people should not be devalued. As a global community and temple of the Holy Spirit, we also need to put some trust in the collective wisdom of our faith family. People who are passionate about the growth of God’s kingdom pray about and decide upon the curriculum of your local seminary. Trust their wisdom. The Judeo-Christian tradition has always taken education very seriously. Just because we now live in an instant-gratification society does not mean we ought to subject the training of future pastors to that mold.
(5) What are some of the greatest dangers faced by a seminarian?
Seminary students are in an interesting position, because they feel called by God to do ministry and quite often are already in ministry. In their desire to minister to people, their education often takes a back seat because of very real needs that they want to help with. Life becomes a balancing act with very little margin, and stress can become a huge problem.
Another danger is not understanding how seminary will affect relationships. A frank discussion on this doesn’t often happen in seminaries and I hope to fill that gap.
(6) If you could redo your seminary studies what one thing would you change?
I didn’t own it when it came to my finances. I’m open about this in the book. This was my biggest failure. I probably would have gone to seminary part-time and work part time instead of relying on student loans—or I would have insisted my wife work 2 jobs to support me (just kidding). It was a huge mistake, and I’ll be bondage to my debtor for many more years.
(7) Finally, considering all these things, why do you think a prospective or active seminarian should read your book? What do you think it might offer them that they’d miss if they don’t read it?
As one of my Amazon reviewers said, often people go to seminary thinking it is Sunday school 2.0. It isn’t. Having someone walk you through that a little bit before can help ease the transition to studying the Bible academically.
I had another early reader who was a seminary grad tell me that many times through the book she said to herself, “I learned that the hard way!” Seminary orientation doesn’t tell you that your relationship with your spouse may change because of your theological education; they don’t tell you you may struggle with your faith; that you will struggle to keep your kids a priority. I’m a firm believer in going into a situation as prepared as you can be, and I hope this book helps in that regard.
On the practical level, I’ve done two seminary degrees, I’m now a seminary prof, I’m a Ph.D. Student, and I’m a bit of a tech ninja. I know the skills needed to succeed in seminary as well as tools that can help. This practical advice will be helpful to anyone at any stage of seminary studies.
Finally, students just need a pep-talk once in awhile. A voice that can sympathize but still call them to be the best they can be. Another Amazon reviewer said that if he were to do seminary over again, he’d read the book at the beginning of each semester. Might be overkill, but I agree that often we need to remind ourselves of what we already know.