Surviving and Thriving in Seminary: An Academic and Spiritual Handbook


This new book is full of good advice from two young guys who recently completed doctoral degrees and are now full-time professors:

Danny Zacharias and Benjamin K. Forrest. Surviving and Thriving in Seminary: An Academic and Spiritual Handbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2017.

Also available from Logos Bible Software.

25 excerpts:

  1. This is a no-nonsense guide to success in seminary. We are not going to teach you theology or give you an introduction to biblical studies; that is what your courses will do. Instead, we want to talk to you about things that should be covered in every seminary orientation. (p. 1)
  2. Most students in other fields of study take in what they learn from their professors and textbooks with almost total openness. They can do this because what they learn doesn’t (usually) challenge them to think differently on a topic that is near and dear to their heart. But in seminary, you are studying things you have previously internalized: the Christian faith, the stories of the Bible, your personal theology, and your ministry future. (p. 8)
  3. Be willing to entertain another perspective, even if you do not ultimately agree. (p. 9)
  4. [on learning Hebrew and Greek] Imagine what it would be like to go from a thirteen-inch black-and-white television to a twenty-seven-inch color television, and then finally sit in a theater with 3-D glasses and watch a movie on the big screen. (p. 16)
  5. New students are often learning English grammar and learning the new grammar of Greek or Hebrew at the same time. (p. 19)
  6. Many students enter into a dry time in their seminary careers because they think their spiritual formation ought to revolve around their feelings; yet in seminary, they find that the typical approach by professors is to encourage their minds. (p. 26)
  7. Gossip, complaining, and grumbling are toxic to you and those around you. Instead, choose to learn what you can from your assignments, rather than complaining and wondering why you have to do them. Professors with many years of ministry and teaching experience have decided that these classes, these books, these assignments, and these papers are worth your time and will prepare you for a life of ministry. (p. 42)
  8. Your life will always be busy; just ask any pastor and they will probably pine for the stress-free days of seminary. (p. 47)
  9. [re the “I’ve got to study” card] This is a legitimate requirement in seminary, but if you are going to play this card (which you will need to do on a regular basis), make sure you are actually studying like a steward entrusted with the most precious commodity—time. (p. 52)
  10. In general, the people you surround yourself with have a great impact on your spiritual formation. Your peers in seminary should encourage you to become more committed, devotional, rigorous, and passionate. (p. 53)
  11. We and most seminary professors would rather you get a C in class than get a C in parenthood. (p. 57)
  12. The first step to taking responsibility is recognizing that if you are studying full time at a seminary, it is your job. Treat it that way. Don’t sleep in just because your class starts in the afternoon that day. Get up early every day and get to it! If you are not in class, you should be doing work at home or in the library. If you set aside time to work on your own, you’ll start to notice that your evenings will be free much more often. You will also find that while your fellow students are cramming, pulling all-nighters, or begging for extensions, you’ll be under far less stress because you managed your life well through the whole semester. Not only is it responsible to treat your studies like your full-time job, but it is also a necessity if you hope to have any semblance of life outside of study. (p. 68)
  13. A good rule of thumb is that at the graduate level, you should expect to put in three hours of work for every one hour in class. (p. 70)
  14. Your professors are busy. If you want to have a meeting with them, you need to take the initiative. This is doubly true if you are taking a directed study course or if you are a thesis student. Your professors have many students, are teaching numerous courses, are involved in their own research, and have administrative responsibilities. They are not in charge of your success—you are. So take charge and arrange meetings instead of waiting on your professors. (p. 72)
  15. By the end of your first week of class you should begin working on a major project, even if it is not due until the last day of class. So every day on your calendar there should be no wondering what to do—do your reading, then do your minor assignment(s), then do your major assignment(s). (p. 81)
  16. Commit yourself to a weekly routine that includes set-in-stone study blocks. Treating studies as your full-time job means not only committing yourself to being in class, but committing yourself to putting the time in outside of class. (p. 81)
  17. Are you working hard and being productive and efficient, or are you working for fifteen minutes, then checking Facebook, then reading for five minutes, then chatting for ten minutes, then texting someone, then working for fifteen minutes, and so on? (p. 82)
  18. Turn off all notifications (including email) on your computer. Same for your mobile device. (p. 86)
  19. Discipline in one domain often motivates discipline in another. Productive people are disciplined people, and that discipline should extend from school/work to our spiritual life, and also to how we treat our bodies. Establishing healthy habits of eating, sleeping, and exercising will not only help you excel in your studies but will make you the kind of person who influences others, and one who can effectively lead churches or ministries in the future. (p. 89)
  20. Your brain needs good food. (p. 90)
  21. Growing up, exercise may have been the means to the end of playing well, but today, exercise needs to become your actual end goal. … It gives us more energy. The analogy we like to use is that of a battery. We recharge our life battery through nourishing food, sleep, and exercise. People often mistakenly assume that exercise diminishes our energy, and it certainly feels that way when you are first attempting to get into an exercise routine. But over time, exercise actually energizes both your body and your mind. (pp. 91–92)
  22. A note on exercise and weight loss: While many people (particularly people who don’t exercise regularly) associate exercise with losing weight, the reality is that losing weight begins in the kitchen, not in the gym. In other words, exercise, even a quite strenuous routine, cannot counteract a high-calorie diet. If you want weight loss, a regular exercise routine will compound the effects of healthy eating, but it won’t usually erase the effects of poor eating. (p. 92n1)
  23. The saying that “a carpenter is only as good as his tools” is true in all of life. (p. 119)
  24. While you can find a lot online, particularly journal articles, books and book chapters still largely require a trip to the library. (p. 120)
  25. We failed miserably at the financial aspects of seminary! We are not, even now, free from our education debt. (p. 171)

Re #25, that’s a burden behind my school’s Serious Joy Scholarship—which every student receives.




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