An Overture for New (and Returning) Seminarians
The fulfillment of your calling is not just a future possibility. The fulfillment of your calling to ministry is something you are responsible to pursue and demonstrate in the here and now.
We meet to part, but part to meet
When earthly labors are complete,
To join in yet more blest employ,
In an eternal world of joy.
-Basil Manly, Jr., “Soldiers of Christ, In Truth Arrayed” (1860)
Welcome new (and returning) students!
There are few things more joy-inducing than seeing our campus enlivened with your presence and energy each August. You are the embodiment of Southern Seminary’s mission!
By God’s grace, we are a community of believers who “meet to part, and part to meet.” As such, we tend to dwell a great deal about what is to come, and reasonably so. Still, we do not — we must not — allow future prospects to obscure our present calling.
Your time is seminary is not merely a means unto a credential. It is a means unto Christian faithfulness and virtue.
As your faculty and administration, our prayer is that we would prompt you to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (Col. 1:10) while you are here with us — and that as a providentially gathered community here at Southern, we strive together side by side for the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1:27); and grow up in every way, into Christ (Eph. 4:15). We are not a gathered local church, but we are most definitely fellow members of God’s church, providentially gathered.
Thus, as this new academic year begins, let us reflect upon what seminary really is, and what seminary really is for — especially in light of your calling as shepherds and leaders in God’s church.
Our seminary hymn, written for Southern’s first graduating class, begins with a missional call: “Soldiers of Christ in truth arrayed, a world in ruins needs your aid. A world by sin, destroyed and dead. A world for which the Savior bled.”
Seminary has been described as the equivalent to what in the military is called “boot camp” for soldiers — an intensive period of preparation prior to one’s “real” deployment in which one “actually” fulfills his or her calling.
In a sense, this is certainly true. This is indeed a unique time in your life in which you are devoting significant energy and resources into learning and being equipped for the stewardship that God will entrust to you in years to come.
But you must not fail to take heed of this also: the fulfillment of your calling is not just a future possibility. The fulfillment of your calling to ministry is something you are responsible to pursue and demonstrate in the here and now.
You are “called” to ministry in the present tense. This is the time for you to seek opportunities to serve and lead and enrich God’s church, even as you maintain your academic responsibilities. You are called now to contribute to the ministries of your local churches. You are called now to encourage one another as fellow students and members of this beloved community. You are called now to be salt and light in the places you live, and in the places you work.
We are, by definition and by commission, a learning community; and we believe that “learning” entails growing as whole people in godly character and wisdom as fellow adopted brothers and sisters. This necessarily and emphatically means that you, as students here, are not merely “receivers” of knowledge and insight. You should be alert, therefore, about a strange intoxication to which seminarians are prone to succumb — the intoxication of “being fed.”
You are here to be fed. But you are not here merely to be fed. That would be incompatible with the whole ethic of the Christian life. This is why Paul says in Colossians: “as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (2:6). This is why James says, “be doers of the word, not merely hearers” (1:22). This is why the writer of Hebrews says that “solid food is for the mature, who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice” (5:14).
If these truths apply to the Christian’s life and calling generally, they most definitely apply to the seminarian’s life and calling, particularly.
Thankfully, I can assure you that you will see these truths depicted in the lives of the extraordinary men and women who you will get to know as your professors here at Southern. These people do have powerful and impressive brains. But they are not brains. They are soldiers of Christ.
You are here to develop competencies in theological knowledge and understanding, to be sure. But you are not here merely to develop theological competencies for the sake of merely being “theologically sound.” You are here, rather, to grow in theological competency, in order to be theologically sound, for the sake of leveraging yourselves in real ways, through real life, in the real world, in order to be living depictions and manifestations of the real gospel.
So then, brothers and sisters, while we are here, as long as we are here: “…let us not love merely with word and talk, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18), …because a world in ruins needs our aid.
Soldiers of Christ, arrayed in truth: Welcome (or welcome back!) to Southern Seminary.
We, your faculty and administration, count it our greatest privilege and honor and purpose: to walk alongside you throughout your journey as students here—as you pursue your calling in the here and now, and as you prepare to realize your calling throughout the rest of your lives.
And by the way, speaking of the rest of your lives …
Let me encourage you to have in mind what you hope to come next in the course of your vocational calling — maybe a 5-10-20 year plan. The Holy Spirit, after all (I’m fond of reminding people as a worship leader…) is just as competent to do his work through planning and forethought as He is through spontaneity and no thought.
Meanwhile though, you must not forget that it’s God who establishes our steps (Prov 16:9)—and it’s required of us to be willing to say in any scenario: “here I am, send me.”
And so, even as you plan, hope, and prepare, don’t be unwilling to explore and consider all sorts of potential opportunities that may emerge or be suggested to you. The reality is that God is preparing some of you to be flung into places and contexts for gospel ministry that you do not yet even know exist. God is preparing some of you for positions of influence and redemptive power that you would (or should) feel prideful and presumptuous to even think about.
In any case, we can be sure that “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it” (Phil 1:6). Praise be to God!