Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why I Quit Seminary

I don't like quitting.  Generally, I believe that once something is started, it needs to be finished.  Of course, when it comes to various projects or cleaning around the house that are incomplete and spread out all over the place, I haven't actually quit doing them; I'm just "taking a break" or "saving them for later" so that I don't have to put them away.

I began seminary in the Fall of 2003, with some trepidation.  I knew that God was calling me to do this but I didn't know where it would lead as I really wasn't comfortable with the idea of being a pastor or giving sermons (I had a big fear of public speaking).  All I knew was that I had an insatiable hunger and thirst for studying the Bible and the only place to learn more was seminary.

I took classes via the seminary's online program and only enrolled part-time as I had a full-time job as a legal assistant and a part-time job as my church's "Young Adult Coordinator".  It was an adjustment to go back to being a student.  Even though I'd only been out of college for two and a half years, it was difficult to get back into the routine of studying all the time.  Despite that, I enjoyed my classes and enjoyed learning new things.

And I really enjoyed letting people know that I was a seminary student.  I wanted people to know that yes, I was in seminary, and, yes, I was considering becoming a pastor.

In the spring of 2005, I made my third cross-country move, from New Mexico to Indiana (the first two were Connecticut to Utah and then Utah to New Mexico).  With the stress of moving I chose not to take any classes that semester but was then anxious to begin again in the fall.  I took classes in the fall and then registered for Christian Doctrine and Hebrew in the spring.  I was actually excited for Hebrew; I had a few Orthodox Jewish friends who I knew I could count on to help me in learning it and I desperately wanted to be able to read the Hebrew Scriptures (I tend not to use the term "Old Testament" because to me it makes it sound outdated and irrelevant) in Hebrew.

The class was extremely difficult for me (as was Greek when I'd attempted to take it a prior semester).  As big of a proponent of online education that I am, I don't know that languages are meant to be learned that way, even with audio files available.  Or it could just be my own limitations).  I would cry when I would come home from work and have to study Hebrew because I just wasn't getting it.

I also felt that I was so immersed in studying that I wasn't being very effective in life.  I was not enjoying activities I previously had enjoyed such as the Bible studies I led or the ballet class I took because all I could really think about was how much studying I had to do.  I wondered why I was pursuing something that only benefited me personally in an intellectual way.  I thought about how if I had to give up any of the other things in my life, it would feel as if I was giving up on relationships and giving up on helping people grow in their faith.  And isn't that what ministry is for?  Shouldn't that be more important?  I couldn't see putting off "real" ministry until I had a degree and/or ordination.  Real ministry is something that should happen every day, not something that should wait for later.

I made my decision and this is the note I sent to my seminary as well as to the session of my church when I decided to quit:
I have decided to withdraw from seminary.  This is a decision that I have given a lot of thought, prayer, and tears to.  I have loved being in seminary.  I have loved the new ideas and new ways of thinking to which I have been exposed.  I have loved the challenges it has brought me.  But I now think it is time to step away from it.  I am doing too many things in my life and I am very drained.  I have often taken on way too many things and I think I am finally learning a lesson to not do that anymore.  I think that by leaving seminary I will be able to better serve in other areas of my life.  I will be able to do a few things well rather than a lot of things half-heartedly.  I am doing this knowing that I can always return to school someday in the future, but for now, it's not the season in my life to continue.  As I have made this decision, I have felt a lot of sadness, but also a sense of relief and the feeling that a huge weight is being lifted from me.  Peace and joy has been missing from my life lately, and I can feel it beginning to return.  I am excited about continuing to read and study on my own without the deadlines for assignments, papers, and quizzes.  I feel a sense of freedom that I do not have to spend so much time studying; that I can be free to spend time with people.  I still feel my vocation is in ministry; it just may be that it is not in "professional" ministry.  
One thing that continued to puzzle me even after I quit was "why had God called me to seminary just to call me to quit it as well?"

I think there were a couple of different reasons.  One, at the time I began seminary I was struggling with some issues of faith and doubt.  One class in particular was immensely useful in helping me work out some of those issues.  Two, a few years later I somehow came to the conclusion (I really wish I could remember the events surrounding my conclusion) that had I continued in seminary, I very likely would have continued in pride as well.  Liking the fact that I knew things that other people didn't and that I was learning things that other people weren't is not really a good thing to combine with ministry.

Someday, maybe I will finish a seminary degree (though I doubt it will be an MDiv).  This time, though, I hope I'll have more clarity going into it as to what I want to do with it and more humility while learning.


Jean said...

I think it is experiences like these that show us what we value and what we're willing to sacrifice. I have had many of these experiences and am grateful to the clarity they gave me...even if it was in a roundabout way. And sometimes, as I've learned, it can be "Yes that is a good thing for you to do...just not right now!"

Kelly said...

I think that the "just not right now" is becoming more and more difficult for many people to understand since we live in such a time when everything is immediate.