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Monday
Jun092014

Knowing Where the Rocks Are: What Seminary Can’t Teach You, But Can Prepare You To Learn

Dr. Tim Crutcher (‘95)
Professor of Church History and Theology
Southern Nazarene University
NTS Alumni Council, SNU Region Member-at-Large

It’s been almost twenty years since I graduated from Nazarene Theological Seminary. My journey since then has taken me across several continents in a variety of ministry settings, though most of my work has been focused on education in one way or another. Through it all, I have come to appreciate my seminary education more and more—not only so much for what seminary taught me, but for what seminary prepared me to learn.

Suppose you wanted to be a whitewater rafting guide. You wanted to take groups of eager and adventurous tourists down some challenging stretch of river and help give them the thrill of a lifetime. Before you could do that, however, you would need to know the river yourself. Now, you could just jump in a raft and plunge headlong down the river and see what happens. Chances are you’d learn something about that river, but chances are much better that you’d be spending most of your time and energy just trying to stay afloat. Your other alternative would be to study the river before you went down it—talking to other guides who’d run that river before you, looking at photos of the river from above, noting where the turns and bends occur, learning where the rocks are. Nothing, of course, can replace your actual, first-hand experience of that river, but chances are you’d learn a lot more—and learn a lot more quickly—if you studied up before you took that first plunge.

That’s what my seminary education did for me. In one sense, I learned a lot more about actual ministry in my first three years of doing ministry than I did in the three years I spent studying it at NTS. However, seminary prepared me well to learn what I needed to learn, and it would have taken me so much longer to learn those things had I just plunged in on my own. So, NTS did not teach me everything I needed to know about the Bible, but it helped me to hone my skills in interpreting the Bible, allowing me to read it much more productively and preach from it much more authentically. Seminary did not teach me everything I needed to know about evangelism or cross-cultural ministry, but without the tools that Seminary gave me, I’m not sure I would been able to learn on site what I needed to learn in order to minister effectively and share the gospel in a culture other than my own. Seminary did not give me everything I needed for ministry, but what it gave me enabled me to begin far, far better than I could have on my own.

Anytime we want to learn something, we need to know what we are looking for. Very few professions function well with the orientation that says, “I’ll know it when I see it.” Life is, and will always be, our very best teacher—and I say that as someone who has spent nearly his whole life in the world of formal education. However, we cannot learn what life has to teach us unless we come properly prepared, unless we know what to look for and what to do with it when we find it. Nazarene Theological Seminary gave me those tools for ministry, and I’m convinced it has made my life of ministry much more effective that it would have been otherwise. I’m also convinced that I have not yet exhausted the use of those tools. I expected that twenty years from now will find me even more grateful for my time at NTS than these last twenty years have been. Again—not so much for what Seminary taught me, but for the way it prepared me to learn.

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