Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Advice to First-Year TMS Students

In a couple of weeks I will begin my second year at The Master's Seminary. It's been one whirlwind of a first year, to be sure. I actually intended to blog much more about the experience at seminary than I have in the past, giving more personal updates and things like that, but I suppose that's not how it's gone. Maybe I'll seek to work more of that in during the second year.

In any case, one thing that I did do through this first year of seminary at Master's was, as I thought of them, to record various pieces of advice I'd offer to those incoming first-year students in the future. I kept these in their own document and added to them piece by piece, hoping that other guys might benefit from them in some capacity. They're a mix of the theoretical and the practical, the theological and the relational, the academic and the recreational. I do pray they're a benefit to you.

Also, if any of my seminary brothers are reading this, feel free to add your own insights in the comments section. I'd love to hear from you!

Without further ado, here they are.

  1. Don’t think that simply being in seminary fixes your spiritual life. If you struggle with consistent personal worship times, don’t think that just being around Christians, church, and talking about the Bible will cultivate rich and sweet fellowship with Christ. If anything, it makes it more difficult. "The same sun that melts the wax hardens the clay," as they say. In order to actively pursue that relationship with Christ, you need to make your morning worship time with Him a priority above everything else. However, don’t be legalistic with this, or it will implode on you. Don’t just clench your fists and grit your teeth and resolve to have 45 minutes with Christ each morning, so you can check it off your to-do list and feel good about yourself. Set times and everything. Plan. Be disciplined. But do that out of a loving, willful desire to see and savor more of Him.
  2. Budget time for absolutely everything. Assignments, devotional/worship/prayer time (both personal times and family times), time with your wife, Bible studies, service opportunities, even leisure. Everything. Being intentional is the key to maintaining proper priorities.
  3. Get ahead as much as you can. During the first week, if you have an assignment given on Tuesday, get it done that Tuesday if you’re able. Don’t worry about forgetting the content a week later. Don’t think that you should do the reading right before it’s due because otherwise you’ll forget. That’s not necessarily true. If you read well the first time, the material comes back to you as you discuss it.
  4. If you know of any reading assignments before the semester starts – assignments that are just going to be supplemental reading with no real interaction (e.g., you won’t have to do a paper or book review) – try to read them before the semester begins. You’ll be very happy to not have another thing to be concerned with at the end of the semester.
  5. Invest yourself most in learning the languages. Other disciplines (written and discussed in English!) can be studied and re-studied on your own with minimal frustration. The languages are the hardest to pick up in isolation. It’s definitely the most beneficial subject to do in a group.
  6. With Greek and Hebrew vocabulary, make your own flash cards, and say them out loud as you’re making them. It aids tremendously with retention. Cut 3x5 index cards in half, punch a hole through them, and get one of those 1.5" or 2" rings. Make one set of rings the “already memorized” set, and the other the “yet unmemorized” set. Review both, but review the ones you’ve already memorized much less frequently. One of the biggest time-consumers (and thus hindrances) in language learning is studying stuff you already know.
  7. Talk to pastors and professors. Ask them to have lunch with you, especially if you’d like to discuss an assignment (or ministry opportunity). Don’t hesitate here. They love to do it, they’re awesome to get to know, and usually you’ll get a free lunch! :-)
  8. Take some time off and enjoy lunch and fellowship with the guys around you. It’s easy – and often necessary! – to be a hermit in the library. But as you’re able, take an hour and a half and just hang out with your brothers. Talk about classes, assignments, ministry, but also just be goofy. That brotherhood will be good for your soul. And do this outside of school too! Go over each other's houses, meet each other's families, and have meals with each other.
  9. If you’re going to worship and serve at Grace Community Church, pick a fellowship group early and stick to it. I spent the entire first semester shopping around, and I’m not recommending it. You may want to check out a couple before landing, and that’s fine. But in my experience you’ll find that they’re all generally awesome, but that each has a little something you won’t like about it, or will make you think it’s not a good fit. Go, commit to loving and serving people, pray, and Christ will mold your affections accordingly.
  10. Don’t think that your service at Grace Church will necessarily be through your fellowship group. It may and it may not. Take advantage of the plethora of ministry opportunities that you see advertised in Grace Today (e.g., Fundamentals of the Faith class, Jail ministry, Skid Row outreach, Homebound ministry, etc.).
  11. On a related note, start serving! Even if they’re menial tasks, go where there is a need and meet it. It’s very unlikely that you’ll walk right into a regular teaching opportunity. But if you are faithful in little things, when those making the decisions need someone to do something “bigger,” they’ll think of you as someone they can trust and count on to be faithful.
  12. If you want to be discipled by an older, godly couple (or, if you’re single, by an older, godly man), you’ve got to do the work to make that known. Scout a few couples (seriously!), track folks down, and ask them. No matter how cute you are, they won’t come to you.
  13. Create a folder on your desktop (or wherever you create folders) for interesting articles you come across and would like to read but don’t have time to. Save the articles in a Word document and read them when you have time (e.g., over Christmas break, over the summer, after seminary, etc.).
  14. Create an Amazon.com and/or Christianbook.com wish list. When pastors and professors recommend a book or commentary on a particular subject, check them out online or in the library, and if it seems like it would be helpful and a good addition to your library, add it to your wish list. Purchase titles from time to time based on priority and as you have the means. Give the web address for your wish list to those who support your ministry.
  15. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, remember that seminary is not supposed to be your master, but your servant. It should not rule you, but should be a tool in your hand. If it begins to become too high of a priority in your life, it’s becoming an idol. Put away your idols from among you. My little cheesy, yet hopefully memorable, way of saying it is: Don’t be mastered by Master’s, be mastered only by the Master.
"Now after a long time
the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.
The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents,
saying, 'Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.'
His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave.
You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things;
enter into the joy of your master.'"
- Matthew 25:19-21 -


daveliving4Him said...

Thanks so much, Mike! I really appreciate your advice! I am going to print this off and will pass on your blog post to other guys I've met who are also just starting this year. I am really enjoying your blog!

Matt and Christy said...

Good advice, Mike. I wish that I had these points going into seminary!