When I took my first seminary class, I was 22 years old, fresh out of college, and had been married for just over a month. I was completely out of my depth. Despite having a biblical studies undergrad degree, I didn’t even know the correct questions to ask—You might wonder then, Why would I recommend the same, green, wet-behind-the-ears experience to other young men? It’s because I believe the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
Men have historically pursued the ministry from a young age. It’s a relative novelty in Western Christianity for men to exit careers they’ve been laboring in to get educated at seminary in preparation for the pastorate. There are obvious benefits to being a more seasoned man—you have life experience comparable with your parishioners and a few more gray hairs to garner respect. But there are substantial advantages to pursuing seminary directly out of college when you’re still young.
When men enter seminary at a younger age, they’re able to labor in the ministry longer than if it’s a second career or a later-in-life calling. In a time when few ministers make it to their silver, let alone their golden, anniversaries in the ministry, a man’s faithfulness stands out as he perseveres over the long haul.
By beginning in ministry sooner, you have more time to grow and mature. You can’t learn everything there is to know about ministry even in the best seminaries. Every minister will learn on the job. If a laborer can get an earlier start in the practical work, he should have additional time to shepherd souls from a foundation of greater experience and maturity.
If a laborer can get an earlier start in the practical work, he should have additional time to shepherd souls from a foundation of greater experience and maturity.
2. Energy and Zeal
It’s been famously said that youth is wasted on the young. While this is a clever overstatement, the young do tend to have greater energy and ambition. Yet they face the temptation to be zealots. There’s good reason young men tend to be known for the “cage stage” of their theology during their seminary years. Aim to be zealous (Titus 2:14) but not a zealot, committed to Christ and his kingdom but not inflammatory about it.
When a young man uses his youth and zeal for the kingdom, he’s a force to be reckoned with. Spending such energy in the ministry, as opposed to other career paths, can be a great gift to the church. Young men, get out there in evangelism, outreach, visiting people, and spreading the love of Christ—the sooner the better.
Christ calls those who lay their hands to the plow not to look back (Luke 9:62). Because ministry is hard, there may be many times in a single year you want to walk away from it all. In such times, you must remember you haven’t put yourself into the ministry, and you can’t simply take yourself out. Yes, there are times when wisdom warrants (or even dictates) the need to step back. An unforeseen disability or caregiving responsibility may prevent a man or his family from giving what ministry requires. A broken relationship with a family member (especially between the pastor and his wife or child) may surface the need to focus on family. But to turn back of your own accord apart from such circumstances is to suggest the ministry is merely a job and a personal decision rather than a call. It’s not. Ordination is an act of God through his church to set a man apart for labor in the harvest field.
So how does starting one’s seminary career earlier help a young man stay focused on God’s call when difficulties come? If a man begins his training early, he’s likely to face fewer distractions from the ministry. But if you first train as something other than a minister, you may be tempted to fall back on that other career when ministry gets tough. Often skills, abilities, and experience outside the ministry carry greater financial prospects than the ministry does. While it’s not wrong for ministers to be educated or skilled outside the church, focusing on ministry earlier limits distractions and aids our endurance.
A younger man tends to have fewer commitments outside his studies. His roots aren’t as deep in a particular location. He can more readily relocate for the best seminary education, no matter the location. I believe community-grounded education will always be superior to online alternatives.
When a young man uses his youth and zeal for the kingdom, he’s a force to be reckoned with.
This relocation won’t be possible for all ministry candidates. But if you can manage it, opt to live among your professors, classmates, and a local church community and thus benefit from a more full-orbed seminary experience.
A young family tends to be more flexible as well. Instead of a new seminarian’s wife and children pivoting from a settled life, the family grows up together, laboring alongside one another in the ministry. Adaptation and change has a tendency to be easier when you’re young, and families will cherish the unifying experience of growing into ministry together. I’ve been amazed at how resilient our young children have been through multiple moves, but the older they get, the more connected they become to a community and place. As a result, it’s been harder to uproot.
It’s a privilege to serve Christ and his church; why wait to start? It’s a joy to study God’s Word; it’s a blessing to invest in the kingdom; it’s good to be mentored by godly professors and encouraged by your peer students; it’s a benefit to God’s people to see the younger generation rising up to serve. Why wouldn’t you want to do this as soon as possible? Young men, what are you waiting for? There may never be a better time to pursue seminary education than now!