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Advice for Seminoids

By timgombis
We had an interesting discussion in class yesterday about the challenges of enduring
church life while in seminary. My students are a joyful bunch who love Jesus and his
people, but they reflected honestly on the difficulty of dealing with the disconnects
between what they study in class and what they observe in church. It is soul-upsetting to
critically reflect on Christian realities in classes and then to participate in less-than-ideal
Christian practices on Sundays.
This led me to reflect a bit on my own struggles to maintain a proper posture toward the
church while inhabiting an environment of critical biblical and theological reflection.
Unfortunately, a seminary education can sometimes (though not always) produce a
phenomenon we might call the seminoid.
I should know. I was one.
(NOTE: Friends and family are NOT welcome to share stories in the
comments below!)
The seminoid has a superior attitude toward the laity, an arrogance toward average
Christians, a condescending posture toward the church. S/he is a know-it-all who trots
out impressive sounding words in small-group settings, critiques church practice, and
spends Sunday afternoons revisiting errors in the sermon and shortcomings in the
service.
In the seminoid, the process of critical thought has created a critical spirit.
So, some advice to seminoidsor, to anyone pursuing theological educationon how to
be a blessing to the church rather than a bane:
(1) Receive the church. Seminoids want to comment on the churchs failures, rebuke
it, set it right, fix it. Dont do that. Dont see yourself in all your theological wisdom as
a gift to the church. Learn what it means that the church is a gift to you. Receive
it as such and give thanks to God for it. You are the one who needs to grow in Christ,
not them. Of course, objectively, everyone needs to grow in Christ. But focus your
critical scrutiny on your own need to cultivate the character of Christ, and let the church
help you in that pursuit.
(2) Minister from your weakness. Seminoids, like others of us, assume that they
minister most effectively from their strengths. Thats a wrong assumption and a
perverted vision of spiritual gifts. Its counter-intuitive, but we minister most
effectively from our weakness. Jesus told Paul that power is perfected in
weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), which led him to discover that when I am weak, then I am

strong (2 Cor. 12:10). Now, you are indeed a gift to the church, but dont assume that
you know how you are a gift to the church. That needs to be a long process of
discovery, and others will probably see it before you. If you think you know, youre
probably wrong. I say this to seminoids because your initial assumption may be that you
bless the church by being its instructor, its doctor, diagnosing its wrong theology and its
malpractice, and prescribing right theology and proper practice. If you do this, you will
not bless the church. You will burden it.
(3) Mentor a jr. high kid. Find a kid in your church (or in your neighborhood) in a
single-parent home and become his or her mentor. They wont want to hear you
discourse on prioritizing biblical atonement metaphors, rhetorical strategies in LukeActs, the presence or absence of imputation language in Paul, or historical causes of the
demise of mainline denominations. Theyll probably want to see if fart noises make you
laugh, if you can hit a free throw with your eyes closed, and if you care that theyve been
hurt by the class bully. This is good for you. Itll help you avoid taking yourself too
seriously. Itll remind you that the aim of your theological education is to
make you better at spending time with such people for whom Jesus gave his
life.
Never forget that Jesus highly commends spending time with jr. high kids (Matt. 19:1315) and strongly condemns public displays of spirituality (Matt. 6:5-6).
(4) Think eschatologically. Imagine yourself in the future as a much wiser 60 yearold. As your future self, reflect a bit on how you treated others, how you related to the
church. You do not want to be an old person with regrets that you hurt people, turned
some off to the faith because of arrogance, or discouraged them with ill-considered
criticisms.
(5) Consider silence. Memorize proverbs on remaining silent rather than talking
(Prov. 10:19; 13:3; 17:27-28; James 1:19). I have a handful of regrets for saying
something hurtful or stupid in ministry contexts. I dont have any regrets about biting
my tongue.
(6) Meditate on Scripture. Memorize passages about humility and servant-hood
(e.g., Mark 10:45; Phil. 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 4), along with Proverbs about the speech patterns
of the wise (e.g., Prov. 12:18, 23). Draw on Scriptures that the Spirit may use to orient
your character according to Jesus. Do not memorize texts that you can use in theological
debates to buttress your pontifications.
(7) Love the church like God loves the church. Remember that God gave his life
for the church (Acts 20:28), that he loves his people. If Jesus showed up at your church,
he would likely look past your churchs faults and express his outrageous love for its
messed-up members. Youd rather have Jesus say amen to your expressions of delight
in his people rather than whats your problem? when you note their many
shortcomings.