This post is the third of a three part series. (Beginning, Middle, End) Owen Strachan is a Southern Seminary alumni and is presently a Ph.D. student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. You can also listen to our podcast interview with Owen reflecting on Southern Seminary.
The Seasons of a Seminarian: End
It scarcely seems possible. After several years, over thirty classes, and countless pages of books and tests and work assignments, the seminarian reaches the end of seminary. His hard work is over; his prayers have been heard; he has made it to the finish line. The final season is over.
But there is much that happens before graduation in the final season of seminary. The seminarian finishes up his classwork. He takes his final classes with his favorite professors, writes his last exegesis paper, listens to his final lectures. For many seminarians, this final season is about survival. One is tired, drained, and ready to finish the master’s degree. Some of the early glow of the education has worn off in the flood of work from the past few years, the end is in sight, and the seminarian seeks to simply complete his degree. Of course, he does so desiring to honor the Lord and the Lord’s faithfulness to him in the course of his degree. He does not merely go through the motions. But it would be wrong to say that he is not tired, and ready for a season of rest, and after that a challenge of fresh proportion and responsibility.
Many seminarians near the end finding that they are not ready just then to leave. It’s strange. Over the course of the degree, one comes to enjoy one’s city, one’s surroundings, one’s friends. If the beginning was slightly awkward, and the middle was marked by restlessness, in the final season of seminary the student finds a new emotion: sadness. He had not really noted the passing of time, the swiftness with which this season would give way to another, and he wonders in certain moments whether he really desires to move on. Though he once wondered whether he was cut out for this whole seminary thing, and whether it might not be best to simply go home and work in a church, now he wonders whether it really is time to leave. He knows and enjoys his professors, he’s benefiting from his classes, and he is comfortable. This is the surprising discovery. In a once-strange place, the seminarian now knows a good degree of comfort. Louisville—or wherever he is—now feels something like home. After all, he has a good deal of sweat invested in this place, a good deal of pain and effort and joy stowed in this place. Now, as he contemplates what is next, he hesitates a little at the thought of leaving.
What is next, after all, is so large, so unexplored, so uncertain that it can be daunting to consider it. Though a good number of students look forward to missions or teaching or musical involvement, pastoral ministry looms large for many seminarians. Yet the field of churches is so wide and far-ranging that the student struggles to figure where exactly he should go. He is excited when he considers the opportunity to minister to the Lord’s church, but he is also unsure of where he should land. More than this, he is unsure of who will take him. He feels his youth keenly, his lack of experience, his need for mentoring and growth, and yet here he is, presenting himself as the shepherd of a congregation. It all seems a bit out of hand, but the seminarian knows, in the depths of his heart, that this is good, and that he must go, and that his way is guided a sure hand whose guidance does not fail.
So he wraps up his classes, and says his goodbyes, and sets a course for his family. He is a leader of his family, the head of his household, and he is determined to embrace his masculine responsibilities, to inhabit his manhood, to make a way for himself and his loved ones. He walks his campus, goes to his familiar haunts, sees well-known faces, and constantly says “goodbye.” Before he leaves and finds an exciting new way, he endures the sadness of saying goodbye to people, many of whom he will see very little for the rest of his life. The season is a difficult one. The seminarian feels in a fresh way the pain of separation. But he gets through it and readies himself for the future.
Oddly enough, it was very hard for me to leave my workplace. I loved working for Dr. Mohler and working with my fellow employees. Work that is close to one’s heart is no pain but a joy, and one discovers this in leaving such employ. It was also hard to leave my church. When one has been in a church for three years and served in it with a body of people, one has many rhythms built into life that are disturbed by departure. On future Sunday mornings, it will be quite odd to not get up and drive to Third Avenue Baptist Church. In my time here, I have seen the Lord bring health and hope to Third. The church now has a godly, gifted pastor and a solid base, and I am excited to see what comes of the church’s efforts to reach Old Louisville and the University of Louisville with the gospel. If you are reading this and are wondering where to settle in and serve, consider Third Avenue.
Looking back, I wrestled with many seminarians as to the pace of seminary. I decided early on to press through at a good clip in order to move on to whatever was next in the Lord’s plan. No decision is perfect on this question, but I would encourage fellow seminarians to “prosecute” their degrees. I would have preferred going slower (two classes a semester, say) for the contemplation afforded such a pace, but such a pace puts one’s family through the ringer. There will be time to read and study after seminary—not as much as one might like, perhaps, but there will be time nonetheless. I did take my father-in-law’s advice to focus hard on my courses and not stretch myself and my family thin by trying to do a great deal of ministry. Though it is entirely natural and good for seminarians to desire to do a great deal more ministry than they can, it is best to relax and allow oneself to soak up all the knowledge one can in seminary. This ought not to be done to the exclusion of ministry, and one should seek to be involved in some kind of regular ministry, but it is my personal opinion that seminarians should simultaneously work hard to finish their degrees quickly and also get as much as they can from their studies. This cannot usually be done by taking on a great deal of ministry commitment.
The end of seminary is a time for many things, but it is almost preeminently a time for thanksgiving, thanksgiving directed both to men and God. I will not use this public forum for many words of thanks, but I will say a few. I am profoundly thankful to Dr. Al Mohler for the opportunity to work under him and learn from him. He is a man of godly character, great wisdom, and considerable intelligence. He taught me a great deal by both word and example, and he gave me an opportunity to earn my keep by doing something I loved—research. He taught me to think about the world in new categories—theologically, along the lines of gender, strategically. I want to thank Dr. Greg Wills for his kindness to me and the excellent training in history he provided me. If you are a new SBTS student, I heartily encourage you to take Dr. Wills for as many history classes as you can. He does not lecture in his classes, he orates. He does not recount history, he vivifies it. He is one of the best teachers and men at SBTS, and you would be cheated by not taking him. I want to thank Bruce Keisling, the Seminary librarian, who is a man of keen insight and careful reflection. Bruce was very kind to me, and I am grateful. I am so thankful for my father-in-law, Dr. Bruce Ware, who is a wonderful man and an excellent scholar and teacher. I count it a privilege to be his son-in-law, and I hope to measure up to his godliness, though I question whether I truly can. I am so thankful for my parents, Andrew and Donna Strachan, who are so generous in their love and so forgiving in their consideration, and my woman of noble character and great personal beauty, Bethany Strachan, my wife. God has given me all of these people as gifts, and for that and for a thousand other reasons I am most thankful to Him. He is a great God, and generous beyond belief and deserving.
And so seminary comes to a close. The classes are finished, the work is turned in, the friends have been hugged, and the course is set. Prayers are or will soon be answered, direction has been given, and now it is time to leave. For my wife and me, this is a sad but happy time. We are sad to leave so many friends and our family, but we are excited about what is next. We have made our beginning, we have completed the middle, and now we have made our end. I learned a great deal at Southern, benefited from my professors, found my love for the church strengthened, and, most importantly, survived the rigors of an MDiv. With thanks to God for all this, we move to a new season of life, but not before one more goodbye. Goodbye, Southern. Goodbye, friends. Thank you, Lord, for this place, for this people, for this season. It has been richly blessed, and we will remember it with thanksgiving for all of our days. The End.