Spiritual Floundering in Seminary

The Duke Chronicle ran an article this past week on the struggles of Divinity School students. I confess, When I saw the title, “Students Flounder at Divinity School,” I was expecting something about the academic challenges being faced afresh by so many students who had pastoral ministry, rather than academics, as their vocation.

But I was wrong. (See? You didn’t think I could ever admit to such a thing–but there it is!)

The article was about the students’ perception that they were withering up spiritually. Their souls are being sucked dry by the intense academic environment that does not provide nourishment for the whole person.

I have a couple of responses to this, and would love to hear your take as well.

First, I have a great deal of sympathy for the students. I have known, far too often, the disappointment from experiencing a void in pastoral leadership in my own life. I can very much relate to the sense that I need more direction and pastoral care than I am receiving.

The students are right to be aware of this dynamic and it is good that they recognize the needs they have that aren’t being met. These feelings of not having spiritual needs met can create a great deal of frustration in a seminary environment where, if anything, there seems to be a plethora of wise, godly persons with pastoral inklings all around–none of whom are serving as your pastor.

My second, thought, however, is this: if you are going to be a pastor, you are embarking on a lifetime in which nobody is going to pastor you.

For the rest of your life, it will be your responsibility to find wise mentors to pastor and challenge you; for the rest of your life, and spiritual accountability and encouragement you receive from a peer group will come only from any group of your own making.

Is it good for div school students and pastors to be alone? No. And that is why, as a preparation for a lifetime of ministry, I encourage all such students and pastors to go out of your way to create the relationships you need for long term spiritual health.

It may very well be that the school should be doing a bit more for you than it currently is. But if this is the case, the best course of action you can take is probably not a campaign to change the system of the school, but one to change the relational systems in your own life so that they start helping prop you up for a lifetime of ministry that will otherwise likely unfold without anyone being in charge of pastoring you.

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