Q. Should One Attend Bible School And/Or Seminary?
The question of whether or not one should attend Bible school and/or seminary is very important. Pursuing this path is demanding. It is challenging. It is costly (in many ways). And income resulting from future ministry may make the repayment of any student loans difficult.
In response, I think that the very first question which you must ask and answer is this: “What is my spiritual gift?”
This passage in 1 Corinthians 12 is foundational (though all of chapters 12-14 and crucial):
Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are different ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. (1 Cor. 12:4-7 NET)
We learn here that the entire Trinity is involved in the life and health and growth of the Church, and this is especially evident in the matter of spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit gives every believer one or more spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7, 18). The Lord Jesus directs the believer in terms of where and how their spiritual gifting should be employed for the growth and health of the church. God the Father determines the degree of impact (I dislike the word success) that this gift and ministry will have.
I know that you are eager to discover what place God has for you, but I believe that the first step is to discern what your spiritual gift (or gifts) might be. One has to be very careful here, because we often are tempted to desire and even to seek the spiritual gift which is deemed the most prominent or spiritual by the Christian community. In Corinth, the gift of preference and status was the gift of tongues. It had a more spectacular and sensational appearance, and so everyone wanted it, rather than to seek the better gifts, like prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:12-25). The most important question is, “What is it that God has equipped me to do that edifies and builds up the church?” The big question is not, “How does it make me look?”, or even “How does it make me feel?”, but “How does it bless others and build up the church?”
I would suggest several avenues of pursuit, when seeking to discover and develop your spiritual gift(s):
First, study the Scriptures to learn about spiritual gifts – what they are and how they work. Be careful to distinguish spiritual gifts from natural talents. (These two things – spiritual gifts and natural talents – may be related, but they are not necessarily the same thing.)
Second, do the things which the Bible commands you to do, that you see need doing. We tend to look at the world around us through the lens of our spiritual gift(s), and rightly so. A teacher sees the need for teaching. A helper sees the need for hands-on ministry. A person gifted to give sees the opportunity to share his or her resources to meet the need of another. (This person sees the holes in the soles of the shoes of the one sitting beside him.) It is my contention that the commands of Scripture correspond to various spiritual gifts given to the saints.
Let’s just take a simple example from Scripture:
And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all. (1 Thess. 5:14)
The need for admonition (warning) may be best recognized by one with the gift of teaching, and the content of admonition may very well be teaching from Scripture (see Romans 15:14; 1 Corinthians 4:14).
The need for comfort (encouragement) may best be recognized by an encourager or exhorter (see, for example, Acts 4:36-37; 9:26-28; 11:19-26; 15:36-39).
The need for help would be recognized quickly by one gifted to help (Philippians 4:10-20).
So, you discover you are gifted to help as you see the command to help, you see the need for help, and you respond to it in such a way that the person is not merely helped physically, but built up spiritually (2 Corinthians 9:10-15).
I believe that many Christian need all of these ministries at the same time (admonition, encouragement, help), and that is just how the body of Christ should function.
Third, recognize the need and importance of a good church where spiritual gifts are taught and encouraged to flourish.
It is very clear in Scripture that spiritual gifts are not given primarily for the benefit of the individual (gifted) believer, but are for the good of the whole body:
To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. (1 Cor. 12:7)
But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. (1 Cor. 12:18)
What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church. (1 Cor. 14:26)
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8 Therefore it says, "When he ascended on high he captured captives; he gave gifts to men." 9 Now what is the meaning of "he ascended," except that he also descended to the lower regions, namely, the earth? 10 He, the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things. 11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God– a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ's full stature. 14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love. (Eph. 4:7-16)
Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God. (1 Pet. 4:10 NET)
The church is absolutely crucial to the discovery and development of one’s spiritual gifting. This assumes that the church actually believes the ministry is much broader than the leading and teaching of one person, a ministry which provides occasions where spiritual gifts can actually be discovered, exercised, and developed. Such a venue is spelled out in 1 Corinthians chapter 14.
It is here that leaders in the church -- spiritually mature men – can observe and officially recognize spiritual gifts:
Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said. (1 Cor. 14:29)
In the New Testament the church (especially its leaders) played a key role in this matter of spiritual gifts:
Do not neglect the spiritual gift you have, given to you and confirmed by prophetic words when the elders laid hands on you. (1 Tim. 4:14)
Because of this I remind you to rekindle God's gift that you possess through the laying on of my hands. (2 Tim. 1:6)
It is not just the discovery of spiritual gifts that occurs in the church, but the development of spiritual gifts, encouraged and assisted by those with the same gifts who are more mature in the faith:
And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well. (2 Tim. 2:2)
Obviously, the church which can best help you discover and develop your spiritual gifts is one where a single individual does not think he owns the ministry, but rather one who ministers to others to equip them for ministry:
It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God– a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ's full stature. (Eph. 4:11-13)
All of this should be prerequisite to one deciding to attend a Bible school or seminary, and determining which courses to take. Sadly, some schools are suffering economically, and thus will encourage anyone to attend their school, regardless of their gifting and calling. They are not eager to turn a student down because they do not possess the necessary gifts for the ministry for which they are seeking to prepare. And just as sadly, all too many young people attend Bible school and seminary because that appears to be the pathway to effective ministry and (sadly) status in the Christian community.
When one’s gifting is confirmed by the church and is encouraged to get further training to develop those gifts, then schooling will be most helpful. Knowing your spiritual gifts should also give insight related to which courses and which major one should pursue. (And, being a part of a good church during one’s time in school or seminary is just as vital as it was earlier.)
By God’s doing, this is the way it happened with me in terms of my schooling and ministry. I was greatly encouraged and assisted by the church where I attended while a young public-school teacher. They were the ones who first recognized and confirmed my gift of teaching, and then encouraged me to attend seminary, where my gifts could be further developed.
While attending Dallas Seminary I was led of the Lord to attend Believers Chapel in Dallas (another story). There, one of the elders stood up in a meeting where I spoke and publicly confirmed my gift of teaching. Members of that wonderful church played a major role in my development as a teacher, and in providing opportunities to exercise that gift, in the church and beyond.
So that is my (lengthy) counsel to you, my friend. Make it your mission to discover your spiritual gift. Seek opportunities to serve others, and also seek guidance and help from those you respect in the church. Ask others to give counsel regarding the discovery and development of your gifts. And then pursue the training needed to refine further your gifting. Look to God to bring this about in unexpected and wonderful ways. And be sure your wife is on board with you, both in regard to your spiritual gifting, and in regard to the direction which God is leading you.