Five Things I Learned in Seminary

Mary N. Crawford, shown sitting next to blackboard

There are the Big Things you learn in seminary: how to study the Bible, how to do theology, how to read ancient Greek and Hebrew, how to preach.  I totally learned those things (Pro Tip: Except for maybe the Hebrew), and I use them all the time (Pro Tip: Again, except for the Hebrew, and the Greek is not what it was, either).

But lately I’ve been thinking about the Little Things I learned in seminary.  Tips and tricks that I find myself returning to again and again.  I think they apply to other vocations, too.  Check them out and see if you agree:

1. To stop yourself from swaying while praying or chanting, plant your feet in a wider stance.  My worship professor made this offhand suggestion during my first semester of seminary, and it has helped me every Sunday morning since.  Try it!

2. When you are new to a congregation, discuss troubling practices using the phrases “I was surprised” and “based on my limited experience”.  For example:  “I was surprised to see that you preach your sermons in biblical Greek.  Based on my limited experience, that is bananas.”

3.  Stop triangulation before it starts.  When someone attempts to triangulate you (draw you into a conflict between that someone and another someone), respond with this question: “What did she say when you talked to her about it?”

4. Remember these wise words: “You are always and only responsible for your own behavior.” I find myself repeating this one more and more.  It’s a good reminder for me as a pastor, both of the trust and responsibility I’ve been given by my people and by God, and also of my own limits.  I’ve also used it in counseling and conversation with people in conflict.  You can control what you do; you can’t control what your spouse or roommate or co-worker or neighbor does.  (Now that I’m a parent, I really appreciate the truth of these words.)

5. I was really lucky to have Connie Kleingartner as a teacher.  Tips 2, 3, and 4 are ones I got from Connie.  The longer I serve in parish ministry, the more I appreciate her wisdom.  Rest in peace, Connie.  We miss you.

Mary Blade, standing at blackboard

What are some of the best big or little things you learned in school?



Filed under Learning Opportunities, Ministry Matters

9 responses to “Five Things I Learned in Seminary

  1. Jenny Olsztynski

    I didn’t learn this in school, but my Mother sent me an article when I was at a low point that ended with the line “Bloom where you are planted”. It became my mantra.


  2. Good to see that they taught you some practical things. I have had ministers in my day who were not taught a single practical thing while in seminary. The most baffilling was a fellow from another country who was not taught to how baptize. Obviously he understood water was involved. Otherwise someone had to whisper the steps to him as he did it.


    • Oh, wow! We definitely learned how to baptize, and practiced on baby dolls and even a few fellow students (to get ideas about how to baptize adults). You still aren’t really prepared for the real thing–it’s a pretty amazing experience–but at least you know the words and actions!


  3. Jen Kiefer

    Oh Connie, what a wise woman.


  4. My best teacher was (and is) my oldest daughter. When I was approaching 35 and was single, I decided I didn’t want to miss out on parenting. So, I decided to adopt. I clearly wrote on my application that I would not, could not adopt a child diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome. I do not have the patience to parent a child that is not acting right. So, I adopted a child who was not diagnosed at the time of her adoption, but she was prenatally affected by alcohol and meth none-the-less.

    1. Sin is about the heart, not really behavior. I am no more or no less angry, deceitful, callous, or fallen than my daughter. With a functioning brain, I stop, plan ahead, think about how my actions and reactions will be judged by others and act better.
    2. My theology doesn’t explain, embrace or even acknowledge brain differences. I am no longer sure what it means to be created in the image of God. Church is a terrible place to be for families of children with behavioral differences.
    3. Acts 1:8 can be used to give you courage no matter what the situation… “But you will receive power when…” God didn’t give the Apostles power until they needed it. I won’t likely get the strength to handle a situation until I need it either.


    • That’s beautiful, Julie! I agree that our children, no matter what their differences, can be our best teachers if we let them. And I agree that church can be a terrible place for families of children with behavioral differences or other challenges (and for adults with these challenges, too). I’m really sorry for that! And I appreciate the reminder.


  5. Pingback: Never Had I Ever: Thomas the Tank Engine Edition | Never Done It That Way Before

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