One of the nicknames college students have for the seminary is “cemetery.”
“It’s always so quiet in the seminary wing.”
“Seminary is where passion and fire for Jesus get extinguished.”
I’ve come to realize that these college students are right: seminary is a cemetery, just not in the way they think it is.
Seminary is a cemetery because it is a place where pride goes to die and be buried. Attitudes of “I’m going to change the church single-handily” quickly disappear as the student learns that pastoral ministry is hard work that very often has little earthly payoff. The reality is that the pastor-celebrity who has podcasts, books, and 10,000 followers is the exception and not the norm.
Seminary is a cemetery because it is where we learn to die to ourselves. This calling, this mission, this following-Jesus is hard work. It requires sacrifice of time and money and desire. Even just being in seminary for two or three years often means taking a pay-cut and living lean while attending school. For some it means moving hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from family and friends.
Seminary is a cemetery because it is a place of stillness and quiet. Away from the traffic and business of “regular life”, of “ministry obligations”, of “the rat race”, pastors come and whether it’s only for a week-long mod, a semester or a couple of years, they find rest and quiet and stillness.
Seminary is a cemetery because it is marked with the gravestones and memorials of those who have gone before. It is where we sit and listen to those now long dead and gone. We read deeply of the heroes and martyrs, of saints and sinners. Their lives are testimonies to the awesome power of the risen Saviour. Their books, their letters and their lives are the grave markers, row upon row, that stretch upon the horizon. Some of the tombstones are shiny and new. Some are so old that they are crumbling and the inscriptions can barely be read. Some are in English. Most are in other languages. And some have no markings other than a crudely etched cross or fish.
Seminary is a cemetery because it is a place that points to the future. Death is not the end. Those who are laid to rest will not stay in the ground. One day there will be resurrection. One day Christians who are living and those who have died will be gathered together before the great throne of the Lamb. Everything we do at seminary, whether it’s writing papers, labouring through Greek Exegesis, doing a counseling practicum, or learning about pastoral care, points to and contains glimpses of the future, perfect, white-robed reality of the New Jerusalem.