A Simple Prayer for Seminary Professors

In our Southern Baptist Convention we have developed a fellowship of professors who teach evangelism as all or part of their role in academia. My friend Tom Johnston at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has been instrumental in this group’s growth and connectivity. This year I’m blessed to serve as president of the group, known as SBC Evangelism Profs.

I sent an email to all the professors the other day. I included a prayer I will be praying for them and for me as we go through this academic year. While applied to evangelism profs, I think it’s appropriate for faculty at any confessional school committed to the great commission. It’s simple, like me. Perhaps it will encourage you:

I pray that we who teach evangelism, or other disciplines in the name of Christ, will:

–Be continual learners, teaching with humility.

–Teach with passion, insight, knowledge, and wisdom.

–Love our students and lead them by precept and example.

–See souls won to Christ personally–may we live what we teach.

–Be excellent scholars, not sloppy in our intellectual growth (I especially pray we will set the pace for the excellent writing of books, articles, and in the presentations of papers and such)

–Be wonderful colleagues to the fellow faculty whom God gives us to serve alongside.

–Be consistent in our personal and family life with what we say in our public life.

–Be devoted to God’s church.

May this year be a year that honors our king Jesus.

Don’t Waste Your (College) Life

Last week I wrote a post to encourage new seminarians as they begin their journey. I had some friends ask me to do something similar for incoming college freshmen, so here you go. NOTE: This is written first to our new students at The College at Southeastern, and then to any student starting out at an evangelical school. These generally would apply to a student starting at a state school as well, but I added a final point for these students.

This fall I teach an evangelism class in our college. I’m also speaking several days at Oklahoma Baptist University and at William Carey College, and I’ve had the joy of speaking at many Christian colleges over the years. I love the excitement (and to some extent, the apprehension) of college freshman. I saw a study a few years ago that said the loneliest people in America are college freshmen. I want to encourage you and push you to think of ways to enjoy college while not wasting these valuable years.

As you enter college you experience a rite of passage. Whether you live at home and commute locally, move into a dorm, or travel halfway across the country to start a dramatically new chapter of life, you are crossing into adulthood in real and personal ways. Here are a few points to consider as you begin this exciting chapter.

First, embrace adulthood. Really, being an adult is awesome. Most of you want this and have been waiting a while to get out and on your own. But don’t let the trials of midterms and tribulations of eating ramen noodles cause you to wish for your high school days like the Israelites longed for Egypt the first time things got hard. Life is hard sometimes; embrace the challenge. Don’t buy one of those “I’m not adulting today” shirts. You are an adult both biologically and legally, so embrace it. Decide now to reject the adolescent behaviors foisted on you by pop culture. Relish in the light of maturation!

Again, most of you are beyond ready for this but to be safe, choose to be responsible (that’s adulting). Use an alarm clock, survive more than an hour without checking your phone, and actually read and follow the syllabus before you put it at the bottom of your parakeet’s cage.

Second, own your spirituality. You can learn facts about the Bible and devotional habits in some classes, but you alone control your zeal for God. Don’t settle for a knock-off, Americanized version of Christian mush when you can feast on the banquet of God’s grace. We need you, and we need you at your best spiritually. Relish your walk with God. Don’t let it get lost in the sea of reading assigned to you. Most of the great spiritual movements in history–like great revivals–had people your age at their heart. Be the revival generation.

Third, ignore 90% of what you hear from generational experts. Okay, you are a Millennial. You are first a human and a follower of Jesus, and that trumps whatever generational hype you find yourself in. Generational studies are helpful on the macro, but you live in the micro of who God made you to be in His image. Be who God made you. Get in the Word, study it like a starving man consuming his first meal in months. Get your identity from the One who made you.

Fourth, learn some people skills. Just do that, please. Too many believers accumulate a lot of Bible knowledge and yet struggle to have a meaningful conversation with actual people (you can thank your smart phone for a lot of that). A great way to do this is to start sharing your faith regularly. Lost people aren’t impressed with you and will help you when you are awkward. Being awkward at 18 is nothing to be ashamed of, but staying that way definitely is.

Fifth, go against the grain of American culture: 1) Don’t act like the world revolves around you. Jump in with both feet and stake out a place to make an impact for Jesus. 2) Trade in American individualism and embrace biblical community. Get in a local church, find a small group, and serve. Churches desperately need you, and even though most of them don’t act like it, it’s true.

Sixth, get a mentor. Find someone older than you who walks with God and let him (guys) or her (ladies) push you to grow. Hopefully that person will be in your local church as well. An upper classman, a godly layman, someone who is farther down the road than you can do wonders for your growth and help you out of jams.

Finally, pray. Learn to pray. Learn to have deep, rich conversations with God. I’m so grateful I was helped a lot here at about your age. Where you are and the decisions you make–about marriage, singleness, career, and so on–have so much to do with your nearness to God.

Ah, yes, one more. If you are at a state school, I’m excited for you as well. I’ve had the honor of speaking to students at all sorts of universities from UNC to Harvard, from Mississippi State to Florida State. I always try to make this point, and it’s the final one: If you know Jesus, and you are attending a state university, your second reason for being there is to get an education. Your first reason is to be a missionary for Jesus. You are in a sea of people who don’t know Christ; don’t waste your college days.

Eight Suggestions for Eager New Seminarians

Team Chicago

I remember a cold, windy day in January, 1982. My wife Michelle and I arrived in Fort Worth as newlyweds with everything we owned in a small U Haul trailer. We moved into our little one bedroom, furnished apartment with little materially but great dreams spiritually. I hobbled on crutches from a knee operation. We were broke, but we were called, and that was enough.

That was 35 years ago, but it seems like only yesterday. If you are a brand new seminarian, I have a few things I hope will encourage you to help you for the next few decades.

First, learn well your identity in Christ. Comparison is the thief of joy, and your theological training will be greatly hindered by comparing yourself to others. Take hope in Christ, rest in the gospel, and be joyful. Remember Paul: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus.” Rom 8:1

Second, bring all of you. We can teach you truths and practical disciplines but we have no control over your zeal.  This is not a sideshow. This will take every ounce of your life to create in you what God has in store. Don’t be a slacker or a whiner. The old song says, “Give of the best to your master, give of the strength of your youth.” Seminary will be hard at times and will be so in ways you won’t expect. Don’t come to this thing half-heartedly. Come to class prayed up and humbly eager to learn. Cut off the social media and learn. Beg God to teach you. One day you will wake up and realize you aren’t nearly as smart as you think you are.  Remember the words ofJim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be all there.”

Third, love the church. Don’t date the church. GET IN A CHURCH. Get involved early, love the bride. Most of your peers will do that well, but some will piddle for months and months before joining a local body. And please don’t be a consumer. No where in his epistles does Paul applaud a great preacher, but he says “one another” a lot. You are in seminary, take off your bib, put on an apron, and serve a local church.

Fourth, be humble. No, really. Be humble. Again, most are, but we all know THAT guy. The guy that has to ask a question every day ostensibly to learn, but actually to show how smart he isn’t but thinks he is. I am a loud mouth, over-talkative, noise machine. But in seminary, I said little, I took notes voraciously, and I really tried to learn. You don’t have to be the next fill-in-the-blank-great-preacher-scholar-missionary-whatever. You MUST walk in humility. Talk less, listen more. Don’t whine about what you don’t like in the covenant, be grateful to be here to learn. Serve well. I’m still learning myself. I hope to learn from you. Remember what James said, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

Fifth, take risks. Yes, please take risks, especially the kind you read about in the Bible. Pray big prayers that God really has to be the one to answer. Share your faith even when you are afraid. Get some friends outside the seminary bubble, including some who don’t know Jesus. Be a friend of sinners, not of sin.  Take that mission trip/hard class/etc. Heed the words of C.T. Studd: “Some wish to live within the sound of church or chapel bell, but I wish to run a rescue mission a yard from the gates of hell.”

Sixth, don’t limit your learning to the classroom. Each semester on the first day of class I remind students you will take two kinds of classes: First, classes for credit. But, you will also take classes not for credit, and these may be some of the most important of your life. Classes in forgiving your family, in facing your depression and getting help, in overcoming your insecurities, and so on. Pay attention to these. Remember Einstein: “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

Seventh, guard your heart. Yes, this is an academic experience in which you will learn many truths and be stretched intellectually. But don’t go all Grinchness by having a shrinking heart while your head explodes. Chapel is wonderful, but it’s not the local church. Class is great, but it’s not your small group. Studying the Bible in a course is super, but it’s not your devotions. Keep feeding the spring. Analyze your habits, and make sure good habits mark your life. As McCheyne reminded a man at his ordination, “A holy man is an awesome weapon in the hand of God;” and, “God does not bless great talent; he blesses great likeness to Jesus.”

Eighth, take care of your body. Paul is right–bodily discipline is not most important. But he is also right that it is of some importance. I’m grateful for an Old Testament prof in seminary who warned me doing a PhD could wreck my health as it wrecked his, so I was careful. We are bought with a price; we aren’t entitled to gallons of sweet tea, fast food binges, or dessert with every meal. I didn’t keep up with my health as I should, and in my 40s I became overweight and generally unhealthy. So I’m reviewing this post on the elliptical. I hope to see you in the gym. We have a really nice weight room now. But if I see you there, sorry, I am pretty anti-social there. I do hope to see you there sometime. Paul also said: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” I Cor 9:27

I hope time will fly for you like it has for me. You will wake up sooner than you think and 35 years will have passed. What happens from now till then has a lot to do with how you start seminary this fall. Start well, run the race, and finish strong.