Advice for Seminoids

We had an interesting discussion in class yesterday about the challenges of enduring church life while in seminary.  My students are a joyful bunch who love Jesus and his people, but they reflected honestly on the difficulty of dealing with the disconnects between what they study in class and what they observe in church. It is soul-upsetting to critically reflect on Christian realities in classes and then to participate in less-than-ideal Christian practices on Sundays.

This led me to reflect a bit on my own struggles to maintain a proper posture toward the church while inhabiting an environment of critical biblical and theological reflection.

Unfortunately, a seminary education can sometimes (though not always) produce a phenomenon we might call “the seminoid.”

I should know.  I was one.

(NOTE: Friends and family are NOT welcome to share stories in the comments below!)

The seminoid has a superior attitude toward “the laity,” an arrogance toward average Christians, a condescending posture toward the church.  S/he is a “know-it-all” who trots out impressive sounding words in small-group settings, critiques church practice, and spends Sunday afternoons revisiting errors in the sermon and shortcomings in the service.

In the seminoid, the process of critical thought has created a critical spirit.

So, some advice to seminoids—or, to anyone pursuing theological education—on how to be a blessing to the church rather than a bane:

(1) Receive the church.  Seminoids want to comment on the church’s failures, rebuke it, set it right, fix it.  Don’t do that.  Don’t see yourself in all your theological wisdom as a gift to the church.  Learn what it means that the church is a gift to you.  Receive it as such and give thanks to God for it.  You are the one who needs to grow in Christ, not them.  Of course, objectively, everyone needs to grow in Christ.  But focus your critical scrutiny on your own need to cultivate the character of Christ, and let the church help you in that pursuit.

(2) Minister from your weakness.  Seminoids, like others of us, assume that they minister most effectively from their strengths.  That’s a wrong assumption and a perverted vision of “spiritual gifts.”  It’s counter-intuitive, but we minister most effectively from our weakness.  Jesus told Paul that “power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9), which led him to discover that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).  Now, you are indeed a gift to the church, but don’t assume that you know how you are a gift to the church.  That needs to be a long process of discovery, and others will probably see it before you.  If you think you know, you’re probably wrong.  I say this to seminoids because your initial assumption may be that you bless the church by being its instructor, its doctor, diagnosing its wrong theology and its malpractice, and prescribing right theology and proper practice.  If you do this, you will not bless the church.  You will burden it.

(3) Mentor a jr. high kid.  Find a kid in your church (or in your neighborhood) in a single-parent home and become his or her mentor.  They won’t want to hear you discourse on prioritizing biblical atonement metaphors, rhetorical strategies in Luke-Acts, the presence or absence of imputation language in Paul, or historical causes of the demise of mainline denominations.  They’ll probably want to see if fart noises make you laugh, if you can hit a free throw with your eyes closed, and if you care that they’ve been hurt by the class bully.  This is good for you.  It’ll help you avoid taking yourself too seriously.  It’ll remind you that the aim of your theological education is to make you better at spending time with such people for whom Jesus gave his life.

Never forget that Jesus highly commends spending time with jr. high kids (Matt. 19:13-15) and strongly condemns public displays of spirituality (Matt. 6:5-6).

(4) Think eschatologically.  Imagine yourself in the future as a much wiser 60 year-old.  As your future self, reflect a bit on how you treated others, how you related to the church.  You do not want to be an old person with regrets that you hurt people, turned some off to the faith because of arrogance, or discouraged them with ill-considered criticisms.

(5) Consider silence.  Memorize proverbs on remaining silent rather than talking (Prov. 10:19; 13:3; 17:27-28; James 1:19).  I have a handful of regrets for saying something hurtful or stupid in ministry contexts.  I don’t have any regrets about biting my tongue.

(6) Meditate on Scripture.  Memorize passages about humility and servant-hood (e.g., Mark 10:45; Phil. 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 4), along with Proverbs about the speech patterns of the wise (e.g., Prov. 12:18, 23).  Draw on Scriptures that the Spirit may use to orient your character according to Jesus.  Do not memorize texts that you can use in theological debates to buttress your pontifications.

(7) Love the church like God loves the church.  Remember that God gave his life for the church (Acts 20:28), that he loves his people.  If Jesus showed up at your church, he would likely look past your church’s faults and express his outrageous love for its messed-up members.  You’d rather have Jesus say “amen” to your expressions of delight in his people rather than “what’s your problem?” when you note their many shortcomings.

67 thoughts on “Advice for Seminoids

  1. Abraham Vivas

    These are excellent thoughts. many times we forget the purpose of the education we receive(d) – I love the way you summarize it; “the aim of [our] theological education is to make you better at spending time with such people for whom Jesus gave his life.”

  2. Marco Salazar (@M_Salazar78)

    This is a great blog Tim! I have definitely displayed “seminoid” characteristics in the past and need constant reminders to display humility rather than arrogance. I especially loved points 1 and 7 and how you reminded us that the church is a gift to us and not the other way around. As they say in my circle, “That’ll preach!” Thanks doc!

  3. Pat

    I would add to find something of interest outside of your church where you can exercise your intellectual muscle if you are unable to do it at your church. Otherwise, you could find yourself dying on the vine.

  4. Vincent

    I just began graduate studies at Liberty U Baptist Theological Seminary. I am so grateful to have this web link in our forum this week. I want to get better a spending time with such people as Jesus gave his life for! Thank you!

  5. bentacoma

    Hit me a lot harder this year, after being in seminary for more than a year, than it did when you first posted it and I was new to GRTS. A good reminder to stop being such a judgmental member of the my church and to love them people.

    P.S. I’d love to do #3, but my Greek HW is a little too heavy this semester 😉

  6. Tess Powell

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading the “Advice for Seminoids” and agree we must guard our hearts that we do not fall into the temptation of arrogance and self-righteousness. Well written and many blessings to brother Timgombis.

  7. Chuck Manchion

    I really like number three and how spending time with a jr. high kid helps us in our efforts to not take ourselves too seriously. God bless you and thanks for your post,

  8. Derrick E. Burney

    Derrick E. Burney
    It is an absolute honor to see someone who understands the true complexity of the teachings of Jesus. I remember the bible teaches us that Jesus did not come to judge the sinner. John 12: 47 Jesus said “For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. “ I even look at Jesus defense of a sinner who served him with many sins, against those who presented themselves to be knowledgeable in the scriptures. Luke 7:44-47 “ Finally, I believe the complexity of the bible simplified is this; Jesus love for us surpasses the judgmental capacity we have to be superior. We need to examine our faults in an effort continuously to stay humble when dealing with other people. I thoroughly agree with your format for Seminary students “Seminoids”to follow. Thank’s for this article.

  9. Hallie Dwyer

    Our Christian education should never be used for boasting of any sort, but should be a light in a dark world. Regardless of where we are in our walk with God, the bible tell us in 1 Peter 5:6 that we should “therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time”. Sometimes we rush to get to our destination and fail to enjoy the trip.

    Hallie

  10. Royce Evans

    26 years in the ministry, what a great and refreshing reminder of the essence of ministry service and leadership
    . Kudos, Bro

  11. Paula Gentry

    Thank you for writing “Advice for Seminoids” …I am so thankful of God’s mercy and grace in my life! I pray that I will be convicted if i begin to show seminoidal tendencies.

  12. James Peele

    I also thank you for “Advice for Seminoids” and number 4 hits home, hard. I am 60 and I have been the person you described. God has moved me and that is why I am here. I want to live the rest of my life living for Him. I do not want to look back at 70 and see what I am looking back at 60 and remembering. Thank you God for your mercy on me. I do not deserve it. Thank you.

  13. Emmett Merrill

    Thank you for the very helpful advice provided in “Advice for Seminoids” I will do my very best to put it to use in my studies and my life as I go forward. Thank you.

  14. Kristin D

    I’m just starting out in Seminary & these are so helpful for me to begin forming habits to follow. 4,5,6 are my top three to focus on to be able to look back 10 years from now & praise Him for his love, mercy & grace. Mentoring a Jr. High student also is something I totally recommend – they open your mind to the next generation, the thought process & rationalization of the bible from a 12 year old’s view… I always feel a bit younger after spending a Wednesday night mentoring students.
    7 is probably the hardest for me because the church is people & at times people hurt you, I need to remember that people hurt God’s son & He still loved. I need to not be held up on hurts & instead be praising Him on healing my soul! Great words Tim.

  15. Stephen Castleberry

    I am 63 years young. I just starting Seminary Study at LUBTS. “Advise for Seminoids” was a real eye-opener. I want to live the rest of my life living for Jesus and loving God’s people. My prayer, God bless me to successfully complete Seminary and grant me ample time to put in a action what I learn. Thank you!

  16. Cathy Carter

    This is an excellent article and one to take heed to. I want to be a blessing to the church and not a curse or a hindrance. I’m a 53 year old just starting Seminary Studies at LUBTS. Thanks You for this advice.

  17. Larry Shufelt

    Great stuff… I know someone that really needs to hear this… I’m going to send it to him right after I get this darn log out of my eye… anyone got something much larger than a tweezers???

  18. Mike Mazzucca

    Great advice. Many times in seminary people just like to hear themselves think and speak about what they know. When we look at our own shortcomings then we can allow God to work in our lives, and then those of others. looking forward to what God has in store.!!

  19. Robert Hendrix Jr

    this was so good I copied and pasted it for part of my Master’s Degree thesis but I claimed it as my own stuff… was that wrong? lol. Seriously, I loved it especially the mentoring a child part to keep us grounded. it is so true. Thank you again, and just to make it clear I was joking about the plagiarism.

  20. borr1

    Awesome informaton for me and anyone in Theolgical studies, or real life within church membership. This was a blessing and challenge for me. Thank you!

  21. Denise L. Smith

    WOW! I have a knot in my stomach and I confess that I have been a Seminoid and just started Seminary. I am headed to prayer at my church and I have been praying from an arrogant spirit. Thank God, I will continue to reflect on this blog but change my prayer focus to love my church/the church and ask God to keep me mindful of my attitude.

  22. Deborah Nightingale

    I am still chuckling….enjoyed reading your tips. Just starting out in my pursuit of Theological studies. Since I am already on the far end of the eschatology scale age wise, guess I will have to think of myself as young 🙂 Thanks for keeping it real…I don’t what to come out with a holier than thou attitude.

  23. Joey

    Thank you for the blog! I agree with much of the advice you offer, there is a lot of great stuff jampacked in this blog. I am also guilty of seminoidism. However, I personally remember times I grieved the Holy Spirit due to “biting my tongue”. I believe there is equal importance in non-silence when it is done in a God honoring way. Ephesians 5:11 have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.…sometimes biting the tongue can lead into sin by omission. God bless you! Joey.

  24. Casters

    Good morning and many thanks for the guidance. I find it difficult to even mention to others, friends, family and in my congregational church, that I am attending seminary classes. I choose this path only because I do not wish for others to think that I am in another grouping, above them.

    He has called me. Although, it is not for me, it is for Him. There is a sense of responsibility to use His wisdom to help others find Him. The calling I feel is to help others find Him where they are at, not to show them what they have not done right. My hope is that I remain this way.

    I have come to a better understanding in months past about what it means that Jesus Christ is the “head” of the church and we (the church) are His “body.” Regardless of the condition the church is in now, He has called all of us to create His healthy body.

    What would we think, as a seminoid, if we consider that we are being critical of the body of Christ when we classify ourselves as a class set apart?

    His calling for us is to make us stronger and those around us stronger in Him, through Him.

    Ephesians 6:12-13 (NKJV) – For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, having done all, to stand.

    Peace from Casters!

  25. Kenneth Simpson

    This is wonderful information and key insight in regards to biblical studies. It will never be my intention during my studies to boast about what i know or have learned. We should take our knowledge and share it, humble ourselves and know that God has given us the ability to attain as such we should soak everything like a sponge and release freely with acknowledgement.

  26. ponderinglifewithjeannette

    What a needed reminder. I have always been sensitive to the pursuance of humility. It is a sneaky thing. My prayer would be that if I am not displaying true humility in all areas that God would reveal that to me so I can work on it, hopefully fix it.

  27. James R. Oldham

    Great article. The verse in II Corinthians that is quoted is spot on. “..my power is made perfect in weakness…” I think that far too often we promote people to positions within the church based solely on their strengths and often lead to pride. I have personally been much more effective in roles where I am weak, have seen God work greatly despite my weakness and leaves me humble and thankful.

  28. Don

    This is wisdom! Thank you for the candor… My wife and I help with Sunday school 4-8 yr olds. It is a humbling challenge for us to communicate the whole counsel of Scripture in simple terms, welcoming the questions and experiences of young minds, and reminds us of how much we are like children to God.

  29. Lawrence Diggs

    Wow! thank you for reminding me and many others about the whole purpose of higher education, what it means, and how to use it in our everyday Christian living. I loved the part where you said, “the church is a gift.” If we are not careful we can put our God-given gift above the church and not use it to edify the body of believers. Thanks for allowing the Lord to speak through you.

  30. Daphne Collins

    This is a time honoring reminder that can always be re-posted like a ‘Dear Abby’ column! I understand now why I was offended and hurt by the comments of a young “Seminoid” that I was having a conversation with a year ago. His demeanor and response to my questions in the presence of others truly caught us all off guard. The experience left me not wanting to seek anymore guidance and I was further disappointed when I heard that two “seekers” were put off by what they called the “holier than thou” attitude by the young upstart. He was new from completing his seminary studies and had a new position in the church and everyone was proud to have this new intelligent pastor. Reading this article gave me insight, but more than this, to remember to pray unceasingly and to remember those passages in Scripture to keep me humble. Thank you for this pearl of good price!

  31. verbity

    That was pretty awesome, timely and wise. I would gather some of us, if not a lot of seminary students are great debaters. We crave something to argue about and perceived theological superiority will only feed the craving. So this blog is a great way to start on the path to humility. I especially like the part about silence….I could use some practice in that. Thanks for the article!

  32. Peter

    I am a new student at Liberty University. I am pursuing an MDiv. I got here as a class assignment, and I found this article to be of great advice. I found myself taking notes of Bible verses to memorize and all. Thank you for your sound, humble advice.

  33. Rita Y. Harris

    I am a new student at LUO; I am pursuing a MDiv. I am extremely glad I read this article; I am grateful to you for sharing it. It will serve as a catalyst for helping me in my endeavor to be extremely careful to keep things in perspective. It ministered volumes to me as the Holy Spirit revealed my short-comings in this area. Praise God! I am elated as well as humble to be a student at LUO.

    Rita

  34. Leon De Vose, II

    This is my first semester as an M.Div. candidate at Liberty School of Divinity. I am taking the course online. I am so glad to know that mine is a known condition for which there is a good prognosis of recovery.

    I attend a Calvary Chapel affiliate in Passaic, NJ, where the teaching is excellent. So, when the wave of criticism swept over me during the service, Resurrection Day, 2016, my first Sunday service since starting the course, I was shocked. I journal-pray, i.e., I write rather than cite my prayers. I am better at expressing myself by writing rather than speaking. Well, I could not get my book opened fast enough to ask God to help me with my Pharisaic officious arrogance after ONE WEEK OF STUDY!!!

    Omigosh!

    I did not expect the title to be as immediately and personally applicable as it is. I had no idea of what a Seminoid is. I thought it was just a general term for seminary students.

    Then I read the article.

    Hi, my name is Leon De Vose, II, and I am a Seminoid.

  35. Donna Shaw

    I enjoyed reading this article. We have to all learn to be who God made us to be and except others as who God made them to be. it is not about you knowing more about the word of God. it is about you teaching others about him and knowing him for your self. I am glad others saw my calling instead of me being a Seminoid. Thank Tim. May God continue to bless you.

  36. Kenneth B. Clebourn

    Kenneth B. Clebourn
    September 26, 2016 at 7:58 am

    The information about Seminoids is very helpful because everybody who find success in Seminary classes should not allow their minds to be inflated so that their value as God’s servant will not be unavailable.

  37. Kenneth B. Clebourn

    Kenneth B. Clebourn
    September 26, 2016

    The information about Seminoids is very helpful because people who find success in Seminary classes should allow their minds to become inflated so that they will be a nuisance at church.

  38. Teresa Hayman

    I am happy to know that I don’t know enough to be a seminoid! Conversely happy to have read your blog as I begin my journey towards a graduate degree in Christian Ministry. Such good thoughts you’ve shared. Thank you!

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