I shared this response to a seminary student with a prayer that it might be of some help to another. “Lord, who hast called Thy servants to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ, cause Thy Word to shape them for Thy service. In Christ’s name. Amen.”
O, my dear lad, I do understand. The immense pressure of work, family, and preparation for ministry can create overwhelming feelings, plus physical stress. Since The Lord created us body and soul, the pain of the soul migrates to the body and vice versa. To become physically weak presents the threat of spiritual depression. Conversely, spiritual depression can lead to physical sickness. Thus, the cycle begins. I do pause to pray for you and your family. Having gone through seminary, full-time, and working full-time, with my wife and children, in addition to my 95-year-old Aunt Eva, who raised me, being in our home, I know the hardship. It is not easy. Furthermore, each person faces these challenges uniquely. I would never compare my experience with yours or use your experience as an example for another. Each of us stands before the Lord in our circumstances and our own, God-given personalities, family situations, and more. Indeed, the variables are so diverse and distinctive that each case must be addressed separately. We can’t make blanket statements that are helpful. Yet we can trust in divine promises and guard our steps by the light of the Word of God. Thus, I pray for you and want you to know you are not alone. If God has called you to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ, then consider that for a few years, your life will be incredibly crowded (and this is practice for what awaits you). For, as you say, you have to provide for your family. As one called to preach, you also have to prepare. So, what to do? I hesitate to offer counsel over email lest I seem glib and uncaring. However, at the risk of being misunderstood, I would offer a few thoughts.
- Apply your mind and heart unto wisdom from on high. Read through Exodus 18:13-26. The passage deals with Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, giving advice to Moses about the biblical division of labor. After reading the passage, ask, “Lord, what truths are in the scripture that apply to my life today? To the needed balance of seminary, work, and family?”
- Make Room for others. Occasionally, we find that we are doing things others can do. For instance: sometimes we take on duties in our local churches when we are in seminary. Part of this is good as long as we are under a pastoral supervisor who recognizes that your labors in the local church should be finely tuned to fulling internship requirements that complement your studies. We might be tempted to continue our service before God called us to preach. Yet you are called to preach. That call now takes precedence over all the other possible ways to serve. Your primary service at this stage is preparing for ministry. I know I had to take inventory of my time, and I discovered that I was still doing some things others could now do (in a way, I was robbing another of the opportunity of the kind of service I rendered before the call to preach). Others can do much in the local church. But they could not go to seminary. They were not called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. That is an exceedingly focused vocation requiring enormous dedication, energy and, yes, sacrifice. Those virtues don’t wait until graduation and ordination to be cultivated. Everything that you will be and do in ministry begins, in some sense, the moment you recognize that God has called you. Other lay leaders in the Church can do many important jobs required in Kingdom work. But only you exercise the specific ministry of a Christian shepherd. The life of ministry begins in seminary. Since I was called to preach the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, I had to place the ministry of preparation before all other expressions of service in the local church (boards or other Christian ministries).
- Apply a biblical division of labor to your marriage and home. Of course, roles and responsibilities in the home vary from marriage to marriage. Each marriage is presented with unique challenges and responsibilities. In our marriage, I had always been the yard guy. But in seminary, my wife (willingly) assumed duties for yard work. For three years, Mae became the keeper of the shrubs (in seminary, we rented a house with a yard), the mower of the lawn, and the general “handyman.” She did all of these things (and cheerfully I proudly add) while continuing her role in homemaking, managing schedules, and taking care of my Aunt Eva (who was ninety years of age; my Aunt Eva was like my mother as I was orphaned at a young age and she, my father’s sister, reared me). I worked full time, went to seminary full time—sometimes up to 18 hours per semester—and was a part-time pastoral intern for Dr. D. James Kennedy. Mae knew I had to pay attention to earning a paycheck and attending school full-time (internship included Sunday duties assisting Dr. Kennedy, teaching Sunday School, and emergency visitations). We cherished late nights as I came home from work and studies. I would tell her the details of each class. We shared in an immense time of Christian growth. Our home was often the gathering place for fellow seminarian families and on many occasions a place of respite for professors and their wives. Saturday mornings was also a wonderful time. From early morning until around noon we had time to be together. That was the only time we had to ourselves in our week. On Saturday mornings, we would walk through a mall together. Walking through the shopping area and going to the food court became a special time for us. It sounds silly, but it just goes to prove that God can use a donkey or even a shopping mall food court to carry out His purposes. But for three years, it worked. After I finished seminary, and we moved back to Kansas City from South Florida to plant a church and a school. As we settled into this next chapter of life Mae was eager and happy to return the yard work to me! Then, with a baby in our home, Mae had to focus on our son. I turned my attention to gathering a flock of the Lord and—you guessed it—cutting the grass. And so it went. But both of us cherish our time at Seminary as one of our marriage’s most spiritually enriching times. So, get with your wife, and you go to the Lord. Sometimes it’s helpful to kneel together in the bedroom, a symbolic centering place of your marriage. There, with just the two of you and the Lord Jesus, ask for his wisdom and insight so that you can apply his word to your lives to prepare for ministry.
Again, I want to avoid seeming cavalier with your situation. It is vital. Moreover, your stress is very real. Yet, I believe that if God has called you to preach the gospel, God will help you prepare for this Life of service and equip you and your wife with wisdom and strength. He will also surprise you with testimonies of his grace and provision that you will one day share with others. I used to say to myself when the times were difficult in seminary, “Remember, Mike, You cannot stand up and tell others that they can trust the Lord in difficult times unless you trust the Lord in this time.” I would remember that for the rest of my ministry. For nearly four decades, I have trusted in Jesus Christ, who has never let me down. I commend you to Jesus. You are going to be a superb Christian shepherd. I can see Michelangelo’s “David” inside that marble stone! To embrace the cross of Christ in seminary is to recognize that as you die to self and live to Christ, you are practicing for a role of a lifetime. Since the cross transformed an instrument of shame to a sign of salvation, and since you and I live under the ruling motif of that cross in the Christian life and ministry, you can be sure that the difficulties of these days will become testimonies of God’s goodness and faithfulness.
I commend you to the One who adjures us and assures us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5) and “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15).
Yours in the Lord,
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