I am currently in my third year of studies toward the M.Div at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have a wife, three girls, and another little one due in October. I also work full time, and serve in a local church. When I tell people this I often get strange looks like I am crazy, and often people ask me "How do you do it?" This is isn't a post about how I have the perfect formula to manage a busy life in seminary, or how I have this figured out. This is just a post to encourage fellow family men in seminary with full plates. I invite you into my struggle and offer what I am learning.
1. Remember that Jesus is better than an A
In the culture of seminary, like it or not, there is at times a deceptive desire to compete with your fellow students. You will be tempted to compete for an A to the neglect of your family. You will often strongly desire to be considered in the "in crowd" of seminary theologians. (After all, this is where you build your platform and you can't have people thinking of you as less than a well esteemed scholar.) The reality for the family man in seminary is that you can't study for forty-plus hours a week. You don't have time to read Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology in a day. You are not able to attend every conference or listen to multiple podcasts a day. In all actuality you are finding just enough time to read your Bible, lead family worship, provide for your family, and turn in your homework by the 12 a.m. buzzer.
At times you will be tempted to despair or even to quit — I have, multiple times. However, through it all, know that God is stretching you, and preparing you for ministry in ways that you didn't plan for. Through all the lack of sleep, and times you wish there was more time in the day, the Lord is showing you Jesus is better. If possessions, money, sex, and drugs, didn't satisfy you pre-Christ then praise of men, finishing with top honors, and titles won't satisfy you post-Christ. Don't get me wrong, we must work and toil in seminary to the glory of God, but we must also rest in the sufficiency of the finished work of Jesus Christ and the time he has given us. I heard Dr. Jason Allen say something at a seminary preview day about taking a C in Hebrew to get an A in the home. That wasn't just a cute quote; he meant it, and sometimes you might actually have to be OK with that.
Be encouraged because of Jesus you don't have live and wear yourself out trying to earn approval and acceptance with others. Be reminded of Romans 8:35: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?" The answer is no and neither will a C+, how many systematic theology books you haven't read, or not being the top student in your class. The life death and resurrection of Jesus has secured for you forgiveness, love, and approval with the God of the universe. What can possibly compete with that?
2. Learn to live with tension, but rest in Jesus.
At times my life feels like a leaky pipe. I will have one leak patched up and then the other side starts leaking. I wish I had a perfect to do schedule to offer that could help you perfectly balance work, school, ministry, and family, but I simply don't. The truth is there will always a tension that we have to live with. Being a family man in seminary always consists of evaluating and reevaluating and re-reevaluating priorities. So please — on top of all your theological books to read, on top of all your greek vocabulary cards — make your family a priority.
Jonathan Parnell in his book How to Stay Christian in Seminary says it well: "There are no footnotes to Ephesians 5." We simply don't have an option to freeze the commands of Scripture regarding our family until we graduate. Your calling to ministry is important, irresistible, and under the Lord's sovereignty, but all of those things are true of the family he has given you.
You will be tempted to make excuses for your neglect and say things like "It's just a season." Don't do that, and repent if you do. When I lay my head on the pillow at night there are so many assignments I have to do, overtime to be worked, Sunday school lessons to prepare for, time I could have been more intentional with my family. There isn't a day I don't need to hear the words of Paul in Romans 8:1 "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Work your tail off in seminary with all the grace he's given you, but please, brother, know Jesus is better. Learn to live with tension and rest in the finished work of the cross.