Seminary: An Unexpected Detour that Changed My Life

by Leslie Umstattd June 8, 2022

In the fall of 1996, I was a senior at the University of Alabama, and I was set to graduate the following May. I had a solid idea of what I was going to do after I graduated—that was, until two months before graduation. In March of 1997, I was making plans to attend law school and I had no idea what seminary was, much less any plans of going there. Then a weekend away at a college retreat spending time in the Word and submitting my next steps to the Lord changed everything! 

Even though I had grown up in Southern Baptist churches my entire life, I had no idea what seminary was or anything about where they were located. I really did not know what being in ministry would even look like, but thankfully the Lord did.

My journey that began in the woods in north Alabama ended with me graduating from college and going to seminary. God had plans for life, and He put people in my life over the next year after graduation to confirm what I was thinking and feeling. 

Fast forward to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in the fall of 1998 where I began my seminary education. This was definitely an adventure for me. In a year’s time since graduating from the University of Alabama, I had served as a Children’s Ministry intern, participated in an international mission trip—which was the first time I had left the United States, and I packed everything I owned into a small U-Haul and drove to Texas. I left everything I was familiar with and knew no one in Fort Worth. I was starting my life over—new town, new church, new friends, and the start of a new journey studying counseling and religious education. 

Seminary was both incredibly encouraging and challenging. God used my time in seminary to open my eyes to the many opportunities to serve Him but also to the beauty of the body of Christ in action. I met so many incredible people, some of whom I still keep in touch with today. When I graduated in 2001, there were many ways I had changed, as a believer, as a woman, as a counselor, and as an educator. Reflecting on my time in seminary, there are five things from the unexpected journey of seminary that changed my life. 

1. I developed a deeper understanding and love for teaching and discipleship

I was blessed with God-gifted instructors during my time at seminary. They modeled a Christlikeness in their teaching and actions that I wanted to emulate. I learned how to teach and counsel with a biblical worldview. God used my time in seminary to show me my gifts where teaching is concerned and my love for all things education and learning. It has been over twenty years since I was at Southwestern, but I find the excitement of teaching that was spurred so many years ago is still present. In 2009, I rejoined the seminary community as a student in doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary earning a Doctorate in Education and now have joined the instructional faculty as an Assistant Professor of Christian Education. 

2. I developed a love for the people of God and the story He tells through them

I met so many people from all walks of life while at seminary. There were women and men of all ages that had come to this one place to train for ministry and learn about serving God. I met deeply devoted followers who took time to pour into the people around them and share their experiences for the expressed purpose of bringing God glory. I grew up in a Christian home and in solid Baptist churches my entire life, but seeing God weave together this beautiful community of believers from all walks of life was an experience that taught me just how intricate and detailed God is in His design. Looking back, it was experiences like these that prepared me to be a pastor’s wife in the local church and to value the story that God tells through each one of us as we serve Him.

3. God created in me a deeper understanding of my calling as an individual and a sister in Christ

Seminary provided me an opportunity to explore what it means to be a counselor and a teacher. I had opportunities to serve as a counselor to women in crisis who had traumatic pasts. I had opportunities to absorb learning and teaching theory but also apply it and practice it. Through my classes and interactions with classmates and professors, I began to grasp a true sense of what it means to be in ministry serving the Lord whether it be as a volunteer, a women’s Bible study leader, or on staff at a church.

4. I understood the true meaning of bearing each other’s burdens

This was one of the greatest gifts that the Lord blessed me with during this time. Walking through life with fellow believers–the good, the bad, and the ugly. In my own time of need during my seminary studies, I had a close family member die. Within hours of his death, I was surrounded by prayer and support. It did not just come from my friends, but from my professors too. Taking exams early, being gone for an extended time during the week of the funeral was something I was worried about, and my mind was put at ease with words like “Don’t worry about that now,” “Take care of your family,” “Know that we are praying for you,” and “Take as much time as you need.” Those were words of comfort and a true exemplification of bearing one another’s burdens. 

5. Lastly, there were numerous opportunities for authentic discipleship

Up to that point, I had not fully surrendered all my life to the Lord. This was the first time I was confronted with my own heart issues, and I felt utterly alone and desperate before the Lord, but in a good way. Through my course of study, my professors, my local church, and my community with other seminary students, the Lord honed my heart and mind to serve Him and to be more like Him. 

I walked away from seminary a different person than when I entered. It was a time of brokenness, a time of encouragement, a time of discipleship, and some of my highest highs and lowest lows, but more than anything, each time I found myself sitting in a seminary classroom, it was an unexpected God detour that changed my life for the better.