Why Put Missions on Hold to Go to Seminary? A First-Person Perspective

I’ve lived the question, “Why put missions on hold to go to seminary?” I’ve been in seminary eight years and at various times, I’ve begged the Lord to answer that question. And through this time of study, the Lord has taught me a lot about its answer in my own life.

I was a missionary. I returned from the field, ready to rush through the thirty hours of seminary required by the IMB for certain positions so I could go back overseas as quickly as possible. I wanted to return to my previous city of service. It was a city with millions of people and very little Christian presence. I knew the language. I understood the culture, I knew the area. I had friends, both Christians and non-Christians, who treated me like family. The city was a conglomeration of lostness. The task was great. I needed to return.

But as I went further and further in my studies, I realized God was saying, “Not yet.” I wanted to go with the minimum thirty hours of seminary. “Not yet.” I wanted to do the 2+2 program, which would allow me to finish my seminary degree overseas. “Not yet.” I wanted to complete my masters and go overseas. “Not yet.” Now here I am, working on a PhD. I could have done my PhD while working overseas, but as I prayed about options, I once again heard, “Not yet.”

“Through all the many times I’ve heard ‘Not yet,’ I’ve recognized that the Lord is working in my heart and in my circumstances in ways I don’t always understand.”

Through all the many times I’ve heard “not yet,” I’ve recognized that the Lord is working in my heart and in my circumstances in ways I don’t always understand. He prepares me for the mission field, yes. But he also uses my time here to deepen my relationship with him and chisel away the sinful parts of me. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned while in seminary.

God’s request for my obedience sometimes means I stay.

I often equate obedience to God with crazy leaps of faith, big moves, and grand adventures. But this isn’t always the case. David Platt has talked about putting a metaphorical blank check on the table—offering our lives to God to use as he pleases. But what happens when I write that blank check and instead of asking for $10,000, God asks for $5.86? What if I say I will go anywhere and he asks me to remain where I am? I desperately want to cross oceans for the Lord, but do I know how to rest in his presence in the monotony of every day?

This struggle is all the more real to this millennial generation. We were raised to find adventure. Many of us long for other cultures and great stories to share. And seminary seems . . . so boring. We suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Why am I missing out on this great adventure so I can work and go to school? But if God calls us, we must obey.

When I obey, I submit to God’s authority as Lord of my life. I allow him to take his rightful spot as the lead character in my life’s story instead of claiming it for myself. Even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when I’d rather be on the field. Even when I think my life’s impact would be greater out there than at seminary. My obedience is a form of my worship.

God reminds me that I am not the savior.

For me, the heart of this question sometimes boils down to a pride issue. I am needed on the field. These people need me. But the truth is, God allows us to be participants in his mission. Lost people don’t need me in order to be found. They need him. Christians in that part of the world don’t need me. They need him. I can take a very good desire to fulfill my role in God’s mission and, if I’m not careful, substitute myself as the savior.

“While he asks me to respond in obedience to a call to stay and be trained, I can take joy in the recognition that God is already working in the mission field I intend to join.”

If God calls me to seminary, he will still fulfill his purposes around the globe. Other missionaries are going. Global Christians are reaching out to their neighbors. While he asks me to respond in obedience to a call to stay and be trained, I can take joy in the recognition that God is already working in the mission field I intend to join. And instead of going as a savior, I go as a friend, a co-laborer, a learner, and a partner.

Life is a journey, not a destination.

Many attribute this quote to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and it has a lot of truth. In my seminary journey, I found myself viewing seminary as only a means to a goal. To be clear, seminary is a training ground, but it’s not just a training ground. One day, I realized when I view seminary as only a training ground for something next, I miss out on what God has put in my life today.

I lose sight of the fact that God loves my lost neighbor just as much as he loves the lost woman on the other side of the world. I cut corners on my health or the time I spend intentionally building relationships because I view seminary as “a season” and claim that one day I will be able to develop those habits “when life calms down.” I’m overwhelmed with school so I let my prayer life or my evangelistic endeavors slide, vowing to pick them up later.

Seminary is a training ground. But it’s also life. Today I am a student at a seminary. Today I’m also an employee, a friend, a daughter, a neighbor, and a church member. Although I prepare for tomorrow, I’m not promised tomorrow. And the journey of seminary—the opportunities to learn about God, to be chiseled into his image, to face the furnace of life, to step up in my local church, to challenge other believers to consider God’s mission—is worth every minute.

Anna is a PhD student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in applied theology. She is interested in cross-cultural studies and the arts, as well as creative methods for theological education. She currently works for the SEBTS Global Theological Initiatives department. When not studying, she loves being outside or in a coffee shop with a friend.

This article originally appeared on The Center for Great Commission Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.