Mark Farrell: Why Did I Go to Seminary if I Already had a Ministry Job?

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(Guest post by Mark Farrell, MDiv student who serves as administrator and youth pastor at Tampa Covenant Church)

Courtesy of Tampa Covenant

My journey to RTS and full-time ministry was long, arduous and providential as it came after a 22 year Air Force career. 7 years into my Air Force career in 1994, as a young husband and father, I answered the call to ministry and the struggle began; “should I trade in the uniform for the pulpit?” My Associate Pastor was attending RTS and I truly desired a seminary education but it was impossible given my circumstances. In 1997, while stationed in Warner Robins, GA, I contemplated separation from the Air Force in favor of full-time ministry but a dear friend advised against it saying: “the Lord will use your Air Force career to prepare you for ministry.” He was correct! As the Air Force took us around the world, the Lord provided numerous opportunities for lay ministry in and out of uniform.

Finally, in 2007 we returned to our home church in Tampa, FL where I became the part-time youth pastor while serving on active duty at MacDill AFB. I retired from the Air Force in 2009 and eventually became the Church Administrator in 2013 after resigning from an HR Manager position as an Air Force civilian.

Now a fulltime churchman, the opportunity for seminary became a reality thanks to the GI Bill (which wasn’t available in 1994). I quickly realized I would have many hats to wear: Youth Pastor, Church Administrator and Seminary Student. Oh yeah, could I do this with a wife, 3 children and our precious bulldog “Jackson?” Admittedly, there was no hesitation, the Elders gave their blessing, my family was extremely supportive and I jumped in right away. I had been waiting almost twenty years for this opportunity and the moment finally came.

Well, here I am two classes from graduation and I reflect on my Seminary experience by asking myself 3 questions:

1. Could I have gotten by without seminary?

When I came to RTS in 2013, I was fully immersed in ministry:  preaching, counseling, weddings, funerals, visiting the sick, reviewing budgets, etc.  However, I still lacked the proper training needed to fully engage God’s Word and shepherd His flock.  My view of the local church was somewhat intuitive.  Meaning, I was familiar with all facets of the church but couldn’t properly articulate its nature and purpose.

I recall at the beginning of seminary, reading from Dr. John Frame’s booklet: “Studying Theology as a Servant of Jesus,” where he writes: “If you try to minister to people without a solid knowledge of God’s Word and an ability to apply it to human needs, you are worse than a physician who treats people in medical ignorance. Worse, because the consequences can be eternal.” Yikes!  I took those words straight to my heart; it’s absolutely daunting when you discover how much you don’t know.  The following classes deepened my understanding of the church:  Systematic Theology III, Theology of Ministry I & II, Educational Ministry of the Church, Church Polity, Worship and Covenant Theology.

Yes, I could’ve “gotten by” but my effectiveness as a minister of the Gospel would’ve been severely hampered by my lack of proper ministry training.

2. What classes did I benefit from most?

I benefitted immensely from the entire MDiv curriculum; however, the Preaching Lab classes served me best. The pulpit always intimidated me; therefore, I was very nervous about the Preaching Lab courses. Although I probably had the most preaching/ministry experience in each class, the idea of preaching in front of “learned men” and a Seminary professor was daunting! A turning point came in Preaching Lab I, with Professor Glodo, where a student’s prayer of illumination struck me as he prayed:  “Lord, please deliver me from the idol of performance.”  It was then I realized my struggle with nerves behind the pulpit primarily stemmed from the pressure of performance.  I repented of my pride and asked the Lord for His grace moving forward.

Next, with the help of Dr. Lanier, I grew immensely in Preaching Lab II, as he took time (lunch & learn) to discuss how to properly preach Christ in our sermons.  Additionally, we were encouraged on numerous occasions to put our seminary education to work in sermon prep:  Make use of our newly acquired skill in languages, Biblical and Systematic Theology vice over-reliance on commentaries. Finally, everything coalesced for me in Preaching Lab III.  Dr. Collins was masterful in bringing out the best of the entire class; he established an atmosphere fostering constructive and timely feedback; it was truly a “Log College” experience.

3.  Was seminary worth the sacrifice?

Absolutely!  I took two-thirds of my classes in the classroom, driving close to 300 miles per week for 4 years to attend classes.  I missed 4th of July celebrations, birthday parties, family outings, major events, etc., in order to complete readings, study for exams and write papers.  For me the return was much greater than the sacrifice.  The advantage of serving in full-time ministry while attending seminary came in seizing every opportunity to implement what I learned.  Everything I learned enhanced my ministry to the congregation.

As I come to the end of this journey, I’m thankful to the Lord for allowing me the opportunity for ministry training and my church for their commendation.

Further, I’m thankful to my wife of 27 years, Aida for her loving sacrifice and support. My children also deserve a shout out:  Chelsea 23, Daniela 19 and Mark Jr. 17, for hanging in there with Daddy.

To my brothers and sisters serving in full-time ministry who eagerly desire seminary training but the timing isn’t quite right.  Don’t lose heart, be sensitive to each life situation and seek Godly counsel.  Know it’s the Lord who put the desire in your heart and He will be faithful no matter your circumstance. His timing is always perfect.

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