*See below to explain the picture
It is a universal problem that exists in all academic fields: the more one knows, the more one is likely to boast in their knowledge. This is very dangerous territory for the Christian, however. While on the one hand there is room for being thankful for our achievements, we must realize that pride is antithetical to the gospel and therefore there is absolutely no room for it. There should be a difference between how a Christian doctor sees her training in comparison to the non-Christian. All of our knowledge and wisdom should be seen as a gift from God and used for service towards others.
Unfortunately, seminary students in training are not exempt from this area of pride in their knowledge. If anything – because pastors and ministry leaders are held in high esteem by their communities – seminary students might be in even more danger than other professions when it comes to being tempted by pride. As the Apostle Paul tells us, knowledge puffs up but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).
This problem of pride amongst future church leaders is an epidemic that is largely going unnoticed. I myself have suffered and continue to suffer with it, but I am thankful that by God’s grace he has revealed the areas of my heart that have wrongfully been prideful in my seminary pursuits. To that end, I want to list five signs that you might be a prideful seminarian and the corresponding real gospel truths that go along with them.
1) Because you are in seminary, you think the church owes you a ministry position.
Whoever desires a position in ministry desires a noble task (1 Tim. 3:1). However, it is entirely possible to desire a ministry position with the wrong motives. A good sign that you are filled with pride in your seminary pursuits is that you believe simply because you are taking or have taken seminary classes you deserve a position in ministry. This might be subtle in that you work behind the scenes to elevate yourselves above others. Perhaps you subconsciously criticize the way your current leaders do things and think you could do it better. It could also be obvious in the way you talk to your community or your leaders. You might even outright confront your leaders and make demands to be in a leadership position.
The gospel truth is that no one is qualified for a ministry position. It is only by the grace and mercy of God that anyone is qualified to lead. If you want to even begin pursuing qualifications for ministry, start with the guidelines laid out in 1 Timothy and Titus. True qualification for ministry begins at the cross and remains at the cross. Your seminary education should lead you into a deeper understanding of the state of your wickedness and your need for Jesus. It should lead you to a deep desire to serve God’s people with all that you’ve been trained and equipped in. Only then may we begin to think ourselves even remotely ready for ministry leadership.
2) You want everyone to know how much you know, so you needlessly quote things that don’t need quoting.
One of the surest signs that you are a prideful seminarian is that you want others to know how much you know. For you it is not so much important that others understand what you know, so much as that they know you know things (how much wood would a woodchuck chuck…). If you are prideful in this area, you go out of your way to quote a bunch of dead dudes in random conversations. If you’re educated in the original languages, you want everyone to know so you unnecessarily use it (*see the cover picture for this article…ironnyyyyyy!). Your theological knowledge is not a way for you to serve others, but to be superior to them.
The gospel reality is that every single word we read and learn in seminary is to be used for the church. Any gift we are given in the areas of teaching or knowledge are to be used for the Body of Christ, not ourselves (1 Corinthians 12). Nobody cares how much theology you know, the only thing that matters is how you serve your brothers and sisters with what you know. The duty of a ministry leader or pastor is to take their seminary knowledge and make it applicable to the heart of the Christian such that it draws them closer to Jesus.
3) You want everyone to know that you’re in seminary.
Another strong piece of evidence that you are a prideful seminarian is that you want everyone else to know you are in seminary. Because you think seminary makes you a somebody, everyone else needs to know that you are taking seminary classes. You might even try to drop this fact through the art of the #humblebrag, which really means you just want to boast and brag over your brothers and sisters.
The gospel truth is that without Jesus we are nothing (Eph 2:1-10). Jesus makes us a somebody, not our seminary classes or the books we are reading. Again, nobody cares that you’re in seminary if you aren’t using it to serve the church.
4) You are overly critical of your peers.
A guaranteed sign of pride in your seminary education is that you believe it makes you entitled to critique and “offer advice” to your peers…all the time. If this is a problem for you, then you never stop to listen for advice because you’re always the one giving it. You speak when you’re not spoken to and offer criticisms when they’re not warranted. You probably critique your leaders behind their backs. Every time you learn something new in the classroom you twist conversations to make it apply to someone else. Your own heart isn’t being changed because you’re too busy trying to change others.
The hard gospel truth is that every piece of knowledge you learn in the classroom needs to impact your own heart before it can impact someone elses. Your time in seminary should be a time of increased listening and heart transformation (Prov. 12:15), not increased criticism of your peers. Don’t be a know-it-all. Instead, confess your sins to your peers and show them how your heart is being changed by your seminary education.
5) You constantly want to best yourself over your seminary brothers and sisters.
While there is always room for healthy competition, the seminary classroom can quickly turn into a place of unhealthy and unhelpful boasting. Because you are prideful, you want to be better than your peers in the classroom. You don’t like it if they get better grades than you, so you come up with excuses. You probably brag about your opportunities to speak outside the classroom. You want everyone to know that you’re smart (or so you think), so you find ways inside and outside the classroom to boast in your knowledge.
The gospel truth is that the seminary classroom should be a place for humility and encouragement of one another. There is no room for boasting in our knowledge or education – is that not contra-gospel? Instead, our seminary classrooms should be marked by a deep sense of humility and grace, constantly seeking to build one another up (1 Thess. 5:11). You should not seek to prove your intelligence, but build up your peers that they might be strong in their own pursuits. If you’re getting ministry opportunities that your peers aren’t getting, then you should be building up your peers in preparation for those experiences. If we can’t be graceful towards one another in the classroom, then how are we going to be graceful to the men and women in the church that we serve?
If you struggle with pride in any of these areas, my encouragement to you is not to feel down and out. Jesus died for prideful sinners like us. Read, meditate, and pray Philippians 2:1-11. Pick up a copy of Valley of Vision and pray through “Man A Nothing” and “Humility in Service.” They will wreck your face. Confess your sins to your church, and resolve to serve them with your whole heart.