I graduated from Multnomah Biblical Seminary with a Master of Divinity in Theological Studies in May this year amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Graduating during the lockdown was actually a small relief. I didn’t have to walk, nor throw a big party. I was hesitant to make a big deal of my degree completion, just because I’m a 45-year-old who got a masters. Big Whoop. I’ve been told its a big deal and that I should celebrate it when things open back up. I’d like to. But let me see if I can put into words why I’m hesitant to say my graduation is an extraordinary achievement. First of all, I had no other choice. I believe God made me to be a Bible teacher. It is my identity. Attending seminary was the next step in my journey and if I did not attend seminary, I would be negating my identity and disobeying God. All that is a fancy way of saying, I really, really wanted to go to seminary. Every credit I took was a pleasure – all 92 of them. The learning was a reward in itself. The degree was bonus. And I am proud of it for its significance to me.
Bible study is second nature to me, and if I did not attend seminary, I would still have accumulated a lot of Bible knowledge on my own. In fact, this is how I justified not pursuing a Bible degree of some sort for decades. I thought I would pick up what I needed in time. After completing seminary, I see that I was wrong. The discipline of formal education requires you to submit to what others say you should learn. It allows others, hopefully those with extensive knowledge, to input what is valuable to know. Seminary is not the end of my education. It did not teach me everything. But it did reveal spheres and scopes that I was ignorant of and enabled me to realize what I did not know. Seminary taught me how to understand my ignorance.
A prime example of this is learning what I consider the most valuable lesson of seminary. I started my first class in 2014 and it was an introductory course designed to teach you about yourself. Now, I consider myself a very self-aware person. So, I figured it would be an easy class and suspected I would not get anything new out of it. To complete the course, I had to take all the personality tests and spiritual gift tests and to form my theology of calling. I wrote a personal assessment of my strengths and weaknesses , mapped my life and composed my story of how God has shaped and worked in my life. All of this work culminated in a personal statement that put personality, life experience and spiritual passions into a declaration of identity. This clarification of myself has proven to be not only defining, but instructive. Countless times over the last 6 years, I have searched this document not only to clarify my choices, but to grant myself permission to say no.
Writing a personal statement and defining my personal values has enabled me to feel confidence in my decisions. Understanding who I am is the most valuable lesson I learned in seminary.
For example, in trying to decide whether to leave a weekend retreat when a family member was unexpectedly hospitalized or stay until the end, I recalled that a personal value is “Family is a gift to be indulged in and fiercely loyal to.” I left without feeling guilty that I could not complete the weekend. A more mundane example usually occurs around Halloween when I fight the desire to save money with the desire to create amazing costumes. I remember a personal value is “Creating is worth the time and money.” This grants me the permission to spend and create, for I am assured I won’t regret it. My first personal value is “The Bible is a bottomless mine with supernatural power to transform lives.” This informs my motto, “I will never say no to an opportunity to teach the Bible.” This helps me to clarify between ministry opportunities. Teaching the Bible will always trump other general leadership opportunities. If I follow the values I have established through a semester’s worth of personal study, I will stay true to who God has made me to be.
I emphasize and value the following in my life.
- The Bible is a bottomless mine with supernatural power to transform lives.
- Family is a gift to be indulged in and fiercely loyal to.
- Children and youth are the apple of God’s eye because they simply believe it’s all true!
- Women are vital to God’s kingdom work, no strings attached.
- Hearing others to understand them is greater than listening only.
- Creating is worth the time and money.
- Authentic and transparent people serve with diversity, and reserve judgment to God.