Rick Warren knows a great deal about being a pastor. He also knows that his seminary training at Southwestern helped pave the way to a successful ministry as pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.
During an interview while on campus for the Anabaptism and Contemporary Baptists conference, Warren shared insights into maximizing one’s seminary experience. Warren earned his Master of Divinity from Southwestern in 1979.
“I have absolutely nothing but fond memories of coming to this school,” Warren said. “It was three years that I absolutely loved every moment.”
Warren, who knew he would plant a church after seminary before he even arrived on campus, said students should have an idea of the future ministry to which God has called them.
“You’ll get more out of seminary if you know where you’re going,” Warren said. “Seminary is not a place to find yourself. Seminary is a place to prepare yourself for what you’re already going to do. So, if God’s called you to be a pastor or to serve on a staff or work at a Christian organization or teach in a Christian academic setting, then when you go to seminary, you can shape your studies to help you the most."
This planning even includes the courses students take.
“A second thing I would encourage people to do during their time at Southwestern is to study things that you’ll never study again. … I took courses that I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. One of the things that I highly recommend is studying church history, because unless you get church history here, you’re probably not going to get it.
“I also took a lot of courses in the religious education field because I wanted to learn curriculum development. It’s interesting that the things that we don’t like the most about school—we don’t like group work; we don’t like working in teams; we don’t like working on a project with other people—that’s the very thing you’re going to spend the rest of your life doing as a pastor. Most of the pastorate is not on your own; you’re doing it in meetings with other people.”
Warren holds high esteem for theological education. As someone who has trained more than 400,000 pastors in 14 countries, he says, “I highly recommend seminary.”
“I think seminary gives to you a depth that you don’t have anywhere else. The difference between a seminary-trained pastor and one who has not had theological education is really obvious, because there’s more roots, there’s more depth, you understand more of the long-term view of Christianity than the short-term view. If I just grab the Bible and start preaching, I don’t really have any depth of historical consequences.”
Additionally, Warren advises seminary students to be involved in ministry while they attend seminary rather than waiting until graduation, even if it is only a volunteer position. While in seminary, he volunteered as an unpaid staff member at Southcliff Baptist in Fort Worth.
“You may say, ‘How do you do that with all that’s going on?’ You just have to do it,” Warren said. “Go serve in a little church and just love on people and develop those relational skills.”
Warren concluded with a plea for seminary students to nurture their marriage.
“It is very important that your wife be 100 percent behind your ministry, Warren said. “You will have no ministry if you lose your marriage.”