As a young ministerial student in college, I’d eagerly accept any opportunity to speak so that I might grow and develop as a preacher of the Gospel. A frequent venue for me was a “brotherhood breakfast” in small rural churches.
After speaking at one particular meeting, an older man approached me and engaged in conversation. He was interested to know about any future plans after college.
So I said, “I think I’m headed to seminary.”
“Oh yeah?” he replied. “Which one?”
I told him I’d narrowed my decision down to a couple of options, but my intention was to enroll at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
About that time a couple other guys had joined us in conversation, and the man turned to his friend and said, “Hey, this young man is headed to the Southern Baptist Theological Cemetery.” Everyone kind of chuckled, like they’d heard that one before. It took me a couple seconds, but I played along and said, “I see what you did there!”
I’m still not sure what was behind his quip, however. It could’ve been just a joke, or a dig at Southern Seminary specifically, or caution against higher theological education in general. I recall having conversations with church members and friends in other churches who believed seminary would ruin me because “knowledge puffs up.” Others said not to worry about more study and to “just get to work for Christ.” Sadly, far too many well-meaning folks doused cold water on the fire I had to prepare for a lifetime of ministry.
The comment from the man at the breakfast is revealing, though. A cemetery, by definition, is a place of grave plots, a place dedicated to physical death. But a seminary, by definition, is a place of “seed plots,” a place dedicated to spiritual life. Far from smelling the academic aroma of death in seminary, I was immersed in the life-giving fragrance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Even though some of the Baptists I’ve encountered downplayed seminary education to me, I am profoundly grateful that they still contributed to my pursuit through Cooperative Program giving in their churches. Such CP giving helped make it possible, and affordable, for me to be equipped and prepared for Gospel ministry.
The Gospel came alive to me regardless of the course subject matter. Biblical languages brought the Scriptures to life in deep and meaningful ways. Church history classes reminded me that generations of believers before me lived and died in the hope of eternal life in Christ. Theology courses energized and grounded my faith. Evangelism and preaching classes stirred up a desire for all people to find eternal life in Jesus and to proclaim the riches of His grace.
In no way did seminary deal a ruinous death-blow to me! On the contrary, seminary planted and watered and cultivated the seeds of Gospel truth, biblical knowledge, evangelistic fervor, pastoral care and theological rigor. In short, my spiritual life and ministerial call matured for fruit production and did not wither on the vine.
As I recall those days in college when I wrestled with whether to continue in higher education, I am pleased that the Lord led me to seminary. I’d do it all over again the same way! Although all of our SBC seminaries are wonderful and are producing faithful and fruitful ministers, I’m thankful for Southern Seminary and her investment in me as a herald of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
At every convocation since the seminary’s founding, Basil Manly’s hymn “Soldiers of Christ, in Truth Arrayed” has been sung. Its words still ring in my heart and call me to make the most of my time and experience in seminary. May they encourage you as well as you proclaim the life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ:
Soldiers of Christ, in truth arrayed,
A world in ruins needs your aid:
A world by sin destroyed and dead;
A world for which the Savior bled.
His Gospel to the lost proclaim,
Good news for all in Jesus’ Name;
Let light upon the darkness break
That sinners from their death may wake.
Morning and evening sow the seed,
God’s grace the effort shall succeed.
Seedtimes of tears have oft been found
With sheaves of joy and plenty crowned.
We meet to part, but part to meet
When earthly labors are complete,
To join in yet more blest employ,
In an eternal world of joy.
— Micah Carter, who earned master of divinity and Ph.D. degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is pastor of First Baptist Church in Ripley, Miss., and president-elect of the Mississippi Baptist Pastors’ Conference.