Staying Sane in Seminary

Wake up. Study. Class. Read. Class. Study. Class. Write. Read. Read. (oh yeah, eat.) Sleep.
Certain days at seminary may look like this. You may spend over 12 hours in one day working on a single paper (something I did about a week ago). It’s easy to get caught up in all your studies and forget about some of the important things outside the seminary walls.
This is why I’m providing you with three tips on how to stay sane in seminary.
1. Do something not involving books. For me, this was basketball. One of my greatest memories of seminary will certainly be the times I spent playing basketball with fellow seminary students and students from a nearby Bible college. We typically played three days a week.
Not only did basketball help keep me in shape, but it allowed me to interact with fellow students in a whole different environment. For one thing, you see a person’s true character out on the court. Another thing is that you form friendships that are hard to form in class. I know that guys like to spend time doing things together (e.g. basketball) rather than just sitting and talking (e.g. seminary class).
In addition to giving me some good friendships, basketball helped me to relax in seminary. Yes, it often wears me out, and I currently have four jammed fingers, but with all the sitting, learning, reading, and writing, it feels great to get out and do a physical activity that doesn’t involve any of those.
I’ve also enjoyed playing board games, cooking, running, and photography. Be involved in ministry while you are in seminary, but don’t forget to keep up with some of your favorite extracurricular activities. I think God has given these as good gifts to help keep us going.
2. Spend time with non-seminarians. This step is crucial for keeping your sanity. I’m in a small group at my church and I’m the only seminary student in it. It’s actually refreshing to spend time with them studying God’s word and encouraging one another in the faith. It helps me remember how normal people see God and seek to live out their faith in the world.
I did an internship with the pastor at my church, and I remember one story he told me. A group of local pastors wanted to get together and have some kind of “pastor lunch.” He told one of the other pastors that he couldn’t because he always went out to lunch with different members of our church. The other pastor was amazed and said something like, “I should probably get to know some of the people in my church.” Crazy, right?
Well I think sometimes people in seminary can forget what it’s like out in the real world. When I was struggling to choose a major at seminary, one of my favorite professors told me, “We need to major in people.” I’ll never forget that, and I hope you don’t either.
3. Remember the big things. I love Greek grammar and Greco-Roman history. I actually enjoy translating Josephus and reading about Alexander the Great’s conquests. However, I realized the other day that many people could care less about these things.
I was teaching a Sunday school class at my church and discussing the multi-faceted character of Herod the Great, as described by Josephus. I taught on Matthew chapter 2 and used a lot of background information from a paper I had written in seminary on King Herod. I’m sure some people enjoyed this, but the guy sleeping on the front row must not have.
I had a similar revelation sitting in a Sunday school class where a PhD student sought to prove to our Sunday school class a certain point in Isaiah that was quite technical. These two lessons taught me to remember the big things. Most people in church will never dive into the kind of academic rigor done in seminary, and that’s okay.
I am a huge supporter for church members being well trained in God’s word and theology. However, certain things learned in seminary aren’t necessarily what a Sunday school class needs to hear. Most church members aren’t worried about Greek genitive absolutes but about dealing with a difficult boss at work, trying to raise their kids in a godly way, or just getting the bills paid. They need to hear God’s word and be encouraged to trust Him.
It’s important to study hard in seminary but also to remember the world outside of seminary. If your feeling overwhelmed by seminary right now, maybe just set aside your computer and books and find a friend to go throw the football, watch a movie, or play put-put.
By Cameron Sapaugh. Cameron lives in Dallas, TX with his wife Kellie. After graduating with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Texas A&M, he headed off to Dallas Theological Seminary. He is currently in his last semester of the ThM program and hopes to pursue doctoral studies in New Testament in the fall. He enjoys photography, basketball, reading, writing, and windsurfing.

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Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns is a past Marketing Manager at Faithlife and now works at Redemption Hill Church in Richmond, VA.

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