Recently a young man who I know from Germany contacted me. He wanted some advice because he is going to Bible school in Germany in September to prepare for the pastorate. His questions are helpful and my answers to him may benefit some who are already studying theology or those will be in the future.
Question 1: What general advice on going to Bible college can you give me?
Never forget that it is the Holy spirit who ultimately unlocks the treasures of the gospel, therefore critically assess all you read and hear but with a teachable spirit. Pray for the illumination of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:17f) throughout your whole studies and indeed your whole life. Psalm 25:14, 'the friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant'.
A further comment is that you should take the biblical languages seriously. Give Hebrew and Greek 100% of your effort and see this as an investment for the years ahead!
Question 2: What are some dangers I should be aware of? How can I deal with them?
You must never forget that pride is perhaps the number one danger in ministry and what is worse is not being aware of the danger of pride. Theological knowledge can be dangerous so pray for a humble mind. The apostle Paul reminds us when he wrote 'knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Cor. 8:1)'.
Question 3: How can I practically connect academic and spiritual life?
I think by asking your pastor to take you under care throughout the whole process and to be asked for opportunities to grow in practical theology during your training. This should include not just preaching but all aspects of Christian ministry. Many people overlook the importance of inter-personal skills in Christian ministry. Consider how you could get feedback in this area of your life during the Bible college training also.
Question 4; What are some good study habits you can suggest?
Firstly get to know yourself. Are you a morning or evening person? It is difficult for me to fully answer this without superimposing onto you what works for me. However the art of good time management is crucial and therefore constantly evaluate your use of time critically; daily, weekly and monthly.
Question 5: In what areas did you feel that Bible College did not educate you where it was needed? As a pastor?
Perhaps three areas come to mind. As I have already mentioned inter-personal skills are often over-looked. Also practical theology can be neglected and this is where you need your pastor to mentor you. Perhaps the significance of the office of pastor and ecclesiology in general is often downplayed but maybe this is just my personal experience.
Question 6: What books, authors would you suggest for this time? Who are the really valuable, deep, long-lasting authors?
Without a doubt you should study the Westminster Standards; that is the Westminster Confession, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. I recommend that you memorise the 107 questions and answers in the Shorter Catechism. As regards theologians and authors there is none better than Calvin, especially his commentaries. Read Calvin much, in fact very much. You will be blessed and instructed but what is more you will become a better minister of the gospel.