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Realistic Advice for Seminary Grads

Chinese Church Voices is a weekly column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.


In China and around the world, a fresh batch of students have just graduated from seminary and are preparing to enter full-time ministry. In this article, Pastor Chen Shengfeng pours a “bucket of cold water” on zealous and idealistic seminary graduates entering ministry. He wakes them up to the fact that real-life ministry is not for the faint of heart. His warnings may shock new graduates but he also gives encouragement to help sustain them in future ministry trials.

Seminary Graduation Season: Are You Ready to Go Out Among Wolves?

Another year, another season of seminary graduations. It has initiated a crazy fad of graduation photos, graduation ceremonies, graduation parties in my friend circles, often bringing up memories even for me, a fossil of an alumni. Thinking back, I have been to over a dozen graduation ceremonies over the past 20 years, including three graduation ceremonies of my own (and one I didn’t attend). The excitement and gratefulness, the laughter and tears, the goodbyes and unwillingness to leave are all woven together. The anticipation for ministry, the passion for service, the love for the church are all gathered in one place, ready to burst forth, to be zealous in the church for the sake of the Lord, and to really “do something” with co-workers so long awaited.

But as an old alumnus who calmed down many years ago, a senior student who has bumbled his way through over ten years of serving in ministry, I want explain our current situation and our current pastoral field to the students and future shepherds who graduate this year, so that they can be mentally prepared. I think it is time to share again the Lord Jesus’ classic teaching: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

Therefore, I must first introduce the field of service you are about to enter, that is, the gospel field the Lord has prepared for you.

  1. There are many allies in ministry, but you may have difficulty finding people who truly have the same heart as you.
  2. Many pastors are hoping for you to enter ministry, but perhaps simply so that you could work for them.
  3. There may be endless criticisms and attacks waiting for you in ministries that originally saw you as “talented.”
  4. The “sheep” who are mewing to be fed may turn into the “wolves” who want to devour you.
  5. The ministry you will spend your life in is full of formless and invisible knives that you will need to face with sweat and blood.
  6. There is much to be harvested in the field, but it is often accompanied by shepherds “sowing in tears.”
  7. Though you want to be “greatly zealous” in some position, “traditional” views will bind you and make it difficult to take even one step forward.
  8. Friends whom you used to call brother will actively or passively grow distant because of different spiritual lives.
  9. Through encounters you will find fatal weaknesses in former spiritual elders, and your perspective will be utterly turned upside down.
  10. The “cross” created by the church will be your special lesson in faith, forcing you to gaze on the Lord.

The ten articles above are only a drop in the bucket of actual problems in the church. The problems in the church are definitely no less than at “problematic Corinth.” Indeed, the purpose of writing all this is to douse your explosive enthusiasm on graduating with a bucket of cold water, so that you wake up to the fact that you are at the real church, and can clearly understand that the Lord Jesus said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.”

Of course, I have no desire to slander the church, and even desperately hope that your church will not have any one of the ten articles above. But, I can confidently say that if your church does not have any of the above problems, then said church has absolutely no need to invite any preacher, lest this “imperfect” preacher pass on his “problems” to the church.

Therefore, I invite every graduating seminarian who reads this to quiet down at this time, once again review their “calling” from several years ago, and seek the Lord’s guidance in prayer. I would like to say:

  1. If you are looking for a steady job, do not go to the church, you won’t last.
  2. If you are looking for a high salary or good benefits, forget it, because it is mostly “poor preachers” here.
  3. If you are looking for some sort of title or office, you are definitely looking in the wrong place, because there is only one position here, called “servant.”
  4. If you have ever imagined that the title “pastor” is particularly noble or special, I want to say, daydream if you like, but don’t ever expect it to come true.
  5. If you are looking for a church with no problems, I truly have a responsibility to tell you: there is no such church on earth.
  6. If you anticipate the “sheep” you shepherd to love you or take care of you, go home! You father and mother still love you.

I’m sure that having read to this point, many graduates would have calmed down somewhat, and some may have been “shocked” by me.” Of course, it is possible that some readers want to “strangle” me, but I am more inclined to believe that some co-laborers would thank me. Finally, after having explained such a terrifying pack of “wolves,” I am eager to remind everyone with the Lord Jesus’ words: “so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

First, please remember, you will become a shepherd. To be more accurate, you are still a “sheep,” about to enter “in the midst of wolves.” Therefore, please do not assume that you are a capable, skilled “shepherd.” Hand over the authority to the great shepherd Jesus Christ, and through him become a “leading sheep.”

Second, please keep the quality of a “sheep” always. Learn the purity of “innocent as doves,” and definitely do not assimilate as a wolf in sheep’s clothing and become a “wolf in the midst of sheep.”

Furthermore, when faced with various “wolves,” in addition to keeping the innocence of doves, you must also learn to be “wise” as snakes, that is, being “innocent” but not “stupid,” and growing in the Lord’s grace.

Finally, if you are clear about the calling from the Lord, if you are set to enter this less than ideal field of service, then please definitely prepare yourself, set your heart, “deny [your]selves and take up [your] cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

As an old alumnus, as a shepherd still serving on the field, with a bit of Don Quixote’s idealism, I would like to quote Paul’s words as a final blessing,

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:7-10

Original Article: 神学毕业季:你准备好“进入狼群”吗? by 丰盛“书”房

Image Credit: Joseph Chan on Unsplash.

ChinaSource Team

Written by members of the ChinaSource staff.  View Full Bio


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