Studying Is Serving

Dr. Daniel Carro addresses the question that plagues many seminary students, "What is more important: serving or studying?".
"Three years spent the apostles next to our Lord learning how to serve and also serving."

Studying Is Serving

By Dr. Daniel Carro, Professor of Divinity
September 2018

Beyond the many antinomies to which the Christian faith has been submitted by its members during the over 20 centuries of the history of Christianity—homousios vs. homoioousios, salvation by faith vs. salvation by deeds, Calvin vs. Arminius, conservative vs. liberal, personal gospel vs. social gospel, liberation vs. oppression, to mention just a few—a new contradiction seems to resurface today from among the mists of the past for seminarians: study or serve.

Families require time and engagement. Daily jobs require attention and creativity. Academic courses require works of difficult production. Churches require tasks that are not simple to perform. Apart from the normal scarcity of neurons, everything takes time. Who can do everything? Who can fulfill every detail, every demand, every request? Every committed seminary student—Leland is not the exception—could write a book about the difficult art of seminary survival. And here the antinomy shows up: what is more important: serving or studying?

Let me dismiss the antinomy in one phrase: studying is also serving. Any person who really wants to serve God and others needs to study to know how to serve. Three years spent the apostles next to our Lord learning how to serve and also serving.

The first priority for a student of the ministry is to study in order to serve. Studying is not done only in the library, even when books are the best friends of the human being. A seminarian lives to study. When he/she goes to class, he/she studies the subject and studies the teacher. When he/she goes to church, he/she studies the church and studies the pastor. When he/she travels out on the streets of the city, he/she studies society and studies his/her contemporaries. Study, study, and study. Why do students do it? Perhaps some do it following the promise of Daniel, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:3 NRS), perhaps others do it under the advice of John: “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good”(3 Jo 1:11 NRS), and some others because they feel the urge to answer intimate questions between them and God.

In any case, a call to serving is indeed a call to study. Of course: if you are not planning to practice what you study do not waste your time studying. On the other hand, however, it is necessary to discover that studying is also serving. When you really study, you do not waste your time, you take advantage of it. The one who has studied a problem is better prepared to solve it. The one who knows a matter thoroughly can treat it more quickly and efficiently than the one who does not know it. Studying is not just preparing to serve some time in the future. Studying is serving the Lord right now in becoming a capable, skillful, competent laborer, useful for service to whatever God may ask.

There is no real antinomy between study and service. Studying is serving and serving is studying. A true seminarian learns soon to be a student because he/she has realized that being a student is going to be his/her duty forever in ministry. Nobody ever knows everything about life, everything about being a Christian, everything about philosophy and theology, everything about the post-modern world, everything about ministry, and so on. There is always room to learn. We are all apprentices, students, disciples. There is only one true Teacher, the rest of us are just attentive learners. All of us learn from and serve the only Lord and Savior Christ Jesus either when rising or going to bed, by striving or resting or engaging in the one and many of the infinite circumstances of life succinctly described in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. This is why at Leland we do not teach a student what to think, but how to think. The old Chinese proverb goes: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” A true seminary empowers their students with the tools that they need on a daily basis to prepare for ministerial duties, inside and outside the Christian community.

The seal of the John Leland Center reads: “Knowing Christ, Serving Christ.” Not only in theological education, the whole of Christian life is a calling to service, and a call to educate ourselves. We serve Christ by knowing Christ. We study and we encourage others to study. Studying is more than memorizing the latest trends. Studying is opening our hearts and minds to allow us to “welcome with meekness the implanted Word that has the power to save your souls” (Jam 1:21 NRS). Studying is service and studying is joy. Remember the words of the Bengali philosopher and educator Rabindranath Tagore: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

Since serving Christ is a full-time job, and because studying is not an accident in the life of a minister, therefore, for us, seminarian teachers and seminarian students, now and always, studying will be the beginning and the end of serving Christ.

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