One of the most valuable things I’ve done in my first few weeks at seminary is set up office hours with three of my five professors. Why? One of them bought me a burger! So it’s at least worth $8.25. All joking aside, I’d like to try and convince you that forming relationships with your professors is one of the more valuable things you could do on campus.
1. Book education v. Professor education
The professors are what makes seminary so great. Frankly, you can read books your entire life. You can watch lectures on YouTube, iTunesU, or on seminaries’ websites. No, seriously, you can get an education for next to nothing. What makes seminary valuable is the professors. Your professors are the ones who will assign multiple textbooks and papers and probably deliver most of your lectures as well. What’s more, there’s a good chance at many schools that you’ll end up taking several classes with the same professor. What that means is this: You aren’t learning how to read the Bible from your textbook; you’re learning from the professor who assigned the textbook. Learning from the authors is what you do either on your own time or in a PhD program.
2. Learn their minds.
When you make office hours, try to ask questions that will give them a platform to talk about what they really care about. Remember common themes or stories that have come out in their lectures and ask where those come from. Find out which authors really formed them. Listen to stories about their experiences with certain situations and people at their churches, and they’ll give you special insights into how their minds work.
In my church history class, my professor said something that seemed very at odds with my understanding of what the church is called to be. I told him some of my story and my influences, and he responded by clarifying his statement, supporting it with some of his own experiences, and he even shared some of his foundational personal convictions about what church is and ought to be. We went back and forth for maybe an hour, and he was able to point out some areas I should do extra reading in. He even offered to supervise an independent study with me next semester on the ante-Nicene church fathers!
3. Knowing how they think and live will help you learn better
Lunch, relationships, and independent studies aside, I still want to argue for the immensely practical value of getting to know your professors: it will enhance your understanding of their lectures! When you want to understand a book, you have to read the introduction thoroughly and then research the life, times, and complete works of the author. All I’m advocating for is that you would treat living authors the same way you treat dead ones. It will enrich your educational experience so much.
By Jack Franicevich Jack is an MDiv student at Denver Seminary. His interests range from the doctrine of the church, theologies of friendship and work, preaching, hymn-writing, and grassroots ecumenism to competitive table tennis, cooking for large groups, classical literature, and organizational development.