Seminary and Ministry as a Woman

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Ephrata

Puritan Board Freshman
Hi everyone! I'm seeking your wisdom on which seminaries might be good to attend in my personal circumstances.

Some background: I am an undergraduate at a secular university whose heart and calling seems to lie with women's ministry, family ministry, and scholastic education. Usually, women who are interested in such fields are led to programs that deal with emotions and psychology only. Tenderheartedness is dear in the Lord's sight, and should be stressed in any ministry program, but it can also be tiresome to be treated as a heart without a soul and a brain. Most women and girls that I've spoken with seem tired of being treated this way, anyway. So I sought a rigorous Reformed seminary to pursue this path.

Generally, seminaries tend to go one of three ways:

1. They have numerous programs for women with excellent funding, yet are based on a terribly liberal theology that probably led the seminary to accept women as pastoral candidates in the first place. Of course, I have absolutely no designs on church pastorship, eldership, or deaconry (as it's clearly un-Biblical).

2. They have fantastic theology and ministry programs designed for men who wish to lead churches, but only accept women into their classes if they are the pastoral candidates' wives (my father recommended The Master's Seminary and PRTS when I first expressed my desire to look at ministerial education, and we ran into this very problem).

As much as I would love to serve a church as a pastor's wife (and maybe you pastor's wives can tell me how naive I am for that), that office is not exactly one that somebody can apply for, and so I won't treat it like an option.

3. A handful of reformed theological seminaries allow women to study languages and doctrine, but they don't have programs for ministry.

Does anyone know of any truly reformed seminaries accept unmarried women for training in both theology and ministry?
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Tori,

I would recommend coming up here to GCTS. It's not reformed as such (and yes, there are women pastoral candidates) but there are a number of Profs who are reformed and many students who will be supportive of and sympathize with your desire to serve the church without usurping men's roles. Frankly we need more women like you here (and it's pretty close to you).
 

Hamalas

whippersnapper
First things first, it's wonderful that you are discerning God's calling in this way. We need educated laypeople (both men and women) if the church is to thrive.

I do have a few clarifying questions so that we can better answer your concerns. First, you mention wanting training in both theology and ministry. What do you have in mind under that category of "ministry"? Second, are you studying something in your undergrad that would help to pave the way for seminary and how far away are you from seminary right now?

My first thought was to suggest one of the two Westminster Seminaries but I'll wait to hear your answers before I expound on that. :)
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
Mid-America admits women into the MTS program (Masters of Theological Studies) and thus women are able to study the Bible (including the languages), church history, and doctrine (we have two concentrations in this: biblical or historical/theological studies). It is the case, however, that women do not study in the ministerial division as that pertains to the M.Div. degree to which only men are admitted.

Westminster Theological Seminary, however, admits women into ministerial studies (though it opposes women in ordained ministry), in the sorts of areas that you indicate. I would suggest that you contact WTS, since it is confessionally Reformed and provides training in the desired concentrations.

Peace,
Alan
 

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
I find it inspiring that you want to serve Christ and His church with your life and all your talents. That is a desire He cherishes and it is beautiful. I pray you will be encouraged in it and find a special place for your gifts.

Just for clarity's sake, I feel certain you did not mean to imply that psychology-counseling related fields require only tenderheartedness or emotion divorced from soul-mind. A tremendous amount of theological understanding, knowledge of man and cultures, and insight -- spiritual experience and wisdom --has to go into such work, which is far more wholly demanding of the person than classroom interaction with academic theories. The men and women who are engaging in all those private wars of sin and the devastating forces of personal histories are by no means being subjugated to a line of work in which they are reduced to one dimension. I would argue that all relationships (parent, wife, sister, daughter, friend) demand far more of us as total human beings ministering something whole to one another, something vital for the health of our world, than an isolated academic profession.

Another thing I wanted to ask about -- and perhaps this ought to be a separate thread -- is the idea of the pastor's wife having a special calling to or role in ministering to the church. My husband is studying to be a pastor and while wholly supportive, while more than willing (though quite familiar enough to be very afraid of my weakness) at this time in my life to go wherever God leads -- I am 'called' to make a home for my husband, to be a help meet to him, and don't feel gifted in any particularly special way for the church at large -- though like every member I want to pray, love, listen, do what I can. I recognise that other women in this station are more gifted, able to do more than I am -- so I don't want to speak absolutely. But if pastor's wife is considered a ministerial office in some way -- I don't really know what to think about my presumption here.

One other comment: the mothers and grandmothers working in minimum wage jobs at the Hispanic church we attend don't express a sense of not being mentally challenged enough in their roles in the church. The uppermost thing when they come to church is not weariness at being treated like a heart without a soul and mind, but just weariness, heart, soul, and mind. They need very accessible grace for the life they are leading in a difficult world full of daily subsistence trials and troubled relationships. I think we are led to expect that not only the majority of society, but of those God calls into His church, will be the poor and despised of the world. There is as great a danger in being too academic, than not academic enough in meeting these womens' needs. 'It will take all our learning to make things plain.'

I would hope all of this is not discouraging but that it might even help give further form to your thoughts about where you want to go and where your talents can best serve. Christ has always employed women in His service (Matthew 27:55), and not everyone winds up serving in the same way. I just don't think the more common relationships and roles women fill should be seen as demanding less of a total sacrifice and endeavor of us 'whole', engaging all our faculties. Relationships demand far more of any of us than we have to give -- whatever our capacities. One of those fully demanding challenges in more common roles is to be content to be known in private, unrecognised in any special capacities, to have something real and eternal (however transitory in earthly history) in the small sphere of delight and nurture poured into a few people one cherishes.
 

Elizabeth

Puritan Board Sophomore
Heidi, that last sentence of yours is profoundly true. Also something most of us in our society don't want to hear.

May I share it with a person close to me who is struggling with this very thing(littleness in the world's eye)?
 

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
Elizabeth, of course -- having gotten to know Tori a bit via messaging (a rewarding experience with someone so genuinely thoughtful and Christlike -- as well as genuinely loving John Donne :) I don't think? she would mind the thread itself being shared, and there may be further discussion when she has more time.
 

Elizabeth

Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks so much, Heidi. It's just that sentence that I will pass on. I think it will help this person.

Take Donne and add Hopkins and you've got yourself some intense mind-pleasing pleasure. :cheers2:
 

Ephrata

Puritan Board Freshman
A quick break in my exam studies to reply-- thank you all for your patience!
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Philip, Alan, Trent, Mr. Religion-- thank you very much; I'll be exploring what these institutions, specifically, have to offer in the coming days. I've never heard of some of these, and the wealth of results from more experienced people gives me great hope.:)
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I do have a few clarifying questions so that we can better answer your concerns. First, you mention wanting training in both theology and ministry. What do you have in mind under that category of "ministry"? Second, are you studying something in your undergrad that would help to pave the way for seminary and how far away are you from seminary right now?

To define "ministry"-- basically, care and counsel for women according to Biblical principles. Ideally, I would be working as a women's fellow with a college ministry (such as RUF) and/or simply ministering as a laywoman to women in a local church or family. If the homeschool/family path isn't in the Lord's plan, my heart is set on one day working as a teacher in a Christian high school. Although the subject would likely be English or History, it strikes me that a Christian in academic authority should have a thorough, Biblical education, as well. By God's grace, my student loans will likely be enough to potentially pursue such studies in a short period of time, and happily, a teaching certificate can often be earned in concert with seminary studies.

Currently, I'm taking extracurricular theological courses with a reformed ministry here on campus. This consists of a seminar and reading each week. My summers have been spent volunteering with a Christian apologetics program that grants college credit to high schoolers, leading groups of young women.

Unfortunately, the closest thing that my college has to anything vaguely resembling theological training is a degree in "Religious Studies", which rather seems designed to make following Christ look foolish. Hence, the English major. There is a nascent education program that does not grant a teaching certificate, but it does give graduates a designation that is acceptable to many private schools, in practice.

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The Ministry of the Church, as ordered by her King and Head, Jesus Christ, is that of Word (teaching, preaching, counseling), Sacrament, & Diaconal service, carried out by the various officers of the church duly called, examined, and commissioned thereunto. If you're talking about taking up any of those duties, then here is to hoping no seminary worth its salt provides such unlawful things and -if it does- may not truly be called truly reformed. If you're not speaking of ministry in that sense (as an official capacity within the church), for learning biblical languages, systematic theology, and the such (all of which is quite commendable), I suppose there are a few good seminary course options in places like Whitefield, Greenville Presbyterian Theological, Mid-America Reformed, Puritan Reformed Theological, etc. Those things, coupled with a hearty diligence in and attendance upon the means of grace in a local confessional church, wherein the fellowship the older women teach the younger women, and they all minister to one another, and to the men -according to appropriateness, place, and station- should make for a robust education, practice, and preparation for life. I say these things, not to discourage your zeal for a Reformed education, which is most certainly a worthy endeavor, and not the least bit unlawful; but, rather, to discourage the tide of egalitarian culture of today in regards to a proper understanding of Biblical ministry as it pertains to God's ordained means of grace in His Kingdom, Zion, the Church.

Josh, I wouldn't dream of egalitarianism. To be honest, I'm actually rather tired of the constant societal pressure to pretend to be the identical mold of a man, whether in ministerial office or in life. It's unnatural and unbiblical. Men and women are equals in soul and humanity, but certainly not in church authority. Please forgive me if I gave the impression that I thought so, or was trying to act as if it were so.

Thank you for your suggestions; they're great!

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I would hope all of this is not discouraging but that it might even help give further form to your thoughts about where you want to go and where your talents can best serve. Christ has always employed women in His service (Matthew 27:55), and not everyone winds up serving in the same way. I just don't think the more common relationships and roles women fill should be seen as demanding less of a total sacrifice and endeavor of us 'whole', engaging all our faculties. Relationships demand far more of any of us than we have to give -- whatever our capacities. One of those fully demanding challenges in more common roles is to be content to be known in private, unrecognised in any special capacities, to have something real and eternal (however transitory in earthly history) in the small sphere of delight and nurture poured into a few people one cherishes.

Heidi, as I have PMed you, these words are full of humbling truth. I've primarily been working in an environment where most problems are blessedly intellectual, and so the reminder of the need for a different focus in the rest of the world is very important. I appreciate it.
---
Elizabeth, you're free to use any words of mine or Heidi's that you like on this post. :eek: Also, couldn't agree more on Hopkins!
 

reaganmarsh

Puritan Board Senior
Tori, I don't have a whole lot to add to this discussion (apart from encouraging you that, if you're in the Southern Baptist Convention, then you ought to consider SBTS -- excellent biblical counseling training coupled with strong biblical/theological studies).

I mostly wanted to tell you that your attitude in this thread has been an encouragement to me, and to encourage you to press on in humble love to the saints and service to our Lord.

Grace to you.
 

Hamalas

whippersnapper
Well I'm obviously biased towards PRTS as that is where I hope to attend. :) But if you're looking for other options I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better fit than Westminster in Philadelphia. They are one of the top Reformed seminaries academically, they work closely with CCEF (a Reformed counseling group that is outstanding) and have many women who are studying there for similar reasons to your own. Obviously a lot of prayer and research will help to make that decision but I would suggest talking with the people there. Blessings sister!
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
My wife had a good experience at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS). She studied Bible, theology and languages right alongside men who were training to be pastors (and plenty of other men and women who were not). The degree program for pastors-in-training was somewhat different from hers, but not terribly different. Certainly, she got plenty of "meat."

The same could be said, I believe, for many fine Reformed seminaries.
 

Hamalas

whippersnapper
When I was at Puritan there were no women students. Has that changed?

I don't know if there are any women currently attending (I won't be studying there for another year or two) but I did find this statement in the current academic catalog: https://puritanseminary.org/academics/academic-catalog-2/#Admission
Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary considers applications from interested students who affirm their agreement with the Three Forms of Unity or Westminster Standards, have successfully completed an undergraduate degree, and possess spiritual commitment and adequate intellectual abilities. Because of our commitment to male church leadership, women are only invited to apply for the MAR or ThM degrees.
 

N. Eshelman

Puritan Board Senior
When I was at Puritan there were no women students. Has that changed?

I don't know if there are any women currently attending (I won't be studying there for another year or two) but I did find this statement in the current academic catalog: https://puritanseminary.org/academics/academic-catalog-2/#Admission
Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary considers applications from interested students who affirm their agreement with the Three Forms of Unity or Westminster Standards, have successfully completed an undergraduate degree, and possess spiritual commitment and adequate intellectual abilities. Because of our commitment to male church leadership, women are only invited to apply for the MAR or ThM degrees.

Thanks!
 

mhseal

Puritan Board Freshman
There was at least one girl attending classes last year, but I'm not sure if she's still around.
 

PhillipJLee

Puritan Board Freshman
I didn't see anyone discuss this point but just as a point of clarification: Master's Seminary is very different from RTS because the former hinges its theology on dispensationalism while the latter hinges it theology on covenantalism (and, from my understanding, each class reflects this commitment).

Tori,

I would recommend coming up here to GCTS. It's not reformed as such (and yes, there are women pastoral candidates) but there are a number of Profs who are reformed and many students who will be supportive of and sympathize with your desire to serve the church without usurping men's roles. Frankly we need more women like you here (and it's pretty close to you).

Even as a student at RTS, I would second this recommendation -- I am always hearing excellent things about Gordon-Conwell from both men and women. They have a variety of programs and are deeply committed to the Word. If you're a fan of Tim Keller and the work Kathy Keller does with children's ministry, it is important to note that Kathy Keller graduated from GCTS.

RTS I am certain accepts women.

My wife had a good experience at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS). She studied Bible, theology and languages right alongside men who were training to be pastors (and plenty of other men and women who were not). The degree program for pastors-in-training was somewhat different from hers, but not terribly different. Certainly, she got plenty of "meat."

The same could be said, I believe, for many fine Reformed seminaries.

Indeed, RTS does accept women and, from my understanding, Orlando now allows women to pursue an M. Div., which, in my opinion, is perfectly Biblical. Also, WTS (Philadelphia) allows women to pursue an M. Div. and I have heard great things from their program (though, since your heart is more focused on hands-on ministry versus the theological side of ministry, I highly recommend GCTS). Hope all these posts help! :)
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
If you're a fan of Tim Keller and the work Kathy Keller does with children's ministry, it is important to note that Kathy Keller graduated from GCTS.

Just as a general principle, it is a mistake to choose a seminary because of the work that it did 30+ years ago. Seminaries change, even over a 5-10 year period as faculty leave and arrive. Get current information from people who are actually at the seminary you are interested in right now.

I think there are a number of excellent reformed seminaries that would equip women well for a variety of appropriate ministry callings, such as you desire. If you want to hear more about my take of the different strengths and weaknesses, feel free to pm me.
 

Ephrata

Puritan Board Freshman
Hmmm…. lots to consider. Anyhow, it's great that there seem to be more options than I originally thought! :eek: Now, I wonder how many of these treat the Bible as inerrant in practice as well as theory; from what I've heard from various seminary friends, there seems to be a divide within certain seminaries. But that's probably based on the individual professors, as well.
 
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