Every year the Princeton Review publishes a list of colleges and universities it considers to be the best value for students. This list takes into consideration such factors as the cost of tuition, job placement rates, and the average starting salary of graduates. For a university, being near the top of this list is great cause for celebration. High school seniors are encouraged to think of college education as an investment in their future and to look for the school that is most likely to give them the highest rate of return.
Over the last three years, I have often found myself thinking of my seminary education in a similar framework. Seminary tuition is not cheap, after all. Some seminary students have moved away from comfortable jobs. Some of us regularly commute long distances. Some have scrimped and saved every last penny to cover the costs of room and board. Many have asked spouses and children to sacrifice in order for us to complete our seminary education. Through it all, we find ourselves asking, “Was it worth it?”
In my final semester at Calvin Seminary, I took a course on Christian Reformed polity. As I read Henry De Moor’s Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary, I was amazed to find that he turned this concern on its head. The primary concern is not whether or not I have invested wisely in myself by attending seminary, but whether or not the church has invested wisely by providing me with the opportunity to study and learn. The question at hand, then, is not “Was it all worth it?” but “How can I give back?”
The church has invested in all of us. Generous families have provided support for scholarships. Churches and classes have offered financial aid. Our brothers and sisters have lifted us up in prayer and have encouraged us time and again. The cards and notes, the smiles and handshakes after worship, the feedback (positive and negative) after we preach—all of these are ways the church has invested in us.
Now, after three-plus years, we are leaving the seminary. We go out to established churches, church plants, campus ministries, chaplaincies, continued academic work, and more. We go forth to give back. Giving back means that we will do our best to faithfully serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. It means praying for our ministries, speaking words of encouragement to those who lead them, and investing in the gifts God has poured out on each and every member of his body.
No matter where we are called, no matter what the future holds for each of us in this year’s graduating class at Calvin Seminary, it’s my hope and prayer that the church will find us a wise investment as together we seek to love and serve the One who sacrificed all for us.
We respond to the call of God by stepping out, one graced step at a time, into luminous darkness. Our direction is clear, but the route reveals itself only as we put one foot in front of the other.
—Deborah Smith Douglas