Resources to help you discern the next step in your education and ministry.

Completing the application for a seminary program is often part of the discernment process. As you formulate the answers to your questions and write about experiences and people pivotal to your growth, you’ll find yourself reflecting on your Christian formation. You may notice how these people and experiences have encouraged your desire to serve God through your vocation. You may be drawn to humbly assess your gifts and abilities for the work to which God may be calling you. 

For some, this can feel a little overwhelming. We are here to help as you work through the process.

As you prepare your application, here are all the things you will need. 

1. The online application

Our entire application is completed online. When you visit apply.westernsem.edu, you will be prompted to create an account which will allow you to start and stop as much as you need. 

The application form collects basic information such as contact information, educational history, and a simple self-assessment. 

You will use the online application to upload other necessary documents and request references. 

2. Transcripts  

We require an official copy of your undergraduate transcripts for admission to programs.

An official copy is an unopened paper copy sent by the registrar’s office or an electronic copy sent by the registrar through a third party (they’ll know what that means!)

You can order them online from most schools. You can also call the registrar at the undergrad institution to order one.   (Sorry, we can’t accept the copy you might already have!)

If you completed more than nine credits at an institution other than the one that granted your degree, we will need a copy from this school.

And, if you’re hoping to transfer in any credits from another graduate program, we’ll need copies of these transcripts too!

 

Transcript Tip: You don’t have to wait to have a complete application to request your transcripts.  Request these as soon as you start your application. We will add them to your file when we receive them.

 

3. Written Materials

Each program requires different written materials as part of your application. Take a look at the programs listed below and what you will need: 

 

Graduate Certificate:

To apply for any of our graduate certificate programs, you will submit a one-page, double-spaced theological book reflection or a previous academic writing assignment.

This writing sample is designed to demonstrate your ability to write and engage a text.  

Are you feeling anxious or uncertain? Talk to a member of our team! We are happy to help you. 

 

Master of Arts and Master of Divinity:

If you are applying for an MA or MDiv, you will need to include two written materials as part of your application.

              A book reflection

The book reflection serves as a writing sample and demonstrates your ability to engage with written material. For your book reflection, select three books (not Scripture) that have influenced how you think about and live the Christian Life. You will then write a paragraph-length review of each book.

 

Tip: Many applicants have been out of school for a while.  You don’t need to be an expert writer to attend seminary.  Simply make sure that your writing is easy to read. There are many resources available to double-check spelling and ensure the appropriate use of punctuation and grammar. (Spell check and Grammarly will be your friends in seminary!)

 

             A spiritual autobiography

This autobiography will become part of a formation for ministry file that will be used to assess your growth during your seminary years. You will have the opportunity to reflect on and edit it at several points during your academic experience. 

Your autobiography should be about six pages long, double-spaced, and encompassing the following categories. Instructions are included within the application form. 

  • Family and Faith of Origin
  • Early Childhood/Early Adolescence
  • Adult Life (post-high school)
  • Include any intercultural experiences that have been formative

 

Tip: Thoughtful, reflective writing will allow your application to stand out. Be authentic and honest. What should we know about how your interest in seminary and ministry has developed? We will hold what you share with care and confidentiality. 

 

4. Statement of Church Membership or summary of worship habits

Master of Divinity and Master of Arts applicants will submit a Statement of Church Membership, or if not a member, an email explaining current worship habits and church involvement.  

 A Statement of Church Membership is an email or document from your church office stating that you are a member in good standing. 

A summary email explaining current worship habits and church involvement is from the applicant and is needed only if the applicant is not a member of a church at the time of application. Only one is needed. 

Why is this important? 

It helps us identify what scholarships you may be eligible for. Denominational or “affiliation” scholarships will require a statement of church membership or confirmation that the applicant is in the process of becoming a member.

 

Tip: Please call or email your admissions representative if you have any questions about your statement of church membership! 

 

5. Letters of Recommendation

You will invite 2-4 individuals to provide a recommendation or reference as part of your application. This happens from within the application form. When prompted to request the references, enter the appropriate name, phone number, and email address. A form will then be sent directly to the recommender.  

The form will include questions about your resilience, ethics, spiritual maturity, planning and organization, communication skills, and ability to work as part of a team. These questions are primarily multiple-choice with space to add helpful feedback. This takes approximately 20-30 minutes to complete. 

 

Tip: Ask references for permission to submit their information prior to entering it into your application, Let them know when they might receive the link. (You can choose to have the form sent immediately or when you submit your application form.) If you have any questions or concerns about this, please contact your admissions representative.

 

Ready to get started?

The Hungering for God: The Pastor as Spiritual Guide Doctor of Ministry Cohort is launching in spring 2023.

This cohort focuses on the nature and dynamics of cultivating a personal and growing relationship with God. We will seek to “learn the unforced rhythms of grace” by “keep[ing] company with [Jesus]” so that we might “learn to live freely and lightly.” Guided by humility, our goal is to become receptive and life-long learners in the spiritual school of Jesus and also model a similar hunger and desire for those with whom we live and minister. We can hunger for God because God first loved and delighted in us and sought friendship with us. The human longing for God is a response to God’s prior initiative in our lives and our world.  

We will be shaped by the wisdom of St. Richard of Chichester, a thirteenth-century British bishop, who prayed: 

“O, most merciful redeemer, friend, and brother, 

May I know you more clearly; 

Love you more dearly; 

And follow you more nearly.”  

The minister’s function has long been debated, and the pastor fulfills many roles. Scripture and church history provide a resounding answer that, at least, it must include being a spiritual guide inspired by the Holy Spirit. This Doctor of Ministry cohort builds on this conviction and seeks to equip ministry leaders to assist others in knowing, loving, and serving God more fully.  

Dr. Chuck DeGroat, the Interim Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program, recently talked to Cohort Mentor Rev. Tom Schwanda about his background, the cohort, and the heart behind this topic.

DeGroat: Tom, tell me a bit about your pastoral and academic career and your work as a spiritual director, as well.

Schwanda: I am an ordained RCA pastor and served three congregations (solo pastor, pastor of congregational care, interim senior pastor) in NJ and Grand Rapids. I have taught Christian spirituality at Kuyper College (Grand Rapids) and, most recently, Wheaton College and many Doctor of Ministry courses at six different seminaries in North America. I have also had the privilege of companioning others on their spiritual journeys for over thirty–five years. My ministry’s central goal has been to encourage others to know and love God more fully and live out their faith in our broken world.

DeGroat: Your DMin cohort is called Hungering for God: The Pastor as Spiritual Guide. If someone were to engage in this three-year cohort experience, what are your hopes for their growth and maturation personally and pastorally? 

Schwanda: I hope that each cohort member, including myself, would grow in our awareness that we are always in God’s presence and learn how we can better love and enjoy God. Related to that is the importance of developing a healthy self–awareness that recognizes our sins and God’s grace. This combination should create a vibrant sense of gratitude for the enjoyment and contemplation of God. We also need to learn that any relationship, human or divine, requires effort, and the more we invest, the richer our friendship will be with our Triune God and those around us. Additionally, I trust students will develop a better rhythm for personal life and ministry and grow in the skills of being a physician of the soul. This will guide them in better recognizing the pathologies of the soul and where people get stuck in their pilgrimage.

DeGroat: You’ve been in a reformed theological space for years, but you drink deeply of the contemplative tradition within Protestantism and beyond it? Why has it been important to you to discover this broader tradition? 

Schwanda: To be limited to only one’s tradition restricts a person from the diversity of how the Holy Spirit has operated for over 2,000 years. In the Apostles’ Creeds we confess that we believe in the Communion of Saints, and at least in part, that means we need to grow beyond our historical, theological, and spiritual roots. My study of the Puritans has reinforced this since they were always reading and quoting Augustine, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Bernard, Jerome, Thomas à Kempis, etc., as well as Luther and Calvin. Also, I know that the more I interact with the broad spectrum of Christian spirituality, the richer and deeper my experience of Jesus Christ becomes. There are two specific benefits that I have personally received from cultivating this awareness: it has enlarged my contemplative awareness of Scripture and exposed me to some of my blind spots that I might otherwise not notice.  

DeGroat: Finally, are there possible research pathways you might anticipate for students in your cohort? Areas they may study, explore, and write on? 

Schwanda: As you know, the beauty of the WTS DMin is its practical application and connection with the student’s ministry context. That means the potential direction is as vast as the person’s interests. I can imagine projects on creating a mentoring emphasis that would equip elders or other interested leaders to encourage the intentional formation of the member’s personal spiritual growth. Pastors could create groups for other local ministers to read devotional classics and how that could inform and transform their shared ministry. 

Ministry leaders could study the historical examples of pastors as spiritual guides, which could create a model for their own self–care and spiritual maturity that could be duplicated for other clergy. Or some could work within the youth groups or senior groups (they often have similar needs and concerns) in exploring what specific spiritual practices would be most helpful for those in their teenage or senior years. Yet another option would be to study the nature and dynamics of contemplation and how our contemporary culture might resist it yet our desperate need to recover it for healing and renewal within the church. And these are just a few possible ideas.

Want to learn more about Rev. Schwanda and this Doctor of Ministry cohort? Join us on November 2 for the Meet the Mentor Webinar. Register by clicking the link below.

Not able to make it November 2, but still want to learn more? Email us at admissions@westernsem.edu.

In the age of Google, with seemingly endless information available, you might wonder, “Why would I go to seminary?”  

Maybe you already know you have been called to be a pastor, worship leader, or teach the Bible. Perhaps you are still on your discernment journey.

Wherever this finds you, we invite you to consider how continuing your education at seminary can help you prepare for leadership. 

Seminary will provide you with foundational knowledge.

We like to say that you wouldn’t want a doctor who hadn’t been to medical school or a lawyer who hadn’t been to law school. In the same way, you need a foundational education to prepare you for ministry. As a ministry leader, writer, or pastor, your job is to provide theological guidance to your congregation, readers, and community.  

Speaking, thinking, and offering faithful care for others on behalf of God bears weight and responsibility.

How does all of this relate to today? A rigorous academic education will give you the words to express the story of God and God’s overarching love for the world. 

Seminary faculty will lead you through biblical history, church history, systematic theology, and even biblical languages.  

This background knowledge will inform your future Google searches and help you discern between accurate and inaccurate biblical interpretations. 

We know that not all information on the internet is reliable. Having a deep and rich understanding of the broad reach of Christian doctrine and biblical understanding will help you avoid critical errors as you seek to lead others spiritually. 

Seminary will help you broaden your perspective.

As your knowledge base grows, so does your perspective. It will not just grow through the lens of cultural context, but it will be built upon a historical and sacramental understanding of our Christian faith. You will better understand how Christians engaged with scripture and their cultural context, which will give you an understanding that allows empathy and compassion for other perspectives as you seek God’s heart.

Additionally, by engaging with these questions in a class or cohort, you will gain insight into new perspectives of our current day. While you can read about the experiences of Christians in history, there is no replacement for learning from classmates and faculty, especially when you can do so in person. These connections will give you an understanding that allows empathy and compassion for other perspectives as you seek God’s heart. 

Seminary will allow you to practice sitting with hard questions.

Knowledge alone will not be enough for navigating the hard questions our culture is asking. Rember Job and Job’s friends? Having the “answers” did not serve them when faced with suffering. No Google search or Youtube video could prepare them for that conversation. 

The formational nature of seminary will allow you to sit with difficult questions and be exposed to challenging conversations through the lens of scripture, doctrines, and history upon which our faith is formed.

Seminary will help you respond to these questions in an emotionally healthy way and to care well for the emotional and spiritual well-being of others- both those for which the Bible will provide direction and those that may require faithful care and waiting on the Spirit. 

At seminary, you will learn how to listen and hear the question beneath the question, helping others find the answers from within the longings God has for the world and answer, “What do redemption and restoration look like?” 

Seminary prepares you for the weight of leadership.

Beginning with the Hebrew people and throughout Scripture, God shows that he delights in choosing a people for a “so that” purpose. 

  • “so that” through lives of love and justice, we can be a light that points to the one true God; 
  • “so that” others will hear our words and see our works and praise the God who redeems us and desires to redeem them; 
  • “so that” God’s people will reverse the injustices and inequities in our world, and the Kingdom of God will be restored. 

This call goes beyond the pulpit to leaders in faith communities, in faith-based non-profits, in faith-based counsel, and faith-based writing and publishing.

These leaders hold responsibility for providing witness to God’s redemptive love and work in the world through knowledge and historical context. 

Leaders in ministry vocations also hold a responsibility to witness God’s revelation in scripture by the power of the Holy Spirit. They do this by learning and embodying spiritual practices and disciplines that have served Christian and Jewish faith leaders throughout history. 

Many churches still require a Master of Divinity.

Seminary is not the right place for someone who “just needs to check the box.” However, it is worth noting that most mainline churches and church denominations still require or prefer pastors with a Master of Divinity.  

Congregations and church elders want pastors that are well-prepared through academic learning and spiritual formation that is developed through a seminary education.  

Have you been prayerfully discerning if God is calling you into ministry leadership as a vocation? Are you currently working in a field that would benefit from a deeper understanding of Christian doctrine? Then seminary may be the next right step in your journey.  

Still not sure if seminary is right for you? Contact one of our admissions counselors who are equipped to help you discern if this is the right path for you.