Editor’s Note: This is another installment in our “Single and…” series where we interview singles from all walks of life. It is our hope that you are encouraged by the stories of people who have a similar journey as you, who share the same dreams you have, who face the same hurdles you do, and who can remind you that you are not alone.
Enrolling in seminary—or any graduate school—can be exciting and daunting at the same time. The feelings of inadequacy can abound. In addition to Greek and Hebrew, many seminary students are working full-time jobs to pay their way because loans aren’t an option on a lot of campuses.
And unlike undergraduate work, when single seminary students look around the room, many of them find themselves in a primarily married male world. Building community, even on a Christ-centered campus, can prove difficult for a single adult. The experience can feel remarkably different than the college years many just stepped out of.
Zach Miller just finished his first year as a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. He was always taught not to talk about religion and politics, but somehow, despite being an introvert, he does it anyway.
We recently caught up with Zach to hear if his singleness affects his seminary experience. Here’s what he had to say:
Tell us about your journey to seminary. Why are you there? What degree are you seeking?
Zach: My journey to seminary was a big surprise. Seminary was something I wanted to do but was going to do later in life. I just had to get some things out of the way first (the biggest being teaching English overseas). Life was good and planned. After college at Louisiana Tech, I was going to stay in Ruston, Louisiana, for a bit to save up some money, then I was going to go overseas. Then maybe I was going to go to seminary if I felt like God was still leading me there.
Just when I thought I had it all together, things fell apart, so I applied to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during that rough patch, as I felt that God had removed basically any other option for me. I was accepted, and then I got caught up in the whirlwind of preparing for seminary.
I am currently pursuing a Master of Divinity with a concentration in Biblical Languages. I chose this path because the Biblical languages fascinate me. Knowing Greek and Hebrew opens up my options for ministry in the future. I may or may not use them extensively, but I know that wherever God plans for me to go, I can be relatively prepared through this course of work.
Do you think your seminary experience is enhanced or more challenging because of your singleness?
Zach: My initial answer was both, but the more I try to elaborate on why it’s challenging, I keep finding strengths in what I originally found to be challenging. So I’m changing my answer.
I’ve had multiple married guys tell me that being single in seminary was a blessing. The first time I heard it, I wasn’t overly convinced. The guy was going through a rough time in life: He had a full-time job, he was graduating that semester, and to top it off, his wife was pregnant. So I brushed off the comment. Then I had another married guy tell me the same thing. He said, “It’s a blessing to be single in seminary. Take advantage of that. I love being married, and our marriage is great, but it’s a lot of work.”
That’s when it hit me: As selfish as it may sound, I only have to worry about myself right now. This isn’t to say I don’t care about people, because I do, but I don’t have to feed any extra mouths. I don’t have to work extra hours to be able to feed them. I don’t have to worry about being responsible for any other person’s spiritual growth and well-being. I have so much less pressure to measure up to expectations and needs of others.
MBTS’s slogan is “For the Church.” This basically means that they train leaders for the local church. Ultimately, I’m able to devote myself to my local church more because I’m single. I don’t have to make sure to be home to spend time with my spouse or my kids because I don’t have them. Basically, I’m freed up for service to the church, which is the exact reason the seminary I attend exists.
There’s a lot of discussion online about the local church’s reticence to hire single, male ministers. Do you feel you’re at a disadvantage (for lack of a better term) because you’re single and male?
Zach: I don’t think there should be as much reticence to hire single, male ministers as there is. Granted, I don’t exactly want to be a pastor (though, I’m not opposed to it if God says that’s what He wants). But if I chose to interview for a collegiate minister’s position, I know for a fact that I’d be less likely to get the job as someone who’s married and has the exact same qualifications that I do. I don’t quite understand this, though. Paul was a single male; he was also a minister. He was able to do so much for the kingdom because of his singleness. Hiring a single male to lead your church, college ministry, youth group, children’s ministry, etc. opens the door for so much. His time isn’t divided between his home life and his ministerial life. If he needs to stay out until 3 a.m. to help some folks in his particular area of ministry, he can do that without having to worry about what’s going on at home, or if his ministry is ruining his marriage, or a thousand other thoughts that might go through a married minister’s head. To answer your question, yes. I feel that I’m at a disadvantage, but I don’t completely understand why.
How difficult has it been to find community during this season?
Zach: I came to seminary expecting it to be a wonderful place of fellowship and love and all the things you expect to find with other believers. Boy, was I wrong! Of course, there is love and community and all of the other things you want to have with other believers, but coming to a city where I had never been before, where I did not know a single person, and where I was living alone, was isolating. I had no idea that everyone (or so it seems) is married, and finding community with these people is hard when you’re at an entirely different stage in life.
I noticed almost immediately that single people don’t hang out with married folks unless they knew each other before they were married (going to high school or college together). Of course, there are some exceptions. In fact, some of my best friends here in Kansas City are married. But as a general rule, it’s harder to get to know married people. And when they dominate the campus, finding another single person to whom you relate is difficult.
Finding community is also hard since I live alone, which I had never done before, but my local church has significantly helped with that. When you worship with someone, you really connect with them on a level that is near impossible. So even though community was hard to find, it wasn’t impossible.
As a single guy living alone, what safeguards do you put in place for areas of temptation?
Zach: Barriers and honesty are the two big safeguards that come to mind. Barriers are the things that prevent me from allowing the temptation to manifest itself in actions. In my case, the biggest barrier would be filters on my computer, phone, and tablet. But I also have to be aware of patterns. When I get stressed, lonely, or even reach a certain stage of exhaustion, I have to be aware of where my thoughts go. Reading the Word is a great way to change your focus from sin to the Savior. I’ll put my computer away or make it really inconvenient to use. Sometimes, I just have to leave my apartment. Other times I just have to make myself go to bed.
What helps the most for me, though, is honesty. Having certain people ask me how I’m doing and expect an honest answer has been tremendously helpful. I have two guys who ask me regularly how I’m doing in life. They won’t accept “Good.” or “Fine.” They want me to explain what’s going on in my life. They take a vested interest in my spiritual life. They know they aren’t responsible for it, but they care. And the fact that they care about my spiritual well-being helps me to refocus my life on Christ any time I feel myself straying even in the slightest.
What’s been your greatest joy in this seminary season?
Zach: Discovering that God doesn’t just love me; He likes me, too. The way I see God’s Word now, as opposed to pre-seminary Zach, allows me to have a different perspective on the way God works. I can see the same God I’ve worshiped for the past 8 years in a better light now. He is the same God, but there’s something about studying His Word deeper than I ever have that changes the way I see Him. I have a deeper love for Him. I see His vast love for me even better now than I ever have. I’ve come to see God’s plan unfolding throughout the Bible in a fresh way. I see God’s love for me since before the beginning of time as more intentional now than I have ever understood it before. And this fact brings me great joy.
Are you single and in seminary? Can you relate to any of Zach’s story? Share your thoughts in the comments below.