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What Is Seminary?

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Seminary is a word that originally comes from the Latin seminarium, “plant nursery, seed plot.” Long since obsolete, that definition of seminary has been wholly replaced by the centuries-long practice of describing a seminary as a training school. A theological seminary represents a remarkable graduate school program rooted in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding through the interplay of faith and reason.

While initially established for the vocation of ordained church ministry (Catholic priesthood or Protestant pastorate), seminary is now for those who wish to gain theological knowledge and apply this knowledge toward any number of possible vocations. Today, seminaries equip students with a diverse skill set, enabling them to embrace their unique calling and fulfill their purpose within their chosen vocation of ministry or spiritual leadership.

What’s the Difference Between Bible College and Seminary?

Bible colleges and seminaries serve distinct purposes within the realm of theological education, though some institutions may use the terms interchangeably or combine aspects of both approaches in their programs. That’s why it’s important to research specific institutions and their offerings so you know exactly what kinds of educational opportunities are available to you.

Bible colleges and seminaries generally differ in four key ways:

  1. Focus and Scope: Bible colleges typically emphasize undergraduate education with a strong focus on biblical studies, theology, and practical ministry training. They aim to provide a comprehensive foundation in Christian teachings, equipping students for various forms of ministry or leadership within churches or Christian organizations. Seminaries, on the other hand, are graduate schools that offer advanced theological education, focusing on preparing students for ministry or social justice leadership, pastoral roles, chaplaincy, academic pursuits, or specialized areas of study within the broader field of theology. United is unique in its focus on interreligious engagement and the eager exploration of beliefs beyond Christian traditions.
  2. Degree Offerings: Bible colleges generally offer associate's or bachelor's degrees in disciplines such as biblical studies, theology, ministry, or Christian education. These degrees typically span a broader range of subjects and provide a well-rounded education. Seminaries offer advanced degrees, including master's degrees (such as Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Leadership, and Master of Arts in Ministry) and doctoral degrees (such as Doctor of Ministry), allowing students to engage in more specialized, in-depth study and research within their chosen field of interest.
  3. Academic Rigor: While both Bible colleges and seminaries offer rigorous academic programs, seminaries tend to provide a deeper level of intellectual and theological engagement. Seminary education often involves critical analysis, advanced biblical exegesis, theological reflection, interreligious engagement, and research, preparing students for leadership positions, scholarship, and nuanced engagement with contemporary issues.
  4. Targeted Student Population: Bible colleges often attract recent high school graduates or individuals seeking a foundational education in theology and ministry. They may offer programs tailored to accommodate students with diverse backgrounds and interests. Seminaries, however, tend to draw students who already possess an undergraduate degree, as many of their programs require a bachelor's degree as a prerequisite. Seminary students often bring prior ministry experience, academic backgrounds, or a strong commitment to pursuing vocational ministry or advanced theological study.

What is a Seminary Degree?

Just as each individual's journey in answering their vocational call is unique, the path to a seminary degree is equally diverse. At United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, we recognize the importance of offering a range of programs to accommodate the diverse needs and aspirations of our students. Whether you prefer in-person or online learning, our seminary provides a variety of flexible options.

Master of Divinity

Prepare for the pulpit and beyond with this versatile ministry degree. Whether you’re called to ordained parish ministry or board-certified chaplaincy, your Master of Divinity degree at United will prepare you to be an effective and compassionate faith leader in an ever-changing world.

Master of Arts

Are you interested in religion and theology primarily from an academic perspective? Want to pursue a PhD and/or a teaching role in a religious or academic institution? If that sounds like you, it's time to see what United’s Master of Arts degree has to offer.

Master of Arts in Leadership

Are you looking for the theological framework and practical skills you need to become an effective leader in a business, elected office, or nonprofit? Our Master of Arts in Leadership degree is ideal for those who wish to lead from a faith-based perspective but aren't interested in pursuing traditional ordination.

Master of Arts in Ministry

Are you seeking an academic and practical ministry training program, designed for flexibility and efficiency? If you’re preparing for ministry but neither need nor desire an MDiv, the MAM will provide you with foundational ministry knowledge and skills at a fraction of the time and cost.

Doctor of Ministry

Increase your capacity to minister in our globalized and multifaith world. United's Doctor of Ministry degree offers specialized, focused training designed to further enhance the ministry of those with substantial experience in a ministerial leadership role.

For more information, visit our Degree Programs page.

What Can You Do With a Seminary Degree?

A seminary degree opens up a multitude of meaningful and impactful opportunities for individuals seeking to make a difference in the world. With a seminary degree, you can pursue various paths aligned with your unique interests, skills, and calling. A degree from United will set you up for success in the following vocational paths and meaningful pursuits:

  1. Congregational Ministry: Many seminary graduates become ordained or licensed ministers and serve as pastors, providing spiritual leadership, guidance, and support to congregations. They have the privilege of leading worship, delivering sermons, conducting sacraments, and offering pastoral care to individuals and communities.
  2. Chaplaincy: Seminary graduates can work as chaplains in various settings such as hospitals, military organizations, correctional facilities, universities, and hospices. They offer spiritual and emotional support to individuals during challenging times, provide counsel, and facilitate religious services and rituals.
  3. Counseling and Therapy: With additional training, seminary graduates can become counselors or therapists, specializing in pastoral counseling, marriage and family therapy, or mental health counseling. They integrate their theological background with therapeutic techniques to support individuals, couples, and families in their emotional and spiritual well-being.
  4. Spiritual Directors: Seminary graduates who take coursework in spiritual direction can effectively support others in their personal spiritual development in both one-on-one and group settings.
  5. Nonprofit and Community Leadership: Seminary graduates can contribute to the nonprofit sector, taking up roles in organizations focused on social justice, community development, advocacy, or humanitarian work. They can lead religious or faith-based organizations, guiding their vision, mission, and community outreach efforts.
  6. Teaching and Education: Some seminary graduates pursue careers in teaching theology, religious studies, or ethics at educational institutions, including seminaries, colleges, universities, and schools. They inspire and educate students, fostering understanding and dialogue about faith, spirituality, and religious traditions.
  7. Writing and Publishing: With a seminary degree, you can explore opportunities in writing and publishing, such as becoming an author, editor, or contributing to theological journals and publications. This avenue allows you to share insights, research, and perspectives on matters of faith and spirituality.
  8. Arts Activism: With a seminary background, you can blend your passion for the arts with social activism. Whether through visual arts, music, theater, or film, you can use creative expressions to address social issues, advocate for justice, and inspire positive change within communities. This may involve organizing art exhibitions, performances, or cultural events that promote dialogue and raise awareness about important causes.
  9. Public Policy and Advocacy: Seminary graduates can contribute to shaping public policy by working in advocacy organizations, think tanks, or government agencies. Drawing on their theological perspectives and ethical frameworks, they can engage in research, analysis, and advocacy to influence policies that address poverty, human rights, environmental justice, and other social concerns.
  10. Social Services and Community Development: With a seminary degree, you can work in various social service organizations, nonprofits, or community development agencies. This may involve coordinating programs that provide food, shelter, healthcare, and counseling services to vulnerable populations. Seminary graduates can contribute their spiritual insights and compassionate approach to help uplift individuals and communities facing social challenges.

These are just some examples, as the true possibilities are vast! A seminary degree equips you with a strong foundation in theology, ethics, pastoral care, and spiritual leadership, enabling you to make a positive impact in the lives of individuals, communities, and society as a whole—in your own unique way.

What Are the Requirements to Get Into Seminary?

It’s important to recognize that each seminary and seminary degree program may have its own set of requirements. That said, there are overarching factors that commonly influence the graduate admissions process, fostering inclusivity and opportunity for aspiring scholars and ministers alike.

At United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, for example, there are NO LIMITS to admission based on religious affiliation, age, race, ethnic or national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender expression, or physical abilities and conditions. There are, however, academic, personal, and completion requirements for each of our four degree programs that prospective students need to meet. You can view them on our Admissions page.

Perceptions of Seminaries

Because seminaries have a long but not well-known history, outsiders may not know how to react when someone they know goes to a seminary. Rev. Phil Romine, a 2016 and 2021 alum, notes that when he told others he was attending seminary, he got a mix of reactions.

“Oftentimes,” he reports, ”people either changed the subject abruptly or took the liberty to share their experiences with faith/faith communities—either supremely bad experiences or ‘how they found Jesus.’ Most people I’ve interacted with think seminary is about indoctrination, so you can indoctrinate others.”

As Romine discovered, however, United was founded as an ecumenical seminary—a seminary that does not champion one branch of Christianity over another. In fact, the seminary’s students and faculty come from more than two dozen different faith communities, among them Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, and Humanist.

With a healthy, diverse student body, United’s scholarly, student-invested faculty can illuminate the origins of many faith traditions. Far from prescriptive, United is a seminary that invites critical thought and deep questions.

The Reality of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities

Though our seminary’s deep foundational roots were forged in the seminaries of Mission House Theological Seminary (founded 1859 in Wisconsin) and the School of Theology at Yankton College (established 1932 in South Dakota)—precursors to the United Church of Christ (UCC)—United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities emerged into the vibrant and rapidly changing world of the 1960s.

In 1962, when United came boldly into being, it became the first seminary formed under the auspices of the nascent UCC. Today, we continue to honor our UCC heritage and our original commitment to multi-denominational relationships as a foundation for genuine dialogue and a profound spiritual experience.

Because United is a Theological Seminary and not a School of Divinity, Rev. Romine suggests our focus is primarily pragmatic. Our seminary’s work, in other words, is grounded in the realities of the world in which we live. Or as Dr. Demian Wheeler has asserted, “United is a progressive seminary committed to the hard work of social justice.”

This personal and grounded approach to theological education at United has other benefits too. Rev. Romine sees seminary degree work as “a way to become a better human.” He continues, “The ability to practice and prioritize self-reflection, humility, and chart a course for personal and collective liberation are only a few of the very tangible benefits of attending seminary.”

Are You Being Called to Seminary?

United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities can answer that call. With a progressive ethos, a creative culture, and an activist spirit, our seminary will challenge, nurture, and prepare you to be the innovative and compassionate leader the world needs you to be. 

Click here to start a conversation with a member of our admissions team and learn more about our 30+ seminary degree programs.

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