Before heading to Oak Hill three years ago I knew I needed to attend theological college. I felt my lack in lots of areas (and I still do), but I didn’t quite know what to expect from the experience. I had my worries about coming: Would my head be filled with lots of good things, but my heart be cold? Would I become really good at writing academic essays, but terrible at communicating to real people? Would the fact that I had written about two short essays for my undergraduate degree hamper me from completing the course?
As with anything in life, there have been lows (going mad learning Greek verb paradigms comes to mind), but plenty more highs! Here are 10 (it could easily be 100) things I’ve appreciated about being at Oak Hill.
1. Being told early on that God’s knowledge is complete and infinite and that my knowledge is limited and finite. This doesn’t mean we are left in the dark guessing who God is – as he has revealed himself to us – but rather this creatureliness humbles us. This distinction has come in handy throughout the course and will continue to!
2. Having lecturers who love Jesus. This might seem a given, yet I loved from day one that lecturers prayed before the lecture started. Although offering world class teaching in their fields, they were vulnerable about what they were still trying to figure out and how they were trying to apply these specific truths to their own lives. This essential authenticity has been wonderful to learn from.
3. Having friends who love Jesus. I knew a couple of people at Oak Hill before I came, but it’s been a real joy to get to know lots more. Friends who model following Jesus in their lives has inspired, helped and challenged me throughout the three years. I know that some will be real friends for life.
4. Seeing care shown to my wife Charlotte. Although I’m the one studying full time, I’ve loved how people at College have shown an interest and care for Charlotte. This care has been shown in a number of ways: Through the Monday Fellowship group, people offering baby clothes, other teachers touching base to see how term was going, and training sessions for spouses on really important areas of ministry.
5. Being given lots of theological frameworks. At first I found it frustrating to have a framework for ethics or pastoral counselling. I naturally just wanted practical advice and to-do lists. However, having frameworks has been so helpful for thinking theologically about a whole host of different issues, and has helped equip me for a lifetime of ministry.
6. Gaining an appreciation for other cultures and backgrounds. It’s been great to be so involved with the Namugongo Partnership (a link between Oak Hill and Uganda Martyrs’ Seminary). I’ve learnt so much from the Ugandan Christians and have had some of my blind spots exposed, showing me my dominant influences. Some of the courses on culture and missiology have reshaped the way I think about church and how I lead, preach and care for people who are not like me (white, British, tertiary educated, etc.).
7. Learning to be more humble (I’m still learning!). Bible college is very humbling in lots of ways. Others in class put their hands up and say something you’ve never thought about before – or which you sometimes don’t even understand. And biblical languages take you back to being a four year old struggling to learn the alphabet. Although these things can seem crushing, they rightly humble us: was I ever going to graduate with an exhaustive knowledge of God?
8. Being prepared for more than preaching, prayer and training. Of course, these things form much of the essential time and energy in ministry, but they are not everything. College has helped me think about how to lead change in church, what to say when you visit someone dying in hospital (although no theory can equip you fully, I’m sure), and how to lead a meeting well.
9. Being helped to read more widely. It’s so easy to reach for the 40-page ‘how to books’, and they have great use, but College has given me time to read more deeply. I’ve enjoyed dipping into Anselm, Calvin, Bavinck, Owen, Machen, Barth, and others. I’ve not always understood everything they’ve written, but they have shaped me and shown me things I hadn’t seen before.
10. Being enthused for ministry. I think Oak Hill might have failed if you leave after three years lukewarm for serving the Church. While I’m sure there will be many areas where I need to grow and seek further study, Oak Hill has got me excited to get going in ministry. I hope that both my head and heart have grown through all I’ve learnt.
If you’re thinking about training, do go to theological college – and I’d say go to Oak Hill if you can, but I am biased!
Nathan Richards is taking Theological and Pastoral studies at Oak Hill. He blogs at Musings of a Theological College Student, which is where this post was first published.