Why I Dropped My Ph.D. for Seminary (And How I Got Over It)

Exterior of Rural Church

In one of the hardest and sweetest moments of my life, I realized that my dreams weren’t going to come true after all.

I was currently teaching music for the public school system, but knew I wouldn’t be there long. You see, I had it all figured out: I’d obtain my doctorate and land my dream job of joining the full-time faculty at a University. And things were going pretty darn well. I had finished my master’s degree, had been accepted to the doctoral program at Boston University, and along with being a public school teacher I had been teaching college classes part-time at a local college. Everything was falling into place – just the way I wanted them to.

And then God spoke to me, and as usual, His voice changed everything.

My wife and I were working at a Disciple Now event, and the guest speaker told us that he felt very strongly that there were young people in the audience who were running from God’s call. He was speaking to our students, of course, but suddenly it hit me like a ton of bricks: this message was meant for me.

And run from God’s call I had. I had sensed for a long while that God was leading me to full-time ministry, and He’d given me several bright, flashing road signs along the way:

  • I gave a passionate devotion to my high school youth group, and for the first time, my brother told me he was really proud of me.
  • During a mission trip to Colorado, one of my Sunday School teachers pulled me aside to tell me he felt God was calling me to do something special for Him.
  • While filling in while my music minister was out of town, I encouraged the choir with a morning devotional before we led the congregation in song. That night the pastor’s son-in-law caught me and told me that I should really consider going into full-time ministry.
  • When I was very young, one of my school assignments was to take a Scripture passage and write a sermon outline. My dad (who was a pastor), read it and felt convinced that I would be a pastor too one day.
  • After giving my testimony in chapel at the University where I taught, my supervisor called me into his Conference Room and asked, “Have you ever considered being a pastor?”

It was all pretty clear, to be honest. But you see, I didn’t want to be a pastor. It hadn’t been an easy road for my parents, and I didn’t want my children to have to trust God for every meal or grow up fighting one spiritual battle after another. No, I wanted a comfortable office and the prestige of having the coveted “Dr.” in front of my name.

But in that moment, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that God wasn’t asking me to preach the Word… He was commanding me to do so. And after years of trying to serve the church in every possible way but preaching, I finally gave in.

I dropped out of my doctoral program mid-semester, and enrolled at a local seminary where I would have to go back and study at the master’s level yet again. Instead of publishing a dissertation, I would be learning to read and write in Biblical Greek and Hebrew. I knew I was doing the right thing, and the Lord gave me an overwhelming peace about it…

…But I couldn’t stop feeling sorry for myself.

I gave up so much, I kept telling God, to which I’m sure He must have smiled as He thought of how much His Son had given up for me.

This past Sunday I taught a Sunday School lesson on Matthew 14:27-33, the story of Jesus walking on the water. We discussed that Peter didn’t ask to walk on water, but had a heart so full of worship as He saw Jesus that his only request was, “Lord, let me come closer to You.” And as he kept his eyes on Jesus, something miraculous took place in his life: he walked on water. When he gave in to the distractions around him, though, he immediately began to sink.

I had heard the story hundreds of times, but this week I noticed how the story begins. If you look at Matthew 14:13-21, you’ll see that just before this happened Jesus had fed 5,000 people in a miraculous way, and the people had begged him to become their king. In modern-day terms, they were saying, “Let us make Your dreams come true, Jesus! Let us give you success, money, fame – a comfortable life!” And for a moment, I bet Jesus was tempted.

But then He sent the people away, including His own disciples, heading into the mountains to pray by Himself. And when He willfully chose to ignore the world’s distractions and his human desire to succeed, God used Him to walk on water, calm a storm, and show the world how life should be lived.

Even as I sat there teaching this lesson, that old familiar feeling washed over me. This message is meant for you, the Spirit whispered within my heart.

And finally, the self-pity vanished. Sure, those personal goals of mine will never be met. But God’s dreams for me are just beginning to be realized. It’s a beautiful and exciting thing…my heart races even thinking about it.

Because friends, as long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, anything is possible.

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12 thoughts on “Why I Dropped My Ph.D. for Seminary (And How I Got Over It)

  1. He willfully chose to ignore the worlds distractions……….this is key. Most people struggle with this and many give in. I love how you listened and heard Him.

    And your personal dreams and desires are now in focus in all the right ways.
    Awesome!!!!!
    Katie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this testimony … not just of hearing and answering God’s call, but also the honesty of how it wasn’t easy to give up your dreams and the admission to feelings of self-pity regarding doing what God asked you to do with your life. I can relate to both. I particularly like the connection you gave to the familiar story of Peter walking on water and of Jesus Himself having to deny typical human desires in order to do the miraculous.

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  3. I never knew just how much of a struggle you went through. You dreams are coming true just not the way you thought they would. When God’s dream becomes our dreams then they will come true.

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  4. What a beautiful picture of God’s touch in your life! That is what it’s all about. Doing what Christ commands us to do. It’s all about obedience. True satisfaction in life comes from obeying our Lord and Savior. As a pastors wife and as part of a women’s ministry group, I know ministry isn’t easy but oh how satisfying it is to know you are in His will! Praying for you and your family!

    My middle daughter just finished her masters at BU! What a small world!

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    1. Thanks for that, Beth, and I couldn’t agree with you more! His dreams for us end up blowing ours right out of the water!

      How cool is it to hear that your daughter also went over to Boston… it really is a small world!

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  5. I can see why people encouraged you to go into the ministry! You have a way with words and with Scripture. The nuances that we slide over, you pick up and share with us. Thanks for sharing this. I think many of us have faced similar indecision/decision points, and looking back over our decisions, we sometimes second guess: Did we do the right thing? Getting to a point of peace about the decision is good. I left the field of education in my close-to-retirement years and went to seminary for a biblical counseling degree. That was the right thing to do at the time, and I don’t regret it. http://www.janiceheck.wordpress.com

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    1. You know, I used to think that… but the longer I follow God’s plan for my life, the more I’ve begun to realize that nothing else could possibly have made me this happy! It turned out to be not a sacrifice at all, but a huge blessing! Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

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