Review: Zacharias & Forrest, Surviving & Thriving in Seminary

As a former Bible college and now seminary student, neither of my introductory courses covered how to thrive as a student. As a result, I think this gap in the curriculum left me and many other students at a disadvantage—we succeeded in spite of knowing how to do college or seminary.

We needed guidance on how to prepare our minds, hearts, and families, managing time and energy, and the skills and tools needed. Without these considerations, we traveled dangerously close to merely surviving, not thriving.

As COVID-19 washed ashore in the United States, Bible colleges and seminaries were forced to change to a remote learning model. With that, many students were now ill-equipped to perform research because they did not have access to their libraries. Faithlife (the parent company of Logos Bible Software) curated and offered a temporally free Remote Learning Library. Tucked away in this godsend was this little book by H. Daniel “Danny” Zacharias and Benjamin Forrest called Surviving and Thriving in Seminary: An Academic and Spiritual Handbook. This work, now more than ever, was important for ministerial students and it tremendously blessed me.

It’s difficult to dive into the content of the book without giving away the main points of their book. So I will cover the main outline of their book and dive into 1 particular section.

There are 3 main parts to their book:

  1. Preparing
  2. Managing
  3. Studying

Within each of these chapters, they cover 3-4 major topics.

Preparing

Zacharias and Forrest both know the importance of preparing for such a long, challenging, and rewarding endeavor. So they spend 3 chapters instilling the importance of preparing your mind, heart, and family for this journey.

They help prepare you for the intense and disruptive nature of seminary, to funnel your studies to your churches, to learn the biblical languages, to grow spiritually, and to take care of your spouse and children. All of these topics deserve a book in and of themselves, and yet Zacharias and Forrest succinctly introduce you to the importance and how to prepare in such a compact way.

Managing

As students enter seminary, their time begins to be divided among 4-5 classes, internships, family, hobbies, jobs, friendships, etc. With all of these new responsibilities, its important for seminary students to know how to manage their responsibilities, time, health (physical, emotional, mental), and ministry in addition to their studies.

This section especially excited me because I have studied the idea of “self-leadership” extensively in the past year and the idea of management fits naturally under this topic. Zacharias and Forrest highlight many “self-leadership” principles that are important to cultivate, even during seminary.

Responsibility

First, they highlight that seminary is your responsibility. Your wife, friend, parents, pastor were not called to do seminary for you. You should be the most invested person in your education because

  1. You’re the investing tens of thousands of dollars paying for it (or other people are helping you with their donations),
  2. You’re the one investing hundreds of hours learning and growing, and
  3. Seminary is ****for the life of the church, for the congregation and students you will serve.

Time

As a result, you need to manage your time well. It’s worthwhile to take advantage of the many wonderful opportunities seminary affords you. But these opportunities can easily overwhelm you because we can say “yes” to too many things. As a result, you will need to learn how to prioritize what’s most important and learn how to say “no” to opportunities that may come your way.

Remember: Seminary is your responsibility, don’t squander what’s in front of you.

Time Blocking

In this chapter, they introduced the idea of time blocking. I was introduced to this idea by Matt Perman in What’s Best Next and Cal Newport’s Deep Work (which Zacharias & Forrest recommend to read, too).

Essentially, time blocking is the idea that you give every hour of your day something to do, whether work, school, family, rest. By time blocking, you don’t have to wonder what you should be doing, because you’ve already identified it. As a result, this will give you more focus, will help balance your time, and show you if you have flexibility to accept new obligations.

Caring

Seminary will be one of the most difficult journeys you embark on. It will stretch you in so many ways. That’s why its important to recognize that you need to care for yourself, because you won’t be able to care for others.

As the pressures of seminary, internships, and ministries weigh on you, you will have to make sacrifices in your schedules. One of the first things to go for most seminary students is exercise. And yet, this is probably one of the most important things to keep in your schedule as you sit for 12-15 hours in class, on top of homework (about 3 hours for every hour in class), on top of part-time work (20 hours). Take some time to get up, get active, and eat the right things—your health will thank you during and after seminary.

Not only that, but take some time to rest your mind from all your studies. You’ll come back renewed and ready to tackle the difficult assignments ahead of you.

Critique: Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

At this point, I have to critique Zacharias and Forrest. While they rightly emphasize the importance of taking care of your physical body, and even your mind, there is no discussion on taking care of your emotional intelligence.

As mentioned before, seminary can be one of the rewarding endeavors you embark on. But that doesn’t negate that its grueling when you’re in the thick of it. As the stress, demands, and expectations increase, many emotions that you haven’t experienced or repressed will come to the surface. It’s important that you take care of your self emotionally and seek help from a pastor, counselor, or close confidant.

Studying

Surprise! You’re going to have to study in seminary.

I say this tongue-in-cheek (unless you didn’t know you have to study in seminary, in that case, surprise [really]!). However, so many of us don’t know how to study, especially in seminary.

In the final portion of this brief work, Zacharias and Forrest outline the basic skills you will need to research, read, and write. Additionally, they’ll highlight how to identify the right tools to get these jobs done.

Recommendation

I would highly recommend this book, especially to those in seminary right now or preparing to enter seminary next month. Its not too late to read this, even if you’re in your final semester because the advice given can transfer to ministry. Additionally, I would even recommend this to Bible college students as many of the tips and encouragements could easily be transferred into this context.

I know that most students are extremely busy, especially during the summers, but I would highly encourage graduate students to block an evening (or 2) and read through this brief but valuable resource. You won’t regret it.

One of the ways I assess the value of a work is whether I can apply what an author has written to my life now (or in the future). This book is immensely practical—I had some sort of insight from almost every paragraph I read. Things like how to block your day, budget, research, applications to help you, the importance of exercise, and so many more practical takeaways make this a golden read.

So don’t just survive in seminary—thrive!


Zacharias, H. Daniel, and Benjamin K. Forrest. Surviving and Thriving in Seminary: An Academic and Spiritual Handbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017. Pp. 197.

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