For those working on your thesis or dissertation, "social" is probably a word that you haven't heard in a while, unless it was prefaced by "anti-." I wanted to show you some ways to connect with others that are going through some of the same struggles and frustrations you are. Here is a short list of some sites that may help you connect with others and get some great insight on the process of research and writing.
Thesis Whisperer: This site states that it's "just like the horse whisperer, but with more pages." It's a great mix of writing helps, navigating the process as a doctoral student, and career advice. There's also the occasional "airing of the grievances" that can be healthy to explore.
Literature Review HQ: For me, the literature review is one of the easier pieces to write. However, I've known plenty of clever folk that have had real difficulty with this section. No doubt much of it depends on your overall subject matter. For those that are having trouble you can check out this site. This is a bit commercialized, as the author sells a number of products, but there are some helpful posts on the blog and the products themselves might be worth it if you're getting stuck with your writing process.
The Three Month Thesis: Particularly helpful for those of us in UK-style doctoral programs, this blog is also out to sell you some products that will no doubt help your writing process. There are some great posts for free, though, on the blog portion of the website too.
The Grad Cafe: This website is a great forum that has sub-forums based on area of study as well as sub-forums that deal with finances, the application process, and other important aspects of graduate school. While not specifically for doctoral students, it will be very helpful. It's also a very active forum, which is what you always like to see.
PhinisheD: This forum is also active and can be really helpful for those needing encouragement or to talk an idea out with people that actually know what they're talking about. This is one of my favorite stops when I need to discuss something with others. Since my dissertation deals with theology, literature, history, and archaeology it really helps to get input from people that are experts (or at least more so than I) in each of those fields.
Popular Social Media Sites: Twitter is great at connecting you with those that share similar interests. I have never found Facebook to be as helpful with professional associations and interactions. However, if you just want to jump off into the deep end of the pool of academic social media, check out Academia.edu. I've connected with some great international scholars through that and can read papers from organizations and individuals that I follow. It's also interesting to see who follows you and where they're from. Currently, I'm like the David Hasselhoff of Croatia.
While social media is very convenient and can be very encouraging, it can also be very time consuming. If you're going to delve into some of these sites, set a time limit or limit yourself to only check it once or twice a day. The only other caution I have is to not let social media replace actual, face-to-face social interaction. You're not helping yourself if you spend three to five years of your life having mostly online interactions with colleagues. Being socially awkward isn't a trait employers search for. Go to symposiums, scholarly forums, and professional meetings of academic societies that you're a member of. More than all of this, though, don't neglect your friends and family. Obtaining an advanced degree will cost you time, money, and some freedom, but it shouldn't cost you relationships - especially with your spouse and kids.
This website deals with important things to consider like degrees, schools, and finances. On top of that many of us have responsibilities at home, at church, and at work. With all of these important things vying for our attention and limited time, let us not forget the most important thing about ministry - it is about God and His glory. God has called many to full time ministry, but not everyone. I know many with an undergrad or masters in ministry or theology that serve their church, but earn their living in some other line of work. Their advanced training usually makes them an integral part of their church and their job gives them contacts that they otherwise wouldn't have. I think that's great. Paul made tents, which no doubt was an opportunity to share the gospel to many in the marketplace, but he also had an intentional ministry throughout the empire.
For others, God has called them to a paid position in a church or ministry and still others obtained a degree but then for various reasons abandon ministry altogether. No matter your situation, consider why we should study ministry or theology: it's for the glory of God. If it's money, a job working with people, or some other reason, you're following the wrong career path. The money can be decent, but often isn't, people can be cruel, hurtful, and fickle. The only constant is who God is and his worthiness of worship. As someone trained for ministry you are held responsible for what you teach (or don't teach), for your actions, and for how you love others. As ministers (and I use that term loosely), we must remember to focus on having our own relationship with God, leading our family towards a growing relationship with God, and helping the body of Christ have a growing relationship with God. It's about feeding His sheep. When loving others becomes difficult, when people personally attack you, and when you just feel depressed, remember why you studied ministry and theology in the first place.
This article is by Austin McCann. Austin just finished his B.A. at Piedmont International University. He is currently working on his Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary while starting in full-time student ministry. You can find more of Austin’s thoughts on his website.
One of the things I considered when planning for seminary was: am I going to do it full-time on campus or would I do it part-time, and maybe even full-time, online as I work in vocational ministry. I knew the latter would be hard and require discipline, but I wanted to get my feet wet in vocational ministry and didn’t want to wait for a few years while I was on campus as a seminary students. So I decided to do seminary online while pursing vocational ministry at a local church.
I’m only four classes into seminary, so by no means am I an expert at this yet, but I have been learning a few things about how to balance my seminary work with my ministry work. It’s a delicate balance that requires discipline and hard work. Here are a few things that have helped me with this balancing act that may be a help to you if your in the same place I am.
Take a day off to focus 100% on seminary. This has been the biggest help to me so far in this journey. Taking a day off during the week, for me Mondays, and focusing just on my seminary work is a great way to stay on top of your seminary work while staying busy in the ministry world. Find the weekday that works best for you, and stick with it. Don’t schedule any meetings or do any ministry work, find a quite place and work on your seminary stuff. Your ministry stuff will be waiting for you tomorrow, no worries!
Get ahead on your seminary work. Another way to balance seminary and ministry is to get ahead on whatever class work you can. On that day off, get extra reading done and get started on the next paper. Don’t wait until the week something is due to work on that assignment. Stay a week ahead. This will help you focus on your ministry work without feeling like your falling behind in your classes.
Don’t take too many classes. One of the biggest reasons people struggle with balancing seminary and ministry is because they take way too many classes. If you feel like God has called you to do vocational ministry while in seminary, make sure your giving yourself enough time to serve Him well in your ministry. Take a few classes so you stay on track with your program, but don’t overload yourself. Ministry seasons where it’s really busy, like summer for me since I am in youth ministry, take only one or two classes. When there is a season in ministry that you may have more free time, take a few more classes. Be wise and use discernment when planning your classes.
These are just three of the many ways I am learning how to balance seminary and ministry. In our culture, we are blessed with online education so we can serve God in vocational ministry while we do seminary. But remember, we need to be wise with our time so continue figuring out how you can balance seminary with your ministry.
Mark Stevens is a former seminary student himself and currently researches and teaches in the area of theological studies.