Meet a Real Theology Major
Name: Timothy Gillespie
Education: Graduated from La Sierra University with a B.A. in religious studies and a B.A. in English
Location: La Mesa Seventh-day Adventist Church in La Mesa, California
The Job: As a pastor Timothy is up by 6:00 a.m. and is working in his home office by 7:00. Breaking his day into three zones—morning, afternoon, and evening—he tries to work during two of those zones (although he usually ends up working all three).
Typically he’ll spend many hours in preparation for a sermon or Bible study. If he’s preaching, he’ll spend 10-20 hours studying his topic, depending on how familiar he is with it.
His workday changes every day. If something comes up concerning youth, then Timothy drops everything to be at their side. This could mean anything from a surprise visit with someone in prison to a lunch with one of the kids.
On Sabbath things get really hectic. From Friday evening vespers to Sabbath evening activities Timothy hardly gets any downtime. While at first the schedule was overwhelming, Timothy has learned to balance his public life of service with a private life with his family.
Words to Live by “Being a pastor is challenging, because you’re doing the work of ministry, but you’re not being ministered to. And it’s easy to think that because you’re doing ministry all the time, you must be a spiritual person. But that’s not always the case. Pastors are expected to have it all together all the time. But in truth, you struggle like everyone else.”
Religion for you?
Consider Religion as a college major if you're crazy about:
• sharing your faith (share the wealth)
• creativity (spice up those sermons)
• opening your mind (you’ll see God without your blinders)
• analysis (critical thinking is a must in the quest for truth)
Avoid Religion as a college major if you get nauseated by:
• learn other languages (Greek and Hebrew are unavoidable)
• interact with people (the last thing we need is a hermit pastor)
• be flexible (your way isn’t the only way)
How in the world do you major in God?
It’s an odd question, given that anything we choose to study involves God somehow. Biology, for example, analyzes His creations. Communications explores the way His people interact. Technology reveals our God-given drive to go beyond the status quo.
Besides, a career choice should include an underlying desire to use our talents for God. So in a way, all college students major in God. Yet there is a major in God.
It’s called theology. Break the word down, and you’ve got theo-, which means “God,” and-logy, which means “the study of.” And so theology explores God, His relationto the world, and religious faith.
Theology also focuses on the ministry. In fact, communication skills, language skills,and public speaking skills are all important aspects of this program.
Typically theology majors go on to become pastors. However, other options include youthministry; counseling; evangelism; and chaplaincy in the military, health care,or prison system. Some theology majors become religion teachers or professors.
Mostly, though, theology prepares you to become a leader for God by strengthening your knowledge of His Word.
So how do you decide if this major is for you? Somer Penington, a junior at La SierraUniversity, can shed some light on the subject. Strangely, she’s not exactly a theology major—she’s an English major—but she’s preparingto become a pastor.
OC: Somer, could you explain how your school’s program is different from most schools’programs?
Somer: We don’t have a traditional theology major. Instead, we have two separate focuses. There’s the religious studies major—that’s your traditional religion major. Andthere’s the preseminary program. The preseminary program specifically preparesstudents to become pastors and allows them to major in other areas. If you wereto put the religious studies and preseminary program together, then you’d getthe typical theology major.
OC: Why do a separate preseminary program?
Somer: It allows for diversity among the students. Because I like English, thepreseminary program allows me to major in English and prepare for seminary atthe same time. I can be more well rounded.
OC: I’ve heard many religion majors complain about Greek. What’s it like, and what other classes do you take?
Somer: In the second year of the program we do translating in Greek. We have to pickapart the words of Bible verses and translate them. I’ll take Hebrew next year.
We’re also required to take courses in homiletics (learning how to give sermons), Old andNew Testaments, Christian beliefs, and church history.
OC: What’s been your favorite class so far?
Somer: I really enjoyed my Old Testament course. The Old Testament is exciting!Sometimes we studied one verse at a time. We’d ask such questions as: What isthe verse’s meaning? its impact? What are the cultural implications? How muchwas culturally related? We did a lot of critical thinking, and everyone puttheir own spin on it. Then everyone came out of class thinking a littledifferently.
OC: Do you study about other religions, too?
Somer: Our program certainly encourages an awareness of other religions and cultures.
OC:Wouldn’t some people say that’s dangerous?
Somer: It’s not as though the teachers are asking us to memorize the writings of Buddha.They’re just asking us to understand other cultures and respect differentperspectives. I think by doing so, our own faith is strengthened.
OC: What stereotypes about religion majors would you like to dispel?
Somer: In general I think theology majors are stereotyped as very serious and verygood—that they preach every three minutes and quote Scripture all the time!
People think we’re not very fun, but some of the religion majors around here are someof the most fun people. And fun doesn’t mean bad or naughty. We’re not allnerds! We do have to spend a lot of time doing Greek, but we’re not nerds!
There’s also an expectation that we’re always at our best—that we’ll drop everything todo Bible study—and we’re always expected to pray in public.
OC: Do you feel pressure from yourself or others to be spiritually perfect by the time you graduate?
Somer: I do try really hard to maintain a healthy spiritual life, but the “being perfect”thing isn’t a requirement. It’s the desire to serve God that’s important. Ifyou feel called to the ministry, then God will use you. That’s what’s so greatabout God.
The expectations shouldn’t stop anyone from pursuing this major. No one in theministry is perfect! Our relationship with God is a constant journey.
OC: Studying theology seems so personal to me, because it’s basically about yourrelationship with God. Is it emotionally draining at times?
Somer: It is close to you, because every day you have to confront what you believe. Iwouldn’t say that it’s really hard to do, but it’s kind of humbling to behonest with yourself every day. That’s what makes it so exciting and special.
OC: Any surprises about your area of study?
Somer: I used to think that religion was black and white. No discussion about it—that’s the way it is. End of story. But it’s a lot more than that.
Everyone’s picture of God is a little different. So you hear new perspectives. It’s notthat one person is right and another is wrong; it’s about sharing individualpictures of God and putting them together.
OC: What comes after graduation?
Somer: During school you have to do an externship, which is basically working for achurch. I’m working for the campus pastor, running a weekly program.
After graduation you hope you get picked up by a conference, and they send you to aseminary. Some people jump straight out into working with a church. It justdepends on your goals. If you want to be a senior pastor, then you go toseminary. If you want to be a missionary, you can go right after college.
OC: Explain what seminary is and what it’s for.
Somer: The seminary is where you finish learning how to be a pastor. You’re most likelyworking toward a master’s in divinity. Most people get a master’s in divinity,and it usually takes about two years.
If you get picked up by a conference, they’ll pay in part for your seminary. In return,you have to work for them a certain amount of time. But you don’t have to do itthat way. If you’d rather pay for seminary yourself and have no obligations toa conference, you can.
OC: What kind of impact does this major have on your personal spiritual life?
Somer: It’s given me a broader religious experience. I’m not saying that majoring intheology is the only way to do so, but in my classes I get to spend timelearning, sharing, and talking with other people, piecing together this biggerpicture of my God.
In biology I may learn about the inner workings of my eyeballs, which is part of what Iam. But religion is who I am and why.