Ten years ago, I walked across the stage at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and was awarded the Master of Divinity degree. That short walk represented years of reading, writing, discussing and wrestling with what it meant to serve in pastoral ministry. I’m grateful for how God used the program to shape my vision for ministry.

Now that I work at GRTS, recruiting, mentoring and teaching M.Div. students, I am often amazed at how the program has grown and developed since I graduated. Dr. John Verberkmoes, our Academic Dean, and others have diligently developed the program. The core of the M.Div. program remains, but it has been strengthened in some profound ways.

One of the defining elements of the Master of Divinity at GRTS has always been biblical languages. I absolutely loved these courses, and I’m glad we’ve kept a focus on engaging the ancient biblical text firsthand. Students learn Greek and Hebrew grammar and take three semesters of exegesis for each. It’s a deep dive into world of the biblical writers that’ll change your perception of the Bible forever. I came away with an awe and respect for God’s Word and a love and devotion to Jesus and his Gospel.

Several years ago, however, we added something new to the program—the Israel Study Tour. Our Bible faculty take all M.Div. students on a 10+ day trip to Israel where they immerse themselves in the world of the biblical text. Why? Because our faculty takes seriously the historical, grammatical and cultural backgrounds of the Bible (the topic of our next Talking Points conference). This is a huge gift. Drs. Greer, Hilber and Turner are passionate about helping students grasp the backgrounds of Scripture so they can apply, preach and teach it faithfully. We studied backgrounds when I was a student, but this faculty is giving an even greater focus to it. (We even have an archaeological lab on campus!)

For me, I find it incredibly rewarding to wrap my colleagues’ work with spiritual formation enhancements for students in the Pirsig Fellowship and Kern Scholars Program. The result is a holistic, educational experience that engages the head, cares for the heart and cultivates the hand for faithful Kingdom service.

I asked a group of graduating M.Div. students recently for their thoughts about this experience. Here’s what they said:

“Academic. Pastoral. Spiritually forming. At GRTS, we haven’t sacrificed spiritual formation in the name of academic excellence. It’s a ‘both-and’ kind of arrangement. The staff and faculty desire to see our faith in Christ deepened as we study the Word and live it out within our respective communities.” —Matt Williams

“My overall academic experience at GRTS in the M.Div. program has been nothing short of life changing. I am humbled by all who have poured into me academically and spiritually throughout this degree program, and time will bear witness to God’s delight in the efforts of GRTS through the men and women whom it has trained for ministry.” —Jimmy McKee

“The Master of Divinity program formed me as an entire person. The academic and enhancement portions together taught me to integrate everything I learned into my calling as husband, father, pastor, and follower of Christ!” —Joe Johnson

When I talked with students who went on the Israel trip in January, I was amazed at how they described it. More than an academic experience, they said it was a refreshing time for their souls. One after another, they shared how they came home refreshed in their faith and renewed in their love for the Lord and his Church. In fact, one student shared that after four years of M.Div. study (with a young family and a full-time ministry position no less!) he is mentally, spiritually and physically healthier than he has ever been.

That, my friends, is what theological education is all about. I’m grateful to walk with students in the Master of Divinity program. If you’re even toying with the idea of pastoral ministry or some sort of church ministry leadership, I cannot recommend this program enough.