Cramming Seminary Well

A couple days ago I did a guest blog post on the website Servants of Grace.

The article is titled ‘Cramming Seminary Well’. You can view the article here.

 

Or you can read the article here:

Certainly only through the Lord’s strength and grace to me, during one whole school year on-campus at Southern Seminary, I took a whopping 61 credit hours of class! How is this possible?

Still, now, I have no idea how all that happened. God’s mercy pulled me through.

During my first six months at Southern Seminary, I crammed seminary very poorly, which I go into detail more in an article on Desiring God. The first six months at Southern were one of the hardest periods in my life, which seemed like it would never end. But the second half of the school year, the Lord graciously guided me on how to cram seminary better. I didn’t slow down my course pace at any point but actually did better in my classes while still taking a huge load.

So why did I need to “cram” seminary at all in the first place? Before going to Louisville, KY for the ’13-’14 school year, we’d only planned to stay one year as a so-called seminary “break” from serving in China. I’d done some classes online beforehand and planned to take a light load at Southern for that year since I was doing a shorter Master’s degree [only 48 credit hours]. But during the summer before moving to Southern, I changed my mind and decided to do the M.DIV [94 total credit hours – usually spanning 3 or more years] instead of the M.A., so I knew I needed to cram tons of classes into that one year on-campus at Southern.

There were many painful points throughout the “cramming,” but here are some very valuable tips I learned along the way on how to “cram” better:

1) It’s important to take breaks in your life. Initially, I was studying Monday through Sunday, seven days a week, from 7 am – 10 pm each day. Don’t do that. You’ll just beat yourself to the ground. Thankfully I eventually adjusted from that brutal schedule to a much more manageable one – 7 am–5 pm, only Monday through Friday. I stopped studying at all on weekends or on weeknights. Taking rests is a way we refresh ourselves. If we don’t have such time for rest, we are constantly consumed by whatever we’re doing all the time, whether it’s schoolwork or work or something else. That means that thing becomes much greater to us than God, family, friends or our church.

I found that the most efficient studying for me was when I took regular breaks in my life. Even though I was studying much less than previously, I got as good of grades as before, although I was spending 15 or so fewer hours each week on schoolwork. A good practice we started doing is setting aside Saturdays as Family Days. We’d have a full, undistracted day together as a family, going out to parks or other places in the city. Even for the single folks, it’s good to have a few long breaks each week, to be doing something else than what you do all week.

2) On your holidays, be intentional not to study if possible. Take a small trip out of the city, or do something special with family or friends. Even if you decide to study during the break, make sure that you have as many days as you can in a row without any studies. When I studied at Southern, I didn’t have too long of a break in between the Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer terms. But even then, it’s good to take a few days off completely from schoolwork, and longer if possible.

3) Don’t try to work ahead significantly. I found that trying to do reading too far ahead of time doesn’t work out well. By the time I have that class a few weeks later, I will have forgotten most of what I tried to read in advance. Then I have to reread everything I already read. Or I end up failing a quiz about the material because I didn’t remember anything about it. And certainly, don’t try to begin coursework in one semester for a class in another semester. It was helpful for me not to have any of my coursework overlap from one semester to another semester. Have a clear end to one semester, take a break for as long as you can, and then begin the next semester.

4) Learn to speed-read. At least at Southern Seminary, Professors and Seminary Department heads themselves told us not to read every word of every page. This can save you tons of time. This is not valuable for just seminary, but just life in general. I found this especially true when I engaged in speed-reading as I was able to retain a much better idea long-term about the main things from the book. If you read every word meticulously, you may lose sight of the main points of the book. But there may be a few books that are of particular importance to you that you can read slower. These should be the exception, not the norm.

5) Plan your classes well. Do your best always to monitor which classes are offered when. Be on the ball with your classes. I’d suggest making an Excel chart showing all your classes for your degree, and then mark a checkmark under the semester you took that class. If you want to cram lots of courses into a short period, you have to each semester prioritize which classes are required that you need to take. And then think about electives you want to take if you’ve still got time in your schedule. You don’t want to be in a situation where you realize you need a class, but you didn’t take it when it was offered the year or two earlier, and it won’t be offered again before you had hoped to graduate. This can unnecessarily extend your seminary stay an extra semester.

6) Physical exercise. Make sure to have some regular physical exercise. This could be running a few times a week, or playing basketball, or swimming. It could be something as easy as a 20-minute daily pushups and sit-ups workout in your home. Even when the weather may be too cold to exercise outside, still have some way to continue exercising regularly [more than once a week] throughout the year. This will help your mind work better, it’ll also give you more energy, you’ll be able to sleep better, and you will physically be healthier and in better shape.

A couple of things to note in conclusion. During the year on-campus in Louisville, I didn’t have any job. My wife worked full-time, and my mother-in-law watched our daughter full-time. For those of you who work at all, it may be a different dynamic for you. But still many of these main principles still apply.

Also, many of these principles would not be useful just for seminary students, but also a high school or college student.

Review of my Book in Southern Seminary Journal

There was a review of my book Becoming Native to Win the Natives in the Southern Seminary journal Towers last summer. I actually didn’t know this review was written & nobody told me about it. I just stumbled upon it earlier this week when browsing the Southern Seminary site.

 

Or you can read it below:

Review by Annie Corser

In Becoming Native to Win the Natives, SBTS alumnus Tabor Laughlin (pseudonym) speaks to Christians about missions in other cultures and nations. The book’s biblical foundation pulls from the Great Commission’s call to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth and make disciples, and Revelation’s display showing that heaven will be filled with people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

“This book is not about how to preach the gospel in a cross-cultural environment, nor how to build deep relationships with those around you. It is just about the aspect of becoming like the native in all other aspects of life,” writes Laughlin.

Laughlin focuses on the characteristic traits needed for successful ministry: humility, service, love, and a burden for those you serve. With practical advice, he explains how to adopt cultural traditions not contrary to the Bible, like language, hobbies, and appearance.

Praying about Life after College Graduation

Originally in my February 2nd, 2004 Journal [my junior year of college]

Thursday night I went to Bible study, & I was able to stray Mike off the beaten path & ask him some questions about free will. He had very good answers. He said that God naturally made us to follow our emotions & mind, leading us to our decisions, making it our will. On the other hand, God has still predestined the saved souls. He plants the seed in their heart that makes them come to Jesus (Holy Spirit, if you will). He doesn’t choose everyone to receive this movement towards Jesus. So, our day to day decisions are our own. We can follow a path that is not God’s will. We are not the deciding factor for others’ salvation. Out of our love & excitement for Jesus we should spread the gospel. That is still our calling.

From all this I have had a major re-evaluation of what I want to do with my life. A life of service to Jesus is a life I could never regret. It begins now. Each decision I make should be targeted towards glorifying God. I’ve been researching some summer missions options. Spending my summer doing missions would be worse professionally than interning in Philly, but do I really want to spend my life doing engineering? The decision begins now. I pray for God to open & close doors in a way that his will for me may be fulfilled.

A New Review of my Book

Yesterday there was a review of my book Becoming Native to Win the Natives in the Journal of Global Christianity, which is published by the organization Training Leaders International.

Here’s the link: http://trainingleadersinternational.org/jgc/81/becoming-native-to-win-the-natives-cross-culturally-becoming-all-things-to-all-men

The book review was graciously written by Jackson Wu.

 

Or you can read the book review pasted below:

For new missionaries, Tabor Laughlin’s Becoming Native to Win the Natives is a must read. His book has the rare combination of being practical, relevant and readable. Although a short text (just under 70 pages), Laughlin’s work is packed with counsel that only comes from years of experience.

Section One addresses issues related to one’s perspective and heart. In the second part, Laughlin talks about matters that every missionary faces. These include language learning, assimilating into the local culture, one’s appearance in the local community, and managing family life. Finally, he ties it all together in a concise conclusion.

Laughlin’s book is practical without becoming overly pragmatic. He specifically addresses the daily tasks that make up the missionary life. He equips and encourages readers with realistic expectations. Laughlin gives no space to idealism or abstraction. Instead, one finds advice that is immediately actionable. His stories draw from personal experience and so demonstrate what it might look like to “become native.”

Having served many years in China, Laughlin is able to offer counsel that is relevant to missionaries in every context. By contrast, other authors settle for mere principles in order to reach a maximum audience. Laughlin concludes his chapters with multiple questions that guide readers in application. These questions stimulate personal reflection and will direct missionaries as they consider the practical steps they need to take in order to flourish in their ministry. I envision many veteran missionaries also using Laughlin’s book to train, encourage, and mobilize newer workers.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the book is its readability. Given its short length, the book is a quick read. Laughlin writes in simple prose. He does not include a lot of technical terms and concepts that would otherwise confuse readers unfamiliar with missiological jargon. His tone is conversational and his message is clear.

Some might complain about the book’s brevity. I, for one, tend to steer away from such short works. Laughlin certainly could have said much more. However, he has spent much of a decade training newcomers to the mission field. As a result, his aim is simple: to write a brief text that people will actually read amid the stress of transition, language learning, and culture shock. In fact, readers will find more substance in this resource than is often found in much larger works.

I heartily recommend Laughlin’s book for anyone who wants to become native to win the natives.

My article today on Desiring God ‘Scripture Memory Made Simple’

Today I had an article on Desiring God. The title is ‘Scripture Memory Made Simple’.

Here’s the link: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/scripture-memory-made-simple

 

Or you can read the article below:

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we do have a lot of downtime in each day that we could be using to feed our souls. Often, we spend our spare minutes during the day doing other things like watching TV, playing on our phones, or surfing the internet. Maybe some of us are not seeing the spiritual growth we want because we don’t see the free minutes here and there throughout our day as a gift from God, but rather as a time for entertainment or productivity.

If you think about it, the accumulation of spare moments in our days quickly adds up. Getting dressed, eating breakfast, waiting at the bus stop, walking to class, waiting for the start of a meeting — usually our minds are unemployed during these moments, or occupied by social media. But for those who are looking to “make the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16), there is a means of grace perfectly suited to these short pockets of time: Bible memorization.

Ten Minutes for Treasured Truth

Ten years ago, when I worked as a teacher in China, I decided to take advantage of my free time throughout the day by memorizing Bible verses. I’d write a verse or a passage on an index card and pull it out throughout the day whenever I wasn’t doing anything else. In just a few years’ time, I had memorized over a thousand verses from God’s word — whole passages and even chapters from the Bible were locked in memory and doing their work in my heart.

To this day, I would count those stacks of Bible verse index cards among my most valuable possessions. I take them with me and still use them every day.

I’ve found that whether one spends lots of time in Scripture memory, or just a little time, it is always an incredibly valuable thing to do. It’s easy to consider our short breaks in the day to be “our own time” to relax or surf the internet or watch TV. While these are by no means bad things, we should weigh the value of these activities against the great gift of time to learn God’s word. I can assure you, whether you can invest ten or fifteen minutes each day into Scripture memory, or longer (or shorter) than that, any effort we make is time well spent.

For while rest and recreation have some value, memorizing Scripture has value in many ways. For example, here are four practical benefits of Bible memory:

1. We meditate on God’s word.

When we have the Scriptures hidden in our hearts, if we are regularly reviewing and learning them, we make the truth of Scripture available to our minds all throughout the day. We can be sitting anywhere, or doing anything, and suddenly turn our minds to think about Scripture that I’ve memorized — we can meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2).

2. We fight sin and resist the enemy.

The Scripture tells us that we should hide the word in our heart that we might not sin against God (Psalms 119:11). Paul says we must take up “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). This sword of the Spirit is what we use to fight the battle against Satan and against sin. Bible memory means we’re always armed.

3. We get a deeper understanding of the Bible.

This is a huge benefit of Scripture memory. By memorizing many verses covering the whole Bible, we gain a much better understanding of the Bible — not only in small segments, but also as a whole. I’ve found that I can recall key things about all books of the Bible from the top of my head. The more of God’s word we take in, the more we can see its architecture and design when we go to read it.

4. We are equipped for everyday life.

It’s often incredibly handy to be able to have Scripture “within reach” without pulling out our phones or opening our Bibles. We could be doing many things, like encouraging someone in our church, praying alone or in a group, preparing for a sermon, sharing the gospel with an unbeliever, writing someone an email or a paper or a book. Even with the modern ease of looking up info on the internet or on our smartphones, it can never be more convenient than knowing by heart the exact verse that you want to use whenever you want to use it.

Not Effortless, But Priceless

I encourage the readers to put in the time necessary to memorize Scripture. None of that time spent will be spent in vain. It may sound intimidating — just like learning anything, it doesn’t happen naturally. But it does happen simply. And the time you spend will be of great benefit to you and your life.

If you’re not memorizing Scripture right now, or even if you’ve never memorized a verse in your life, I’d encourage you to try with a simple goal of one memory verse every week or every two weeks. Do your best, not simply to memorize as much as you can, but to retain what you’ve already learned. In almost five years, I haven’t learned any new verses, but I still have hours’ worth of material to memorize every day, simply by reviewing. In this way, Scripture memory can be a lifelong means of God’s grace that will benefit you your whole life.

Trip to Xinjiang

Originally in my January 14th, 2010 Journal [on scout trip to Xinjiang Province]

In Urumqi, there are missionaries learning Chinese & focusing on the Han. And there’s others who learn Uyghur & focus on the Uyghur. I question this approach, to totally separate the ministry into two groups. Those focusing on the Han can’t speak Uyghur & those focusing on Uyghur can’t speak Chinese. It seems that, if what some missionaries say is right in saying the Han will be used to best reach the Uyghur & the Chinese pastor’s testimony in Kashgar can attest to that fact, missions organizations would be better to combine the ministries in Urumqi, training workers to speak both Chinese & Uyghur & to be able to actively work with the Han in order to reach the Uyghur. It would be critical that these people speak both languages fluently. Separating the ministry into two distinct parts has way too many limitations.

Lord Changing Hearts in Chinese University

Originally in my January 6th, 2008 Journal [ministering in university in E. China]

There has been a confession of faith! Apparently, two days ago Edward (also from class 3) told Jairy that he became a believer. Yesterday he told Eric. This all followed his 6 hour conversation about the Lord with their lexicology teacher Andrew (a Chinese professor). What a huge blessing Andrew has been! So a guy student has given a confession of faith at the school. We’ll see what happens next. Needs lots of prayer. Also I met with Jordan. He said he feels God pulling him towards Him. He said he just needs more time. I said there are many examples in the Bible where people immediately believe & are transformed (like Paul). I said I know many people who say they’ll wait until they have a family to do the “Christian thing”. Obviously this attitude is wrong. I said “What if they die tomorrow?” They’d go to Hell because they’d have no faith. That got him thinking a lot. He needs immediate prayer. May he be hugely convicted of his lostness. I feel like he’s close, but we can’t relax until he’s turned to the Lord! I also met with Newmoon & she took Pilgrim’s Progress from me to read for the break. May the Lord convict her in a huge way through Bunyan or the Word or some other source. Great things happening with that class of students!

Working Hard for Christ in School or in Work

Originally in my December 13th, 2004 Journal [age 22, senior year studying engineering at Oklahoma St. Univ.]

The main lesson I learned this semester is in regards to labor. Many Christians equate their religion with not worrying, & and thus, not working hard. This was my state last semester & early this semester. I learned that no one will respect anything I say if I don’t do my best at everything I do. Then I am a poor witness. Jesus must be reflected in every aspect of my life. Were Jesus or Paul slackers because they had a ‘carefree attitude’, not concerned with the worries of this world? Heck no! If anything, they worked harder than others in everything they did. It has been a huge lesson for me this semester & I am incredibly thankful.

my article this week on Desiring God ‘Lay Aside ‘Lone Ranger’ Ministry’

This week I had an article on Desiring God titled ‘Lay Aside ‘Lone Ranger’ Ministry’

Here’s the link:

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/lay-aside-lone-ranger-ministry

 

Or you can read the article below:

As we ministered in our first city in eastern China, doing outreach to college students, our missionary team saw significant fruit among several students within our first year. What caused it to grow?

It was indeed the Lord who caused the seed to grow (1 Corinthians 3:6), and looking back, I also can see how the Lord made us his means and blessed our team with a tight bond. Not only were we close, but a lot of our time with the students was spent together as a team. We were intentional to spend time and minister to students not just individually, but also as a group.

For example, my friend Eric was ministering to a Chinese student named Jordan. He would get lunch with Jordan and talk about the gospel, among other things. Afterward, Eric and I would discuss how it went and pray for Jordan. Some other time, I would go get coffee with Jordan and talk about all kinds of things, but I’d also try to be intentional to share spiritual things. Afterward, Eric and I would pray.

Eventually, by spending time with different Christians individually and together with us in groups, Jordan became more interested in the gospel, until he believed. To this day, he continues to grow and persevere in that faith.

Partnering with others in gospel outreach can be powerful and effective. And we find that shared outreach is a very common model in the Bible.

They Shall Know by Your Love

A big part of our testimony to the lost is not only our words to them, but also our deep love for other believers. Jesus himself says in John 13:35 that “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” So, a huge part of our witness is how we love other believers. But if we are doing ministry on our own, it provides no opportunity for people to see our love for other believers and how we interact with them.

If we are committed to only doing outreach by ourselves, how will unbelievers see how we love each other? Certainly we need to proclaim the gospel through our words. This is vital, but it’s just one part of our witness. The other part of our testimony, biblically, is the conduct of our lives, including our love for other believers (Matthew 5:161 Peter 2:12). If we truly, selflessly love those in the church, others outside the church can see that and consider how this love may be unique to the Christian community. They may think this love expressed among believers as strange and be incredibly curious about the reason.

Jesus Sent Them Two by Two

In Luke 10:1–24, Jesus sends out seventy-two disciples in groups of two. One possible reason for this is so that they could hold one another accountable to the task at hand. If Jesus sent out seventy-two lone-ranger evangelists, it would be much easier for them to compromise the mission. But if they’re sent out with others, they can remind each other of their call and purpose, and encourage one another in times of discouragement and wandering.

Another possible reason why Jesus sent out the disciples two by two is for increased gospel witness. One person sharing a testimony can have great power, of course. But of even greater power is a complementary testimony coming from two or three people. One person may have a particular background or testimony that can hit someone with the gospel in a different way than another person who has a completely different background or testimony. The hearers can get multiple perspectives on the message, rather than just one.

Speaking to his disciples, Jesus said that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). In this place, Jesus is referring to acts of judgment within the church, following the Old Testament requirement of multiple witnesses to a charge (Deuteronomy 19:15). Nevertheless, it is easy to see how this principle applies more broadly to gospelwitness.

The testimony of two or three witnesses about anything is much more reliable and trustworthy than that of one witness. One person could just be confused, lying, or crazy. But having multiple people sharing a common testimony of truth is much harder to reject and brush aside. So when we are the only ones witnessing to someone about the gospel, it is quite a difficult task. It is much better to partner with another to deliver the gospel message with greater power and breadth.

Apostolic Ministry

Paul had a similar approach in ministry. Typically he was doing ministry together with others. Even when he was in prison, he often had other brothers with him. As he traveled on his three missionary journeys, he was not only traveling together with others, but also doing ministry with them.

On his first missionary journey, Paul — possibly one of the greatest evangelists of all time — did not go alone. In Acts 13:1–3, we see that the Holy Spirit himself told the church in Jersusalem to set apart both Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Barnabs ministered together in Iconium, “speaking boldly for the Lord” (Acts 14:3). They are not only in the city together, but they are boldly proclaiming the gospel together. This is just one of many examples in Acts of Christians sharing gospel ministry.

Feel the Freedom of Mutual Ministry

Once we see what the Bible says and shows about doing ministry together, we should be intentional to put it into practice in our lives. Consider cooperating with others in your church, or small group, to evangelize together, working together with other Christians in your neighborhood to try to reach your neighbors, or when possible, partnering missionaries with other missionaries on the field to minister to the local people.

Here’s a call to embrace the wisdom of the Bible in place of our own individual efforts and work with Christ’s body to make disciples both at home and among the nations, for his glory and the increase of our own joy (Philippians 4:11 Thessalonians 2:193 John 4).