The spring quarter has found first year students beginning a yet more challenging slate of classes while the second year students realize that graduation approaches swiftly–with all of its accompanying pressure and excitement. This constant cycle in which we meet students eager to learn how to preach and teach the gospel, build their knowledge, skills, and character by a program of ever-increasing difficulty, and then send them off to work in the Lord’s kingdom runs at breakneck speed. While two years may seem like a long time, in reality it feels like a blip on a radar screen.
The graduation ceremony the first Saturday in June will be my fifth since becoming Director at Brown Trail. And each group of students–and each graduate in particular–holds a special and distinct place in my heart. This is inevitable, I suppose, when you interact closely for that long, but I find it especially gratifying to witness and encourage (some might say “push”) the spiritual growth of men and to see them respond so well. It refreshes the spirit to observe students transform from uncomfortable and/or raw behind the pulpit to delivering sermons of every variety with quality and confidence. Seeing students’ eyes light up in class the moment when they fully comprehend a difficult text or deep theological point makes teaching them worth every bit of the preparation.
Students typically arrive in very different places spiritually. They usually have vastly different backgrounds and most definitely enjoy vastly different strengths. Some have only a high school education, while others have graduate degrees. Some grew up in the church, while others are the first in their family to obey the gospel. They come to Brown Trail with unique perspectives, a variety of assumptions, and a practically universal underestimation for how difficult the program will be. But those who persevere and do the hard work bond in ways difficult to describe. Upon graduation, of necessity they must part ways, but they have shared an experience that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
By the end of their two years in school, most students are more than ready to get a little more sleep, have a little more time with the family, and have the opportunity to preach without being graded. They are ready for the next step forward of implementing all they have learned. That is, indeed, the nature and purpose of education of any kind. I (almost) remember having that feeling when I graduated more than thirty years ago. They will miss the camaraderie of the classroom and the easy flow of information that can mask the challenges of personalized study, but they will be doing the Lord’s work. And that is what matters.
For the students, two years probably seems like forever. So why do I maintain that two years is too fast? Simply put, because I love my students. I love spending time with them in the classroom. I love talking and laughing over lunch. I love visiting and answering questions in my office after classes end for the day. I love the closeness we develop over two years’ time. And I miss them when they are gone. They are my students, yes, and they are my brethren. But by the time they leave, I also consider them my friends, and that makes saying goodbye a little harder. So, for me–for very personal reasons–two years is too fast.