As one of Greenville Seminary’s Admissions Counselors, I field a variety of calls from prospective students nearly every week. Occasionally someone calls who has no clue about our commitments as a Seminary. One man called because he wanted to be a pastor in a local church. When I asked him what church he attended, he hesitated. I found out he was not a member of any church and he was not actively pursuing membership or even attending worship at any church. Clearly he was not a fit for GPTS (after all, any man who wants to shepherd the flock must first love the flock). We sent him Dr. McGraw’s pamphlet Is Church Membership Biblical? (co-authored with GPTS alumnus Ryan Speck) and asked him to contact us after being grounded in a solid church.
In contrast, another prospective student asked me, “What kind of student is the seminary looking for?” His question was a good one and left me thinking for days afterward. His question wisely recognized that not every person is a good fit for Greenville Seminary. Not only do prospective students need to know if we are a good fit for them, but we want to know if they are a good fit for us.
We believe that any man desiring to study for an M.Div. degree at GPTS must exhibit the qualities of an elder listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. We expect these qualities in a prospective student precisely because God expects men to exhibit these qualities before he seeks to become an elder in the church. A man must show these marks in his life as an ordinary church member before he can think to rule in the house of God. It is appropriate therefore to use 1 Timothy 3 to answer the question, “Who is a good fit for Greenville Seminary?”
First, a prospective GPTS student must aspire to the office of elder (v1, If any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do). He should have a sense of God’s calling on his life to shepherd God’s flock. This internal call must compel him to leave other vocations behind and pursue this one calling. Charles Spurgeon said that if a man could do anything else other than preach, he ought to do it. His point was that a man must agree with the Apostle Paul, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel! (1 Cor. 9:16).” This sense of call includes a healthy fear lest one tarnish the reputation of Christ. That is not to say that a man must necessarily be completely sure of his call when he comes to Seminary. He must, however, have a distinct desire for the gospel ministry and a humble readiness for that sense of call to be confirmed or denied. He must be ready to serve the Lord wherever the Lord wants him in His kingdom.
Second, a prospective GPTS student must have godly character (v2, An overseer, then, must be above reproach). To meet this expectation, GPTS requires prospective students to obtain character recommendations from three people: typically a pastor, a professor, and an employer. These recommendations attest to the man’s good reputation at home, church, school, and in the workplace. The student must obtain a formal affirmation from his Session, attesting to his good standing in a local church, and he must write a spiritual autobiography. The autobiography describes his conversion (including an articulation of the gospel, how he came to believe it, and how Christ has made a difference in his life), explains his sense of call to ministry, describes plans for service in the church, and why the student desires theological education. All these requirements are designed to protect the church – and to protect GPTS – from self-sent men who would bring reproach on the name of Christ.
The remainder of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 makes even more concrete what GPTS is looking for in a student. The student is to be the husband of one wife, a one-woman man, committed to ministering to his wife as a picture of Christ and the church. He is to be temperate and self-controlled, not overindulging in wine or any other thing. His life is not dominated by alcohol, tobacco, food, or media. He is not notorious for delaying deadlines and procrastinating and is careful to follow directions. He is skillful in teaching, taking opportunities as they present themselves, teaching his own family, teaching in the church, and teaching elsewhere, such as in nursing homes, schools, and prisons. Insofar as he is already busy sharing the good news with people around him, he is to be an evangelist.
The prospective student is hospitable, servant-hearted, thinking of others before himself. He serves behind the scenes where nobody is watching. He helps people with material needs when the opportunity comes. He opens his home to other people, making a point to call others to encourage them in the Lord. He is active in his local church, attending morning and evening worship, midweek prayer meetings, and Bible studies. He wants to invest himself into the Seminary community, developing life-long friendships with other students. He appreciates that his classmates will come from countries all around the world and he cultivates a zeal for worldwide missions.
He is not a bully, but gentle, not contentious, or prone to argue, but humble before God and before men. He will go to GPTS not to teach the professors, but to sit at their feet and learn. He will desire to remain accountable to a local church even in the busyness of school life. He is not a complainer or a malcontent, but one who demonstrates contentment and goodwill, thinking the best of others.
He is free from the love of money. That is, he will demonstrate frugality and generosity. Furthermore, he manages his own household well, reminding himself of Thomas Manton’s words,
…a family is the seminary of Church and State; and if children be not well principled there, all miscarrieth: a fault in the first concoction is not mended in the second; if youth be bred ill in the family, they prove ill in Church and commonwealth; there is the first making or marring, and the presage of their future lives to be thence taken, Prov. xx. 11.
Lastly, GPTS does not want men who are new converts or cage-stage Calvinists who will be lifted up in pride and fall into the condemnation of the devil. God can use a humble man; he won’t use a proud man. There is no room for proud men at GPTS.
In short, GPTS is looking for converted men with a zeal to live for Christ and make Him known to all the nations. A seminary cannot make a man a minister, as our President Emeritus Dr. Pipa has said; but if God has given a man gifts, we can sharpen those gifts and provide the tools of a sound theological education. By God’s grace, such a man will be a faithful herald, rightly dividing the word of God, proclaiming the whole counsel of God to a lost and dying world. That is what we are looking for. May God grant that many such students would darken the doors of every faithful seminary and that through their ministry, the world would come to know Jesus Christ alone as Lord.
 Westminster Assembly, The Westminster Confession of Faith. (Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 1994), 9.