What I’ve Learned After One Semester of Seminary

I would first and foremost want to thank you all for your prayers, your calls, and texts. …And not just because today is Thanksgiving.

You are all just a bunch of blessings from the Lord. We love you and miss you and are so so so so so grateful to have you in our lives. We could not get through these last few months without your prayers. This evening we have been invited to have dinner with a group of seminarians and we are very excited to just relax, encourage one another, and eat like elephants.

I have compiled a list of things I have learned after my first semester of seminary. Yesterday was the last day of lecture class. So technically the semester is not over yet, since we still have two weeks of finals exams to do. Some of you might be wondering how that works. Well just as a quick note we call these two weeks as reading week or I call it study-until-you’re-blue weeks – blue weeks, for short. Throughout the weeks we have scheduled exams to take, some are online and some you have to come into class to take, but throughout these two weeks we do not have classes to attend to – except the exams of course. …you get the picture so not lets move on… ☺

My first semester has been a blast. Literally a blast. It was fun, fast, intense, took lots of energy and a little smoky at the end…just like a firecracker blast.

While I did learn many things in the classroom, most of the lessons were like little seeds that were planted in the midst of the lecture, reading, interacting with other students and so on.

1) We are made for relationships with God, and people.
a. When I came to seminary, I had no idea what I was walking into (I still think I don’t). After not having been in school for over 4 years, I was a bit nervous. A ton of insecurities welled up in me. Am I smart enough? Could I handle the heavy course load? Was this really what I was being called to? As a Russian-American, would I be fully accepted and acknowledged? Would I fit in? I hate to say that all these questions were surely in my mind as I arrived to Philly. Unfortunately the weight would often become heavier before it got lighter. Now and again I still think about these questions as I meet gifted, intelligent, and passionate people. I sometimes find myself longing for the gifts, skills, and talents of others. I realized it is in these moments that I lose sight of who my God is and who I am. My identity is being pushed and pulled to achievements and works and gifts instead of Christ. One of my professors helped me see this as he shared that he too sees this in his own heart. The more we are honest with God, the more we find peace and comfort to say with the Apostle Paul; “I am what I am by the grace of God”. With this I have been renewed in thankfulness and joy for who He is and who He has created me to be.

b. I learned how easy it is to be disconnected from God and people when you are in seminary. It has been a real fight not a challenge – but a FIGHT to do my morning devotions. I am always in a hurry and rushing like a Russian 😉 . This is the lesson I learned; if you plan on doing devotionals then do it right away, all the way and with a joyful heart.

2) Seminary is a lot of work.
a. Study at WTS is not easy. Not simply because the coursework is rigorous, but because on top of this coursework, you will be forced to look at the junk in your heart. Writing papers, taking tests/quizzes, and reading tons of books, while at the same time examining your heart, is weary work but comes with a priceless payoff.

3) I have a love/hate relationship with Greek.
a. The languages are huge here at WTS. I am still yet to take Hebrew but Greek has kicked my butt more times than I can count, no wait I can – 13 times (that’s every week since the first day of class).

b. Greek is my enemy because it kicks me while I’m down and wont let me get a breath. Greek is my friend because it takes me to the source of the message and gives me insight and appreciation for the text like I have never had before. Greek is heavily used in the upcoming studies for Systematics, New Testament, Apologetics and others. And WTS languages emphasis really sets you up for a higher education, as graduate school should.

c. My Greek class gave me the most grief but it also gives me the most joy. When I can read and break it down well (not a common phenomena I can assure you) I am happier than a room without a roof.

Prayer requests:
Please be praying for our little family to find a place to live closer to the seminary under $800mo. And also that final exams go well.
Sorry for the length of this post. I try to keep them short but I wanted to share something more this time. This is not an exhaustive list, and it will only continue to grow (so if you think this is long just wait until my last year of seminary…no no I’m kidding of course).

While these are things I learned in my circumstances what have you learned in yours.
What have you learned in the last three months?
What is God teaching you now?

So Far Its Been Smooth Sailing


Thank you for all your prayers the Lord has been so good to us. So I’ll start with our MVP – Silas. He has been doing well getting along with the other (4yr old) toddler in the house. He is learning to share and play by the rules. She is also making him talk in Russian. The Lord has been merciful to keep him from any sickness and we hope that will remain the case through the winter season. 

I can not even begin to explain how or rather why God has given me such a loving and patient wife. I truly wish every man had a wife like mine – she is awesome!
Natalie has decided on working evening shifts three days a week at a nearby restaurant and in January she might get some students for her fitness training job, but it doesn’t seem to be the case for now. I think that one part-time job should be enough for us to get our own place and I don’t want Natalie to get overwhelmed. I’m in class and studying most of the day so when I come home (around 5pm) I hang out with my home boy Silas and then put him to bed around 7pm…that’s the plan anyway.
So far Natalie and I have decided that I not work and just focus on school. It has truly been like drinking out of a fire hose, but I am loving it. With all its pain and sleepless nights (literally I have nights when I study from 11pm and then pack up my books and go to my morning class…) I would not trade it for the world…well maybe I would but you know what I mean. Most of my time is devoted to Greek, so my only regret is not getting a head start on Greek before I came to seminary, but either than that
Natalie and I have made lots of good friends and I am meeting more and more Baptist brothers on campus. And just for the record my Presbyterian brothers are not giving me a hard time about my baptism convictions…well some do but it is always light-hearted and out of fun. I am learning more that I thought I could, reading more than I thought I could and growing in and by His grace.
We are still looking for a church to join. Almost every Sunday we have visited a new church but for now we seem to be gravitating towards Trinity Church (http://www.tcphilly.org/).
Please do not stop praying for us we continually need your prayers that God would fill us with knowledge of his will and direction through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.
Please continue to pray that we may live a life worthy and pleasing to him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God and our own finiteness.
Please continue to pray that we find a church family that is healthy and a good fit.
Please pray that all would be well with Natalie’s work and for a smooth and godly transition to work by seeking to redeem all things for His name and kingdom.
Please continue to pray for my spiritual and intellectual growth to be in a continual progressing balance for His name sake.
Your brother in Christ,

Pavel Nickoliyavich Bugriyev

It Has Begun


The Lord has been abundantly gracious to provide a warm welcome here on the East Coast. The Philadelphians, the Westminster students, professors, and the local churches have been so welcoming and kind to us. Day one of class was a great experience and a joy-filled time. I was pleased to meet many new friends and hear from world-class scholars.

Dr. Brandon Crowe is my advisor with whom I will continue to meet every Thursday morning for prayer and mentorship. Dr. Crowe is the professor of New Testament here at Westminster. Already he has proven to be a gentleman and a scholar…and as an added bonus he has a great sense of humor. I am so excited to develop a life long friendship with such a kind and brilliant brother in Christ.

We have been so blessed to have a place to stay at the home of a loving and godly Ukrainian family. A special thanks to Volodia and Nadya Gordynskiy and to the family with whom we are currently staying with now, Zhan and Alla Kiselev.

Words can not express what a huge blessing these few weeks have been. Thank you all for your prayers since the Lord used your prayers as means to bring about his purposes.

Due to popular demand here is my class schedule:

Fall Semester of 2014: Duration 9/4/2014 – 12/12/2014

AP101 – Intro to Apologetics
with Dr. William Edger: Tuesdays 8:30 – 10:30, and Wednesdays 8:30-9:30.

CH211 – The Ancient Church
with Dr. Carl Trueman: Thursdays 11:00 – 13:00.

NT011 – New Testament Greek
with Mr. Brandon Szerlip: Mondays and Thursdays 14:00 – 16:00.

PT111 – Orientation to Ministerial Formation
with Timothy Witmer: Tuesdays 14:00 – 16:00.

ST101 – Intro to Theology
with David Garner: Mondays 11:00 – 1300.
This adds up to 13 credits total.

It has been encouraging to receive your financial support and to hear from you personally, but moreover to hear you say that you are diligently praying for us.

Please feel free to ask about any areas of our lives or to expand on anything that I have written in the past.

Support for Seminary


Dear friends and family,
Natalie and I have decided to move to Philadelphia so that I can study at Westminster Theological Seminary. Presently, God is leading me to a period of intensive study of His Word in the seminary to obtain a Master’s Degree in Divinity. I hope to use the abundant resources God has provided to play a part in serving the universal Church either directly in the local church or by laboring within a para-church context.

I am open to pastoral ministry, but rather uncertain that God has called me to be a pastor. One thing I am certain in is that I would like to see my ministry and vocation to overlap, as I want nothing more than to spend and be spent for the beloved bride of Christ. I do not associate going to seminary with an exclusive calling to pastoral ministry. It is my simple wish to obtain a greater theological education that I may carry on serving the Lord with zeal and knowledge.

Brothers and sisters, would you be willing to help us through prayer and financial support? Would you partner with me in praying for me and my wife and baby Silas as we walk this journey of faith wherever the Lord may lead in the future?
Every investment entails some amount of risk. You can invest in stocks, relationships, and politicians, but few things will last into eternity, and none of these are guaranteed to succeed. I encourage you to pray with discernment to see where God might use you in this prospect.

We are praying for $800/month for living expenses excluding food, insurance, travel and tuition. Tuition cost per semester is approximately $12,000.
I am excited and humbled by this opportunity to go to Westminster Theological Seminary. Excited, because I see the hand of God already at work, and humbled, because I don’t deserve any of the blessings I have already obtained in this and will obtain. Our date of departure is set for August 18, 2014 and I am committed to providing updates through my blog that can be found on my Facebook page.

Sincerely your brother in Christ,
Paul Bugriyev

If you would like to support us by prayer please email me at: p.bugriyev@gmail.com with the subject title “I promise to pray“.

If you would like to support us by a financial contribution you may give by the following three methods:
1) Credit Cardhttp://www.gofundme.com/bldl34
2) Check – Paul Bugriyev, 3050 Jimmy Way, Roseville, CA 95747
3) In person – Please call me and I would love to thank you over a cup of coffee and prayer for one another. 916-692-0811.

Romans 8:28  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Why I Am Going to Seminary

Over the past four years I have prayed long and hard about going back to school to pursue a Master’s degree. I’ve sought the counsel of perhaps a dozen pastors, Christian leaders, faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. Throughout that time I was wrestling with whether I should go to medical school, business, law or seminary.

My reasoning was never apart from the desire to serve the Church. I do not consider myself a Charles Spurgeon but I do see myself as a servant of the Lord and His bride. I applied to medical school and didn’t get accepted so I thought maybe the Lord is leading me towards seminary. I researched seminaries, financial options, and everything related to seminary. After talking with my wife, current and previous pastors, family, friends, employer, and after being tested and tried at my local church for two years – I come away persuaded that I should pursue a Masters of Divinity degree.

The school that I ended up choosing, based on a variety of factors, is Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. I sought counsel, prayer, and made a decision to apply – and got accepted. After visiting the campus and seeing the hospitality and warmth of the students, staff, faculty, and local pastors in the area I received peace about the idea to go. Plus, I really loved the impression Philly left me with.

I’m excited and a bit nervous. I haven’t been in school for about four years. There is a significant financial obligation, a move from Sacramento to Philadelphia, and other worthy worries.

Why am I going to Seminary? Well, in true blog fashion, here are four reasons:

1) To get a good theological education. Seminary will force me to read and study books I wouldn’t naturally discipline myself to read. It’s romantic to think I’d pursue the deep books on theology you find in seminary. But I won’t do that. Knowing my personality and how I learn an “on-campus” Seminary (as opposed to on-line) is best to create an environment that will force me to wrestle with the depth and breadth of theological studies in a way I just can’t do on my own. Generally there is the misconception that those who should attend seminary are those who are called and confirmed for pastoral ministry. Just to be clear I am not going to seminary to purse the pastorate but I am open to it should the Lord provide that opportunity.

2) Earn an accredited Master’s Degree. A Masters in Divinity (MDiv) is the best way to go if you are not sure what you will be doing after seminary because the MDiv will allow you to have a wider range of options after graduation. It is true that most people who get a Masters in Divinity go on to pastoral ministry, but there are many ways in which an MDiv can be used, such as: research, legal studies, teaching, administration, copywriting, education, music, galleries, art museums, antiques, social work, management, consultancy, campaigning, media, communications, television production, journalism, producer, artist, or publisher…just to name a few.

3) For gift enhancement. As Christians we are universally called to serve the Church with our gifts, time and money. We are to imitate Christ by walking in His love and giving ourselves for others (Eph 5:1). Each Christian has a unique skill-set or God-given gift that they are to employ in the church and world (1 Cor 12:7). Having been a Christian within the church for over 12 years I have been humbled to have the church’s corroboration and my occupation’s confirmation of my abilities in leadership. Seminary (as a supplement to a local church) is one of few places where I can set aside a concentrated amount of time to continue to evaluate and be evaluated of what gifts will be enhanced throughout my studies. As I discern my calling through the input of my assigned advisor, mentors, and local church, I hope to have a clearer understanding of what my gift’s strengths and weaknesses are as I work on my weaknesses and enrich my strengths. I do believe the Lord has His hand on me for ministry I just don’t know what kind of ministry and at what capacity. There is no cookie-cutter way to go about this since no two persons experience is identical but we must all be eager to invest what God has entrusted to us (Matt 25).

4) God’s providence is leading in this direction. I am not saying; “God made me do it”. No, I want to go, and I see the Lord has providentially paved the way to Westminster in more ways than I can list here. He has provided an overwhelming amount of peace, guidance, and prayerful support in this decision. The Lord has been faithful to answer prayer, and faithful to gently lead us in this direction. I wish to be faithful to follow where he leads. I believe to do otherwise would be sin. Does the thought of going worry me? Absolutely! But I think that’s a good place to be as we try to respond to the light we have.

Please don’t mis-understand me, this is not an endorsement of every theological school. I simply seek to give encouragement to those Christians, who wonder about going to seminary and if it’s worth it. For some people, at the right theological school, it is. For others, it may not be the wisest decision. You must work that out for yourself.

But if you go, seek first an education. It is important to remember that the call to pastoral ministry is primarily found in the context of the local church – not seminary. Seminary is not the Church; No one should assume that a seminary degree is equivalent to God’s call to any ministry.

The Church today needs a wide range of leaders with a wide range of preparation to have a wide range of influence. The Church has been richly blessed by well-informed Christians who love, support and care for her. Let each of us, then, seek the best education available to us: counting the cost, yes, and also the benefit of it–to ourselves and to those whose lives we will affect.



Interaction with a brother (or sister) in Christ will sometimes include a conversation about a disagreement. Often times it will be over an issue of wisdom, or maybe even a matter of personal preference.
In such situations meet one-to-one with your brother (thousands of times if you have to and you might need to), humbly offer him your observations, but do not require an immediate response from him. As long as you have communicated your correction clearly and in love, (and this takes some time) then you have served your brother and honored God in the process.
But it still hurts to give the criticism and it hurts to take it. Does it not?
The sting of personal criticism is extremely painful, and it can be very dangerous, too. When criticism arrives, many temptations arrive with it. Often for me, when criticism arrives, my response reveals the presence of pride in my heart.
Tim Keller is familiar with the temptations that come with criticism. He writes,
“The biggest danger of not receiving criticism is not to your reputation, but to your heart. You feel the injustice of it and feel sorry for yourself, and it tempts you to despise the critic.”
Criticism can uniquely reveal my heart, and often what I see isn’t pretty.
I feel sorry for myself in the face of the “injustice.” Bill Farley says it well when he writes that “the roots of self-pity are ‘pride-in-action.’ It is the propensity to feel sorry for yourself because you are not getting what you think you deserve.” Your brother will be tempted to think, “I deserve encouragement, and this person does not seem to understand or notice or pay attention to this reality!” And through dwelling on what seems to be the critic’s ignorance their heart can quickly move towards self-pity. This is pride, and I’ve seen it in my own heart.
I am tempted to despise the critic. I sinfully judge the motive of the one criticizing me, wondering if they’re offended with me, rather than focusing on the content of their communication. Worse, I am tempted to dismiss the content if it is imprecisely communicated or if the illustrations are not completely accurate. I wrongfully think that if there is any portion of it that’s untrue then all of it is out of the blue. This is pride, and I’ve seen it in my own heart.
When criticism arrives, temptations to sin come fast and furious in the heart of the critiqued brother. And if that brother isn’t prepared for criticisms, if he doesn’t prize growth in godliness, he will despise criticism rather than embrace it. And to my shame I have, but when you do you see God’s grace. We can view criticism as a God-appointed means to produce humility in our lives, even if the criticism isn’t accurate – embrace it with love for the Father and His children.
As John Newton wrote,
The Lord abhors pride and self-importance. The seeds of these evils are in the hearts of his own children; but rather than suffer that which He hates to remain in those He loves, He will in mercy pound them as in a mortar, to beat it out of them, or to prevent its growth.
Criticism is just one of the many ways God will pound the pride out of most of us. But only when we have this perspective, will we humbly embrace—rather than proudly react to—the criticism when it arrives.

Why I Want To Go To Seminary

I believe I was about nineteen or twenty years old when I received the desire be a pastor. Since then began to seek counsel on whether I was called to be a pastor. I began testing my calling to the ministry from both subjective and objective perspectives.

Subjectively, I was persuaded that God had put the desire into my heart for preaching ministry. Throughout the years God provided me with opportunities to receive some training in counseling and theology. It was a joy to practice what I learned in various preaching, teaching and managerial contexts. Seeing my personal fulfillment and the fruit of those labors continued to add willpower to pursue the call further.

Objectively, I sought to have my call tested by my elders and the congregation as a whole. So far the Lord has affirmed me through the evaluation of others in my life, and I strive to continue working out my calling. I believe that receiving a call is not a once-and-for-all thing, like becoming president, but something one continues to strive for and “fan into flame.” Thus far my elders and fellow churchmen agreed that a theological education would be good to further my development. God has given me peace, a clear conscience and solid conviction to pursue a full-time theological education, in hopes of further testing my call to pastoral ministry.

I wanted to be taught by some of the best and brightest in the fields of systematic theology, apologetics and biblical counseling.

Systematic theology is valuable to me because I wish to have a thorough understanding of every doctrine, from the entire testimony of the Scriptures. I wish to be well trained to compare Scripture with Scripture, to explain passages that seem to be contradictory, but can be brought into harmony, and to be able to bring the truths of the Bible into a well-organized system for explaining the world through a Biblical worldview. My conviction is that a pastor must be well trained in this field to proclaim the Word of God with clarity, edification and to equip Christians to think logically and scripturally, as they seek to make sense of the world around them and as they interact with others.

Apologetics is precious to me because it helped me as pre-medical student in my college years, to strengthen my faith. It is invaluable to be well trained to defend the truth and give guidance to Christians who are assaulted with every manner of non-Christian worldviews. There is no denying it – we are at war. As a fellow Christian I wish to play a part in helping God’s people by building up those whose faith has been shaken. I want to be a means that God uses in other’s lives to restore any lost confidence and boldness by providing answers to the typical questions and objections that disbelievers may raise.

I believe that Biblical Counseling is vital to the local church because God has used it to help people like me receive Christ-centered correction. After receiving Biblical Counseling for the first time I came to see that the head knowledge that I had was not enough because I did not know how to apply it. I was not applying the Word of God because I was stuck in sin and Biblical Counseling helped me to see that the Scriptures are all sufficient when applied to the heart. My pastor would meet with me once a week to help me see the gospel as the path to true, deep, and lasting change. I learned that God will do serious things in the lives of those who take the Bible seriously. It was not therapy and it was not rehab – it was the simple call to apply the Word of God to my own heart. My elders were great examples to follow in their patience, love and tact. I have been a member in a church where there was no biblical counseling and I saw first hand that “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” (Proverbs 11:14). 

Once I came into a context where there was an abundance of wise counsel, I experienced spiritual victory. I am persuaded that no congregation should have pastors that are unable to biblically counsel. Christians need help in times of trouble, confusion, and difficulty; we need to be able to use the Word of God as our counselor. Sometimes we will need others to walk us through the Word together, but we must always walk through the Word.  This is why I wish to be well equipped in helping others walk through the Word with direction and focus. Considering many different seminaries, Westminster Theological Seminary stands-out with itsvalue of Systematic Theology in the tradition of John Murray, in its apologetics in the tradition of Cornelius Van Til, and its emphasis on biblical counseling in the tradition of Jay Adams.

I am searching for a seminary that is doctrinally reformed and committed to the infallibility of Scripture, and stresses the inspiration of Scripture. I hope to find a place where I can develop lifelong partnerships with likeminded people, where academics are valued, and concerned about the Great Commission. I was also attracted to Westminster’s wide array of studies and it would be an honor to study under the current faculty.

I realize that I do not yet fully comprehend all the difficulties that will come through seminary training. I do however know God blesses those who take the time and effort to be equipped for the work of ministry. I believe Westminster Theological Seminary is the right place to further test my call and provide me with an education that will equip me for ministry. I have made my decision with the peace that God’s will is leading me, knowing the difficulties that will come will be filled with profound joys and worthwhile sorrows.