For starters, I need to make a few caveats. First, I’m not in ministry yet. I’m certainly headed in that direction, but these are some things I’ve learned while on that path. Second, I haven’t done all of this perfectly. Just because I’m recommending that you do these things doesn’t mean that I was a success in these areas. Finally, even if you aren’t planning on going into vocational ministry, these pointers may help you think about how you or your church can help a guy who is!
A Personal Walk with God
You can fake your content and your efforts for awhile, but, over time, people will see through the facade. Don’t fool yourself into complacency by resting on the results of your teaching in the lives of others; your personal relationship with God is a wholly different matter.
There are several methods of developing your walk that I found particularly helpful as a man preparing for ministry:
- Praying Scripture: after you read the passage and certainly before you teach it, take some time to reduce the text into a series of praises and requests. Write these out and pray them to God.
- Stillness: As a guy prepping for ministry, your life is a chaotic mess. I’ve been there. Use your commute to school or work as a time for quiet meditation. Turn off the radio. Don’t pull out your phone. Spend some time with God. If you don’t have this opportunity, find another time in your schedule when you can spend this time of quiet and meditation.
- Tuning Your Emotions: As a student of Scripture, you’ll be inclined to make the Bible an academic exercise or perhaps a sheer volitional effort. Have you forgotten that the Law of God is a delight? Have you ever told your Father that you love him? Do you get excited about going to worship your God? Do people see your overflowing joy? God wants your whole person: mind, will, and emotions.
Openness and Accountability
Don’t think that your theological studies make you superior to your brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s easy to use your training as an excuse for cloistering yourself and avoiding substantive communication with other believers. This subtle form of superiority undermines the openness and accountability that you desperately need. Staying open about your struggles will go a long way in keeping you humble as you move out into ministry.
These are a number of ways to foster openness and accountability:
- Committing to a local church. See below.
- Seeking out men from the church to study and pray with. Meet with a group of 4 or 5 guys throughout the week. Engage with them and begin sharing the ways that God is working in your life.
- Developing close accountability relationships with 1 or 2 men. Maybe these guys are part of the previous group, but regardless, these men need to be ones that you’re willing to be 100% honest with regarding your struggles. They’ll be able to provide you with invaluable insight as you head into the ministry.
Remember that accountability won’t come to you unless you invite it. Seek it out and don’t tune it out once it starts. Be willing to hear what hurts.
Support from a Local Body of Believers
Find a church and pastor that are willing to invest in you and that you’re going to invest in too. Once you’ve earned the trust of the people and the leadership of the church, begin discussing your goals and needs. Plan to invest at least 3-5 years in this church (this is usually the time that it takes to finish an MDiv). As your gifts become evident in the ministry of this body, they should be willing to take concrete steps to recognize your calling (Acts 13:1). This may involve taking one or more of the following actions:
- Formally introducing you to likeminded churches as approved for Gospel ministry
- Providing a paid internship
- Funding your education
- Initiating an ordination council
- Hiring you as full-time staff
- Becoming your sending church
The level of the church’s willingness and ability to assist you should be gauged about halfway through your planned time of ministry in this church.
If a church is unwilling to assist in a concrete way, you need to probe the reasoning behind this. If the church leadership is reluctant to assist in these ways, you need to determine the reasoning of the leadership. If they believe that you are unqualified for ministry, then you must engage in a period of self-evaluation in order to determine whether or not vocational ministry is the right place for you. In the rare and unfortunate case that the leadership believes that you are qualified, but they don’t have relationships or resources to assist you, then you need to sit down with the leadership immediately in order to structure a plan of action.
Ministry + Academics. You need both of them.
I know plenty of guys who are great at ministry, and so they put their whole efforts into the work of the ministry without putting much effort into their academic preparation for ministry. This approach lends itself to a man finding ministries that will use and abuse him. Often these guys end up burning themselves out and struggling to feed their congregations. By failing to pursue academic training, these pastors only shortchange themselves and their congregants over time.
I also know other guys who’ve mistakenly placed their sole focus on collecting degrees. Often, this misguided course of action is due to the influence of an academically-minded leader in a man’s life. This approach lends itself to a man finding few ministries that are willing to accept him. His grades and studies only go so far in making him a viable candidate for ministry. Failure to gain practical hands-on ministry experience will short-circuit his attempts to enter the ministry.
As you follow the advice of your mentors, be sure not to skew too far towards either of these extremes. Couple your participation in ministry with your preparation for ministry.
I can hardly stress this enough. I’ve seen a lot of peers rush into pastoral ministry and end up making a lot of stupid mistakes because of their immaturity. Here are four areas of personal development that I think guys should work on/allow to happen prior to entering the ministry:
- Age and maturity. I’ve seen very few fresh-faced college grads who have the maturity and fortitude for pastoral ministry. Be patient during your 20’s. It’s okay if God in his providence delays your entrance into ministry.
- Family. Develop your relationship with your wife and maybe even experience having a child before you head out into ministry. The marriage relationship requires a substantial learning curve, and your first child will also tax you and your wife to the breaking point. Trying to clear these hurdles while also acclimating to the complexities and demands of ministry may be more than necessary. Another advantage of waiting for the blessing of family is that having a family better equips you to deal with the needs of the congregation — most of which have families.
- Life experience. Your experience in the corporate world will serve you well in ministry. Pastors who rush into ministry without real-world experience often struggle to make real applications in a number of areas. For example, it’s one thing to tell people in the pew that they need to be sharing the Gospel in their workplaces, but it’s wholly different to be able to explain how to navigate the complexities of the work environment while sharing the Gospel at the same time.
- Cultural experience. Read the classics. Read from atheists and heretics. Read the Puritans and Church Fathers. Study creeds and confessions. Watch old and new movies. Listen to a broad range of music and enjoy poetry. Learn a language. Travel. Meet and talk with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Then take all of that experience and bring it into your ministry.
I’ve struggled through the years with what I see as delays in entering ministry, but all along I can see how God has been seasoning and growing me in these areas of personal development.
Are there other necessities that I’ve missed in here? Feel free to add more in the comment section!