Here are sixteen thoughts about going into ministry. They are in no particular order.
UPDATE: Please understand, I am listing these idealistically. Although I followed many of these, some of them I did/have not. For example, I went through seminary in 2.5 years. It was supposed to take at least 4. I regret it and don’t encourage the same.
1. Relentless and joyful desire. Do you have a desire compelling you that is both relentless and joyful? If it is a passing desire that comes and goes, it is not relentless. If it is a desire that is burdensome, then it is not joyful.
2. Need for serious training from serious trainers. If at all possible, enter a legitimate seminary. Also, make sure that it is one that is not simply about confirming denominational or traditional prejudice, but intent on education. If possible, go to a secular university for undergrad and an Evangelical seminary for your masters. You need exposure to both. If you pursue a PhD, I normally encourage people to go back to a secular university as it presents more opportunities for ministry. Yes, I do believe you need a masters degree for ministry even though I have some good friends who never went to seminary and are good ministers. I am sure that there are also some good surgeons who can remove an appendix who did not go to medical school. It does not make it ideal or even right.
3. Don’t go through your training too slowly.When your seminary stay lasts more than six years, your training greatly diminishes in quality due to the fact that your are not necessarily consumed with it. Have you ever heard of boot-camp that last for years? Seminary should be intense and consumptive, not glorified Sunday School. You want to eat, sleep, and drink training during this indispensable time.
4. Don’t go through your training too fast.Don’t settle for cheap imitations. If you find a place that offers ministerial training in six months or a year, don’t take it seriously. In the world of the Internet, anyone can throw something together that comes with an electronic degree and ordination in a short amount of time. How would you feel if you doctor did this?
5. Seek the encouragement of others.Are other believers encouraging you to get into ministry? This is very important as it is an affirmation from the Body of Christ that your calling is not just from you. God will use others in such a way. If no one has ever told you that you should be in ministry, it does not definitely mean that you should not, but it is a sign.
6. Live in fear of God. Are you in fear of misrepresenting God and shaming the church? Lack of this fear evidences a dangerous arrogance. The presence of this fear is a recognition of your own brokenness and will keep you before the throne of grace without ceasing.
7. Seminary and residency.Go to seminary then take about four years of residency somewhere to be mentored and choose your specialty. While you may know generally what you will be doing (e.g. pastorate, missions, academics, etc.), let your passions take shape during your training and then enter into a residency for a time. This time of residency will be just as important as your seminary training as it will be your first opportunity to put your training into practice under the care of mentors.
8. Find good mentors. Make sure they are the type that will trulytake interest in your life and ministry. This may be a pastor on staff where you are doing your residency or a research professor at a school. Don’t settle for “paper mentors.” Pray for this.
9. Listen to your mentors. Give them every right and responsibility to call you out on any personality and attitude problems as well as encouraging you in your strengths.
10. It’s about humility.When you disagree with your mentors, take this as an opportunity to practice humility. Humility is the greatest character trait that you can possess, much finer than any education and much more difficult to come by. Are you humble?
11. It’s about Truth. The foundation of your calling is not your desire to help people (as important as that is), but your desire to represent God in truth. If you don’t have the desire for truth first, you need to rethink your calling.
12. Stand in Grace. You may be psychotically self-critical of yourself. Don’t alleviate this by denial, but through the recognition of the grace of God. Once you are able to allow God’s grace to consume you, you will be much more desirous to help others experience the same grace. If you don’t allow yourself to experience his grace, you won’t be able to let others do the same.
13. It’s about reconciliation. No matter what specialty you choose, no matter what novel thinking arises, remember that we are all on the same mission of reconciliation. If we lose sight of this, we have lost the Gospel.
14. Strong conviction. The primary qualification for ministry is not a good smile, the ability to speak and persuade, nor the ability to abstain from sin, but conviction. Your conviction will be infectious to all those to whom you minister. If you don’t have a real and strong conviction about the truthfulness of the Gospel or if you are riding on the coattails of your parents or previous minister, you should not be in ministry. The Gospel is not just a nice option, it is the truth.
15. Exercise. Yes, the body is dying, but your physical well-being effects everything. If you are not getting the proper nutrition and exercise, it will greatly affect your mood, ability to think, and your confidence. Don’t separate your body and your soul before death! They work together and need each other to minister.
16. No online education.I am saddened by the fact that so many training institutions are conceding so much in their education, acting as if online education is sufficient and can replace traditional campuses. This may be true in some fields of education, but not ministry – certainly not ministry. You may be able to get some of your classwork done online, but if it is more than 15%, you are becoming malnourished and will not be prepared for ministry.