“Whom shall I send? and who will go for us?” Then said I, “Here am I, Lord. Send me.” (Isaiah 6)
You say the Lord has called you into His work. You’re still young and you’re excited, although with a proper amount of fear and uncertainty on what all this means.
You’re normal. Been there, felt that.
We might have cause to worry if the living God touched your life and redirected it into His service and you picked yourself up and went on as though nothing had happened. Amos said, “I was gathering sycamore fruit, and the Lord God called me.” He said, “The lion roars and you will fear. God calls and you will prophesy.”
The call of God is almost as life-changing as the original salvation experience itself.
So, give thanks. And give this a lot of prayerful thought.
Here are some thoughts for you as you go forward. The list is not complete or exhaustive, but just to get you started.
One. Make dead sure of your call.
In the future, you will find yourself in situations demanding more strength than you have, wisdom beyond your own, and patience available only from Heaven. You must face each challenge with the certainty that God put you into this work and He is there to sustain and guide you. Without that confidence, you will not last.
When I hear pastors say, “That church treated me badly, so I’m never going to pastor again,” I wonder about their call. How does one dismiss the call of God because he found the work tough?
Two. Plan to get all the education you can.
A call to work for the Lord means a call to prepare.
Jesus lived on earth for 33 years, and spent 30 of it in preparation.
For you, this may mean seminary or a divinity school or a Bible college. That’s up to the Lord, and He’s the One you will want to consult. If you’re uncertain, ask other ministers who are doing what God has called you to do. Visit campuses, take a few online courses before moving to a school.
I know plenty of ministers who wish they had stayed in school longer, but I never met a one who felt he had gotten too much education.
Three. Stay involved in ministry. Do not make the mistake of some and devote yourself completely to your school work intending at some distant date to serve a church. Churches will wonder, and rightfully so, if you’re so good–with all those degrees–why you have no experience. Combining classroom work with the actual hands-on work of pastoring is an ideal way to learn both.
Working on your schooling while serving a church will keep you balanced and probably sane, too.
Bill and I were classmates in seminary working on our Master’s. Five years after graduating, I was back on campus and ran into Bill in the dining hall. When I asked where he was serving, he told me the sad story. After receiving the Master’s, he had stayed in school to work on a PhD, but without serving a church along the way. Now that he had all these degrees, churches were hesitant to call him. Large churches wanted someone with experience and small ones felt he was over-qualified. Search committees asked, “Why have you never pastored? We need someone with experience.”
Four. Along the way, find yourself two or three mentors. These are older ministers–at least older than you!–with years of experience, who will be available to advise and counsel and pray for you.
My experience is that you should not choose as mentors the “celebrities” in the denomination. While they can be great friends and encouragers, they will not have time to take your phone calls, listen to your situation, and give you counsel.
The Lord will gladly make you aware of veteran ministers whom you meet along the way who would be delighted to mentor you.
Five. Keep your spiritual life alive and fresh.
There will never come a time when you can coast spiritually, and quit praying and reading the Word daily. Form the habit of beginning and ending your day with a time of prayer and quiet reflection. The day will come when those few minutes will mean everything to you. Start now.
If you eat and brush your teeth every day, pray and read the Word just as faithfully.
Six. If you can do another job, keep your skills current, if possible
Pastors used to advise young ministers, “If you can do anything other than preach, do it.”
I don’t know anyone saying that these days.
So many churches are impatiently terminating their ministers for the slightest of reasons, with the result that faithful servants of the Lord are finding themselves unemployed and yet with a family to provide for. If you are qualified as a schoolteacher, a welder, or a radio announcer, consider keeping your certification current and your skills up to date.
I know ministers who are bi-vocational, meaning they intentionally hold down a full-time job while pastoring a church. Perhaps they started that church and have to work by necessity until the church is able to call them full-time. Others have decided this is God’s plan for their ministry. Ask bi-vo pastors and some will say they have a ministry at their weekday jobs and one at the church. One friend says laypeople respect him more in the pulpit since they know he lives in the same weekday world as they.
An advantage to having a job to fall back on is in case you become the victim of a Diotrephes (see John 3), a church bully. Far too many good ministers have been run away from churches where the Lord sent them because of the brutal tactics of a church boss. With no means of supporting his family, the pastor finds himself in trouble quickly
Seven. If no church will call you to their staff, go out and start your own church.
That’s as easy as inviting your neighbors in for a weeknight Bible study. As it grows and you develop skills in pastoring, see what the Lord gives you, how He leads you.
Eight. Study the churches around you. Find out why some are flourishing and others are stagnant.
Nine. Begin preparing now.
Do not wait until you are actually serving a church to prepare. Begin now to journal your experiences. Record those fascinating experiences you encounter, the unforgettable insights you come across in the Word, the texts that mean a lot to you. This will be good source material later.
Ten. If you are married, partner with your wife on everything, to the extent she finds comfortable. If you are single, but feel God does not intend you to remain so, stay on your knees seeking God’s leadership about your life-partner. Few things are more important than the person with whom you will share the rest of your life.
Within a few years, some young minister will look upon you as a veteran. You will be surprised when he/she comes to you for advice and counsel, and even for mentorship. Don’t miss this opportunity.
Have fun in this work. It’s the greatest thing in the world.