There is some debate today about what the current value of Bible College/Seminary is in ministry positions, given some of the alternative training models out there today (Online/Coaching/Internships/Etc). That is not an argument that I am going to dive into today. There are some great arguments on both sides there to be looked at another day.
As someone who interacts often with youth workers that have been the Bible College/Seminary route, I will tell you a conversation that comes up often is one that starts with the words “In College/Seminary, I wish they would have warned me about _________________…” Some of them are heartbreaking stories that could have been prevented with 5 minutes of instruction in the classroom environment. Others are lessons you can only learn in the cauldron of everyday ministry experience.
Four Things You Won’t Learn About Ministry In College or Seminary:
1). Take care of your family, because no one else will. It is unfortunate how many stories I hear of families that are just ground to a pulp by the life that vocational ministry produces. There are so many pressures hitting our ministry staff members from all directions. Financial stresses, time stresses, the lack of healthy boundaries that are produced in our churches. A wiser, older, pastor once told me that his goal in raising his children was “for them to make it to college without hating church life for what it did to their family”. Our churches expect the best and most of our time, with the leftovers coming home to spouses and children. This should not be. Ministers, never ever forget that our responsibility is to God first, family second, and church third. Churches that try to circumvent that order, have a need to re-examine their leadership culture.
2). In church politics, no one really wins. Everyone loses (except Satan). There are very few things in life I use the word “hate” for. Long meetings with no real purpose, Mayonnaise, and Church Politics are all on that short list. I have seen very many pastors, deacons, and church staff that were well versed in navigating church politics. Over a number of years in ministry, I noticed a troubling trend. If they were good at navigating church politics, their leadership ability was suspect at best, malevolent at worst.
You may be great at pushing an agenda that fits you and those like you. Great. Run for president of the local Rotary or Kiwanis. Go get involved in local or state politics. This kind of activity does not fit the kingdom mindset that Christ calls us to have. “Dying to self” and church politics seem to be mutally exclusive. Let your yes be yes, and your no be no…
3). In today’s culture, having another marketable skill is not a plus, its a necessity. The job market in ministry and in society as a whole is at an interesting crossroads. Yes, there are jobs out there. Yes, there are many qualified candidates. Churches are being extremely careful fitting positions, budgets, and vision to go where they feel God leading them. All that to say that the going straight from one ministry position to another if things don’t really work out is not the reality anymore. So, if you are leaving a ministry position, it could be a reality that you are a year (or more) from another ministry position. What do you do to feed your family in the meantime? What skill can you develop to bring home income, or even supplement ministry income? While you are in College or Seminary is a great time to develop whatever that trade may be. Maybe that means picking up a second major or a minor outside the Bible department. Yes, this relates to point #1 of this article….
4). You cannot learn too much about leadership, communication, marketing, or scripture in today’s church culture, but you must practice and make use of all three. In years past, training for pastors centered largely around knowledge of scripture. I don’t in any way want to say that we need to minimize that part of the ministry training process. I am saying that we live in a different world than we did even ten years ago. Vocational ministers starting today really require a few more skills in their toolbox than even those who began ministry in the 1980’s.
I find it as no mistake that God used someone like Amos, who was a farmer to reach a portion of His people at a given time and situation. Amos was used by the Spirit to convey God’s message in a way that related to where the people were in that culture. The same thing is true with Paul, and Peter, and many more that we read about in the Bible. If God has brought you from a particular background to ministry, don’t hide it. Build on it. If God is calling you to relay His message to a group of people that you are lacking a common bond with, study and apply what you have learned. It would be similar to the missionary preparing to reach another culture with the message of Christ.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope this gives you a few things to consider. If God is calling you, He is going to provide what you need. It may not look the way you imagined.
To those who have served in ministry a while, what would you add to this list? Please share in the comments area below! We are better together.