Let me begin by saying: I do not feel as though I was at all prepared for pastoral ministry. In all honesty, I don’t know that anything could have prepared me for what ended up going down.
Some like to bash on seminaries for not preparing their students. I don’t know. School rarely prepares you for doing anything. It gives you interesting information and connections, but there’s no way it can prepare you for midnight phone calls from a drunk couple, who are often involved in children’s ministry, fighting with each other.
The only thing that will prepare you for pastoral ministry is being in pastoral ministry.
All that being said, there were things I did in my earlier life that helped me the most in my pastoral role.
- Scripture Memorization:
I was in Awana my entire kid life. As a pastor’s kid I was forced to complete all my Awana books to be a good example to all the heathen kids. Despite my routinely bad attitude about it, those verses have stuck in my head. I know how to memorize and verses pop in my head all the time. This is seriously the most helpful thing I did (or was done to me) to prepare me for ministry. Having verses ready at hand, stored away in there, has been amazing. And being able to accuse self-righteous Christian cliques with, “surely you are the people and wisdom will die with you,” sounds awesome and impresses anyone who has actually read Job.
- Being a janitor:
Before I was a pastor I was a janitor for eight years. Cleaning up other people’s mess is humbling. Add on top of that the number of people making the mess who criticize you for not removing their mess as well as they thought it should be removed, was incredible preparation for the unbelievably ridiculous criticisms I heard as a pastor from completely messed up people! The lady who complained to me because the fluorescent lights were humming too loud and she heard voices in them, “isn’t there something you can do to quiet them?” When you are already accustomed to ridiculous complaints on a regular basis, receiving pastoral criticism is much easier. Having a destroyed ego is excellent preparation for what’s about to happen in pastoral ministry.
- Living in a pastor’s family:
Without an entire life spent in a pastor’s home, how would I possibly have developed such a bad attitude about church before even beginning ministry? Nothing prepares you more for the bitterness and frustration the church will cause you than already being bitter and frustrated by church. When your expectations are already non-existent, it really helps when the results are non-existent. Tremendously preparatory.
- Church History:
Knowing where people get their weirdo beliefs, because you know it ain’t from the Bible, is one of the main reasons to study Church History. About 68% of stuff people in your church believe is not actually in the Bible. If you know Church History you will not be shocked when they throw out their latest non-biblical doctrine. You will be prepared for it and perhaps even have an answer for it. There is nothing new under the sun. All the weird stuff people bring in your church has been brought into churches for two thousand years. Study Church History and very little will shock you. You will also learn that no matter how awful your church is, there were many churches that were even worse.
Seminary taught me the virtue of sitting around for hours listening to old people ramble about loosely biblical stuff. Pastors worth their salt spend lots of time sitting around listening to old people. Old people are great, but they are seldom as entertaining as they think they are. When you’ve heard Bonnie’s story about the toilet backup of ’79 for the thirteenth time, it’s hard to still smile. But if you’ve spent several years listening to tenured professors ramble on for hours, you are more than adequately equipped to endure, and maybe even smile.
If you’re looking to go into pastoral ministry, you’d be well served to major on these five areas of life. You’ll be as well-equipped as possible for what lies ahead, which is basically still not being equipped at all, but hey, you can at least feel a little better the first six months of being a pastor.
Ah, those glorious first six months when you have plans and ideals. People like you because they have no idea who you are or what you believe. Enjoy those first six months. Or, if you’re like me, my six months ended three months before I officially began my pastoral ministry.
In all seriousness though, there is no way you will ever be prepared for the job. My actual true advice is:
- Grow in Christ.
- Develop your prayer life.
- Read the Bible voraciously.
- Have some people somewhere who like you for you.
- Have outside activities or hobbies that can distract you.
- Spend time with old people, you’re about to do a lot of that!
- Learn how to ask questions and then learn to listen and remember answers.
Good luck out there! Fight the fight.