WATCH DRURY WRITE A BOOK. – THIS IS A TEMPORARY POST Writer’s first draft of a book to be published by The Wesleyan Publishing House. as an introduction to the ministry. This web-posted copy is an early draft of the manuscript and not intended to be used as a final document. While the editors will catch minor errors if you see something significantly wrong or missing drop Keith Drury a note at email@example.com © 2003 Keith Drury
Preparing for Ministry
Have you ever been tempted to think, “I’m called by God and the church already recognizes it—I’m going into the ministry without any more training because God needs me there now!” Why not say this? Wouldn’t it be better to go into church work immediately from high school rather than waste time going to college or seminary? Why go to classes while others go to hell? Couldn’t you win more people to Christ if you skipped the preparation time and got to work now?
The answer to the question above is “the call to the ministry is a call to prepare.” God is not so desperate that He has no other ministers to do His work until you show up. He knew the exact number of ministers He’d need in the world today before the foundation of the world. He is not caught short-handed. When God calls a man or women to His ministry, he knows there will be a time of preparation. He called the apostle Paul, and Paul spent three years preparing in the desert—even though he had already graduated from training as a Jewish leader. Even God’s son Jesus spent decades in silent preparation before his public ministry began. Certainly if Jesus, the Son of God had to prepare for decades, you and I can spend some time preparing as well?
The preparation of a minister has three primary elements: developing character, gaining your education and getting practical training. All three can and should develop simultaneously to make you a better minister. As you read, consider how you are developing in each area.
The ministry is a life of dealing with the souls of women and men, thus the state of your own soul is highly relevant. We sometimes refer to this state of the soul as “character.” Your personality is important for ministry since this is how people see you. Your reputation is also important because it is the collective judgment people have about you. However character alone is paramount—for this is who you really are.
Character is comprehensive.
Character is what you are inside where nobody sees you. It includes all your inward motives and attitudes nobody else knows. Character is the sum total of all these inner values, attitudes, motivations, thoughts and desires. It is the real you—the inside person God knows perfectly. You don’t even know your own character as much as God does. After God, and you, then those very close to you know your character best. People who only know you in a shallow way probably know only your external personality or your reputation—they probably don’t know your real character. But God knows your character, and so do you.
However, character is revealed by our words thoughts and deeds. Though others can’t see your real character—but they can see some evidence of your character. They see your honesty, responsibility, loyalty, kindness, and humility (or lack thereof). They see you make a hard decision to do right when it costs you something—and they pronounce you a person of “good character” or “integrity.” They see the effects of your inner character though not your hidden character itself. So while character is invisible, the fruit of character is quite evident.
So why is character important to one called into the ministry? Because who you eventually become is a result of your character. Your inside character eventually produces outside behavior. When someone is caught in a lie or cheating on their spouse we often focus most on the behavior—what they did that was wrong. But more important than the act is the source of the act—their weak, inner character. It is your character that keeps you from cheating on a test when nobody would ever find out. It is your character that enables you to get up and go to church when you feel like sleeping in. Character prompts you to pick up a piece of trash off the ground when no one is watching. It is character than enables you to say no when the culture and all your fleshly desires say yes. Character is secret—but its effects sooner or later come out as behavior evident to all.
Christian character can be developed. We are not born with Christian character, we develop it. How? First by the action of the Holy Spirit. When we become a Christian, the Holy Spirit enters us and makes an inner change—we have new desires, motivations, and strength of will. We have a strengthened character. However, this change at conversion is not the end of the story. While our character is renewed, it still is weak at times.
So how does weak character get strong? God builds character. He starts building our character when we are saved, and continues through our life. But God does not do this without our cooperation. We cannot simply lie in bed every Sunday morning waiting for God to build in the character to get up and go to church! God works with us to build character. He prompts us and teaches us what is right. We then must respond to Him in obedience by making the right choices (e.g. in the sleep-in case above—setting an alarm maybe).
Thus, we develop character through a thousand little decisions made a dozen time a day. Each time I make a decision to do right, my character is strengthened. Each time I decide wrongly, it weakens. As I choose continually to do the right thing, week after week, my character becomes a powerful spiritual muscle. My will becomes set and what was once difficult becomes a normal habit of life. Exercise (of the will) builds “character muscles.” Developing character takes regular workouts and repetitive effort. But, we are not left alone to do this—God has given us the Holy Spirit as our personal trainer. He will guide you. How> Individually and personally, but more so the tool the Holy Spirit uses is the church--the body of Christ. One seldom develops character as a lone ranger. The church helps us develop character
Since your character will determine your destiny, developing inner character is a primary task in preparing for ministry. While there may be a few classes touching on your character development in your educational preparation, character development happens in everything you do, not just in classes. Martin Luther once remarked that the best preparation for a preacher was temptation. Why would he say that? Because temptation provides us a chance to develop character—by saying no. Each time we say no we develop the strength of will to say no again, and eventually, saying no to that particular temptation is habitual. This is how we develop character.
You can develop some character completely on your own, but it is better to develop it with other people. This is where the church comes in—accountability groups, mentoring and spiritual direction all help us develop character. Connecting with others in your journey to develop sturdy Christian character will make the journey easier. A mentor, accountability partner or spiritual director can often help you establish those thousand of strands of thread that develop into the heavy rope of your integrity: character.
Thus, a mind shift is needed for many men and women preparing for the ministry: every decision I face is part of my preparation for ministry. Each of the following instances is an opportunity to develop character:
These and a thousand other decisions are both born from our character and give birth to our character. Ministers need a strong character or their ministry will likely eventually collapse. While God will help us develop character, He does not do it without our help. God will provide the opportunities to decide, and He will provide enough strength to enable us to decide correctly, but we have to make the actual decision. When we do, and continue doing the right thing, we develop character. Without it our ministry will crumble. With it we will become a model of what we want people to become.
Most denominations have a list of educational requirements for ordination. They either require certain degrees or specific courses before you can be ordained. Before you can be ordained most denominations require that you finish four years at college and many also require that you complete three more years of seminary—a specialized training school for ministers like medical school or law school—to be completed after college. Other denominations require only a college degree with specific courses you must complete. Some denominations require Bible languages like Greek or Hebrew before they will ordain you, others do not. Some denominations have “ordination exams” where you will have to take a battery of tests to illustrate what you know about the Bible, theology, church history, and practical ministry before you can be ordained. Other denominations will just interview you in person to see what you know. A few "independent churches" do their own ordaining and have hardly any educational requirements at all (and a few will even ordain men or women for ministry right out of high school). Most denominations have some educational requirements for ordination.
You will need to discover what your own denomination requires to make sure that you get the required courses you need. But whatever the denominational educational requirements, you will need some learning to become a minister. You wouldn’t think of letting a surgeon operate on you who, “was gifted at cutting but had never been to school.” You value your body too much to let just any person interested in operating to fool around with it. How much more important are the souls of men and women than the body? While your character is central to your preparation, just being a wonderful Christian will not make you an effective minister. The ministry is a profession where there is a knowledge base you need to acquire in order to spiritually “operate” on patient’s souls. Ignorance is dangerous and the outcome of ministry malpractice is not just physical death, but could be spiritual death—for all eternity.
So what sort of education do you need?
While your character is central to your preparation, your education will supply you with the essential minimum knowledge base required in your profession. Most denominations require courses in the above areas—some more, other less, but generally most ministerial education programs are very similar to this list. You should find out what your own denomination requires by visiting their web site or consulting with your committee or board.
A minister ought to be familiar with the knowledge base of religion. Can you imagine going to a dentist that never heard of a “root canal?” Would you trust such a dentist? No, You would think them a quack. Likewise, if you are entering the profession of the ministry you don’t want have a blank look on your face when you hear from some lay person the terms: “Eucharist,” “neo-orthodoxy,” “Gnosticism” or “exegesis.” Many lay people know these terms—can you imagine being a minister and not knowing them? Learning the terms is not the end of course, but it is certainly a first step. A well educated minister understands the thoughts behind the terms, understands who God is and what He wants, and is able to rally the people to do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven. To do this takes more than a passion. It takes a highly educated mind as well. Passion without education is like running in the dark. Think again of a surgeon who is untrained and inexperienced but “passionate about cutting people and doing operations.” Passion is good, but passion without education can do more harm than good. And certainly the first rule in the medical world (and in the church) should be, “at least do no harm.”
Passion is good but not enough. Make sure your education does not wring out your passion—it can do that, you know. This is an occupational hazard for ministers. We deal with the sacred so much we can come to see holy things as ordinary things. Constantly dealing with the holy can be deadening to the soul. We can come to lose our first delight, our first passion, our child-like enthusiasm awe and wonder. Thus, while studying these sacred subjects we must constantly remind ourselves of their lofty meanings. But even this is training for the ministry--for the rest of our lives we'll be dealing with the sacred and tempted in exactly the same way. So while you get your education let your learning enhance, focus, and enlighten the passion you now have. And the best way to keep your passion is to stay involved in a local church every single week while you are in your educational preparation.
The third leg of ministerial preparation is practical training. Character develops your heart—the real you. Your education develops your mind so that you know the knowledge base from which you minister. Your practical training develops your hands—the actual doing of the ministry. (and your voice, and all the other skills you need). Go back to the dentist again: what good is a dentist with great character and fantastic educational credentials who has never actually drilled or filled a tooth? Would you like to be the first patient? The ministry requires character and education, but it also requires practical training in the actual doing of ministry. It is important to be educated in how to minister to a person dying of cancer. But you need training in actually doing it to add to the theory taught in classes. There are some skills your school can help you develop in the classroom—like "Homiletics" or preaching. But your school can’t wheel a dying cancer patient into the classroom for you to practice on as they die! You’ll have to get much of your practical training in a local church. Here is where people hurt, need help, get miffed, want to be converted, ask questions about doctrine, and so forth. The local church is where you can get the experience base to add to your character base and knowledge base.
Most ministerial education programs will require you to get local church experience. These may be called a practicum or an internship. In these programs you will be assigned to work in a local church to learn the ministerial equivalent of “drilling and filling teeth.” Here you’ll actually get to participate in a real funeral where you can test experientially what you learned in classes. In your practicum or internship you will get to try your hand at real-life ministry under supervision—so you can learn the ropes from a pro.
But, you should not confine your practical training to these required experiences. You will want to get wide experience, even while you are still getting your education. If you are in a college or seminary program your studies may demand first priority for your time, but you will not want to ignore the golden opportunity to gain practical experience along with your study. Some ministers say it is even good to get practical training in a variety of sizes of churches, so you are trained for both a large church, and a smaller one—you never know what you’ll be doing next. Most ministers would advise you to get practical training in different areas of church work. Four years of practical experience in youth work may help you get a youth pastor’s job, but it may limit your training for the many other areas a church might want you to do when you graduate.
The calling to prepare
A call to the ministry is a call to prepare. If God has called you to the ministry, then He has likewise called you to take the time and effort to prepare for a life in this vocation. In fact, you will continue to prepare for the ministry long after you finish your educational requirements. Your training will continue—many ministers today will admit that they really didn’t amass all the practical training they needed until they reached their 30’s. But, even after that you will still keep getting training. Education won’t end when you graduate from college or seminary. Increasingly universities and seminaries are offering online programs or week-long “intensives” for you to take and stay sharp in your profession. Somehow you’ll need to keep learning so you don't get stale. All professions change and the ministry is no different. New developments will require new knowledge so you’ll be going back to school off and on through your whole life. And certainly your character won’t be a ‘finished product” either at age 25—you’ll have decades of further development to experience. Preparation for the ministry is both an initial thing and an ongoing process.
So, where are you now? How is your ministerial preparation coming? Central to your preparation is the development of your character—who you really are inside. As your character is developing, you will need your education so you know the basic knowledge required to safely and effectively do the work to which you are called. Finally, while your character is growing stronger and you are learning the knowledge base, you will need to get practical training in actual hands-on ministry skills of the ministry.
Why? Why do all this preparing? Because we are dealing with the souls of men and women, and thus matters of eternal consequences. We should not enter the ministry as passionate amateurs. We ought to enter our profession as well trained (yet still passionate) professionals. We need all three: strong character, solid knowledge, and practical training.
Follow up study and application
1. If character development comes from a string of right decisions, often on little matters, share one or two such decisions you faced recently, or may face in the next few days.
2. Tell about an area you used to struggle with that has become pretty much a habit of obedience in your life.
3. Imagine three kinds of ministers—one with high character and low education and experience, then one with high education but low character and experience, then one with high experience but low education and character. What are the dangers of the ministry of each pastor? How can they “fix” their weakness?
4. Is there any sort of sequence in the development of character, education and experience? Do they always develop as simultaneously as suggested in the chapter—or so they sometimes “take turns” with one leaping ahead, then the others catching up? Discuss.
5. Print off from your denominational web site or headquarters the actual educational requirements for ordination for your own denomination and keep the list for future reference.
6. Using the three corners of a triangle—Character, Education and Experience—make a chart where you set one year goals in each of the three areas—so that you will have a plan to develop in all three areas over the next twelve months.