Future pastors need ministry experience. Here are 3 ways to serve while in seminary
Seminarians study and write papers. But when it comes to being ready for ministry, one qualification usually remains the most elusive: experience.
In 2 Corinthians 6, we read that the apostle Paul commended himself to the Corinthian church. Aspiring pastors need to do the same.
Of course, future pastors — seminarians! — pick up the books of study and papers of class in order to commend themselves to the work. But when it comes to being ready for ministry, one qualification usually remains the most elusive: experience.
In his book Habits of the Mind, James Sire writes about two ancient paths of instruction: monastic and scholastic. The monastery teaches by experience. This is where we get apprentice models of education. The scholar teaches through lecture; seminaries are largely built on this model. The people who make up pastoral search committees, more often than not, are looking for both.
I spend my time helping connect ministers to ministry, prospective pastors to churches with openings. I approve hundreds of open positions (through Southern Seminary’s Ministry Connections), and trust me, churches want both school and experience. They want educated workers who rightly divide the Word of Truth. They also seek seasoned ministers who can shepherd with experience.
Most of us know how to get the education ministry requires. But what about that experience part? Here are three ways to become “career-ready’” for the pastorate:
The average length of time it takes to complete a Master of Divinity degree is three to five years. And guess what? The average experience required for a pastoral opening is three to five years. The math is simple: Spend your time in seminary serving the local church, maybe even as a full-time pastor.
You should seek out real-life ministry opportunities that rely on you for growth in the depth and breadth. Don’t settle for practice that never puts you in the game.
Find a mentor.
When it comes to finding your first pastorate, you can receive three types of references. The first reference will claim you won’t mess up the ministry. The second reference will explain you will do a good job with the ministry. The third reference, a mentor, will introduce you to a ministry position.
The ideal mentor gets the chance to observe you throughout your studies. He or she will fill your heart as your head expands, and give you honest, real-time feedback for areas that need growth.
Paul mentored Timothy and Titus, even calling them children in the faith. He also encouraged the church to pass on the faith in individual relationships (2 Tim 2:2). Paul believed in one-on-one discipleship, and he practiced mentoring young men. If you can’t automatically name a mentor figure in your life, find one.
Submit to your local church.
I choose the word “submit” for a reason: Far too often, I see people placed into pastoral ministry without guidance from a sending church.
Submission to the sending process of a local church means you trust the providence of God in placing your gift set into that body for a reason. It also grounds our preparation in real relationships that can help make long-term ministry a reality.
Sometimes I hear people say, “But my church won’t invest in me or help me find a position of ministry.” Well, have you asked? Many good intentions die in the field of assumptions. Let us make finding a pastoral position on our own a last resort rather than our default setting.
At Southern Seminary, Ministry Connections can serve churches and potential pastors by connecting through our website. Students and Alumni may create a profile to submit their resume to open positions, and churches may post a job throughout the year. But remember: We are an aid to an ancient path of “commending ourselves” through discipleship and the local church.