If you’ve been in ministry for any length of time then you’ve probably heard or said that oft-repeated refrain, “There are so many things that they don’t teach you in seminary to prepare you for the challenges in ministry.” While one could easily lay the blame at the feet of seminary professors, we must remember that the main purpose of seminary is to give men the theological instruction necessary for them to faithfully minister God’s word on a week in and week out basis. Four years of seminary is barely enough time for men to learn the basics of Greek, Hebrew, Homiletics, Hermeneutics, Missiology, Old and New Testament Introduction, Systematic Theology, Biblical Theology, Exegetical Theology and Historical Theology, etc. The best theological institutions tend to hire professors who have been in a pastorate or who are currently pastoring a church—men who will begin to prepare men for the daily challenges that they will likely face in the pastorate.
Additionally, any seminary worth its salt will require students to take courses in pastoral theology and biblical counseling. However, given the heavy load of theological courses necessary, the average seminary only offers two or three courses in pastoral theology and counseling. In short, seminary only scratches the surface of the challenges they young men will face in pastoral ministry.
There are many things that can only be learned on the frontline of the battlefield of the pastorate. So, what can young ministers do to glean the wisdom and counsel necessary to face the pastoral situations for which they were not fully prepared in seminary? Here are five things every young pastor should seek to incorporate into his life and ministry:
- Seek the Lord
If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we are all apt to run to men rather than to God when we find ourselves at an impasse in ministry. It is far easier for us to press through challenges in the flesh by picking up the phone rather than in the Spirit by falling on our knees. This is why James instructed those facing trials, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting” (James 1:5-6). The righteous kings and prophets exemplify this for us.
Throughout his ministry, we are told that David “inquired of the Lord” (1 Sam. 23:2, 4; 30:8; 2:1; 5:19, 23; 21:1; 1 Chron. 14:10). We are told that “as long as [King Uzziah] sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (2 Chron. 26:5). After receiving a threatening letter from a powerful enemy promising destruction (the most fearful and challenging situation that he faced during his time as King), we are told that Hezekiah “went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord.” Before seeking the counsel of men, we must seek the One who alone can give us the wise and understanding we need in pastoral ministry.
- Study the Proverbs
There is no better pastoral handbook than the Scripture. This is especially true of the Proverbs, which are full of divinely-inspired wisdom meant to make young men into wise leaders. As a young King, Solomon asked the Lord for “an understanding mind to govern God’s people” and to “discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). The wisdom literature is the Divine answer to Solomon’s prayer, sifted through Solomon’s own experiences in his life and ministry. The wisdom literature teaches us how to wisely discern our own motives and emotions as well as those of individuals. It teaches us how to assess a diversity of situations with which we will be faced. It is, in the truest sense, the Divine echo board by which God’s wisdom echoes out into the world and all the situations of life.
- Turn to Experienced Pastors
You can never have too many mentors. In addition to a godly and wise father, the Lord has graciously put several men, each with 25-30 years of pastoral experience, in my life as mentors. Whenever I face pastoral situations in which I come to an end of myself and don’t know what to do, I turn to these mature and experienced pastors. The counsel of wise and experienced pastors has been one of the greatest supports to me in ministry. In fact, it is probably safe to say that I wouldn’t be in ministry today if it were not for these men and their counsel. Before responding to any challenge or trial that you face in ministry, learn to seek the counsel of godly, wise and experienced ministers.
- Cultivate Friendships with Ministers at Similar Stages of Ministry
There is often a burdensome psychological dimension to the pastorate. Ministers going through similar challenges can be a great help to one another in this regard. While there is a danger in running to others in order to wallow in sinful self-pity, enormous benefit can be derived from the empathy that ministers who find themselves in similar situations offer one another. Many pastors keep the burdens of ministry cooped up inside and don’t allow others to sympathize with them or bear burdens with them. Friendship with ministers going through similar challenges is one of the greatest benefits of growth in pastoral ministry.
Learn to cultivate friendships with pastors who are at similar stages and in similar situations in ministry. Call each other on a regular basis. Sharing thoughts on difficult situations and talking through the multitude of challenges faced often yields the sweet fruit of encouragement and a renewed zeal to press forward in ministry. Every David needs a Jonathan (1 Sam. 23:16). Every Moses needs an Aaron and Hur (Ex. 17:12). Pastors in similar stages of ministry—who are facing similar pastoral challenges—can be such supports for each other.
- Develop Friendships with Ministers Outside of Your “Stream”
One of the blind spots that many ministers have is that of thinking that there is nothing they can learn from those outside of their particular ecclesiastical denomination or tradition. We must tread carefully here lest we embrace or encourage an unbiblical ecumenism. Nevertheless, at the very least, we can say that we need ministers in different ecclesiastical settings to help us think outside the methodological box in which all of us tend to put ourselves. Those who have the strongest theological convictions often never allow themselves to be challenged in the sphere of methodology. Many tend to be just as rigid in the methodological realm (in the case of things that are adiaphora – i.e. things morally or theologically indifferent) as they are in the theological realm.
Learning to listen to others who minister in ecclesiastical fellowships other than our own helps us remove ourselves from the limitations of the echo chamber of the tradition to which we often confine ourselves. Forming friendships with ministers from a diversity of ecclesiastical fellowships can prove to be of great assistance for pressing through the challenges men face in pastoral ministry. When we allow those who have led churches in different ecclesiastical fellowships to give us counsel, we often find the solutions to the particular pastoral challenges we may be facing.