So, you're thinking of going into the pastorate? Here is some of the general advice I give to people who are considering it. 1. Don't. If you can do anything outside of the pastorate and find satisfaction in it - do that. Full time, vocational ministry - and the pastorate in particular - is difficult and places unique pressures on your life, marriage and family. Even those who are called by God to serve in this way must be very careful to manage one's life and house well.
Update: I did a poor job wording this. My apologies. The ministry is wonderful and I would not be happy doing anything else. Read the follow up post for a bit of clarification.
2. Go to a liberal arts college. If you are young and thinking Bible College vs the University, I'd encourage you to get your undergraduate degree at a liberal arts college - especially if you plan on attending seminary afterward. Pursue a degree in something that will assist you in the ministry. This can be anything from history, to art, to journalism. I say this as a guy who went to Bible College and enjoyed his time there. It was not the wrong decision, but there is a lot of repeat if you go from Bible College to seminary. I believe the university route can provide a more well rounded education.
3. Get the best theological and ministry training possible. And that may not be the seminary. I am still a supporter of our seminaries - especially places like RTS, Trinity and Southern. But there are other options as well. More churches are now offering training to prepare people for pastoral ministry and depending on where and who you are, alternative models may work better for you. Whatever your choice, get the best education and preparation for ministry possible.
4. Check with your wife. If you are married, and God calls you to pastoral ministry, he will call your wife as well. This does not mean that she will immediately share the vision or even like the idea. But it does mean that your family comes first, and if God wants you to lead the church he will lead your wife to support you in this calling.
5. Check with your church. Talk to your pastor about your desire. Can he affirm your sense of calling? Does the church agree that you should pursue this? They are the ones who should be best equipped to assess your qualifications and character. If your church cannot see you functioning in that role it should give you considerable pause.
6. Determine your calling. Is the pastorate something you think you can do, or is it something you believe God says you must do? I am one of those guys who believes God calls us to specific vocations. Our spiritual gifts, abilities and God's design for each person is unique and extends to what we do "for a living." How can you know if God wants you to go into the ministry? Though this is a bit simplistic there are three things to begin with: 1) Do you have an unquenchable, passionate desire to do the work? This of course assumes you know what the work actually is. It is not simply preaching sermons on Sunday. 2) Do you bear fruit when you engage in the work related to this calling (teaching, leading, serving, etc.)? 3) Does your local church affirm your calling? If you can answer yes to these questions be encouraged.
7. Pray. Honestly, far too many assume that they should go to seminary or into pastoral ministry without really talking to God about it. Labor in prayer over this. It is no small idea or decision.
8. Talk to pastors you respect. Get the insider's perspective. Find out from them first-hand what makes ministry so hard. Ask these men to give you reasons not to be a pastor and take those answers to heart. Seek counsel as you move forward following God's will. As you prepare for pastoral ministry it is critical that you remain connected to the church and her leadership. It is easy to blow your 3 years in seminary, disconnected from the local church, while wrapped up in the classroom and library.
9. Read. A lot. As you consider this calling - read. While in college - read. It is especially important that you read while in seminary, but read well beyond what is required of you. Read where the seminary leaves off. Determine what is missing and fill in the gaps. Again, seek the counsel of your pastor(s) and men you respect for advice here.
10. Get Real. When most guys are thinking about pastoring a church they envision themselves pastoring churches like Mars Hill, Tenth Pres', etc. We tend to dream big (as we should), but the reality is that most of the guys who go into the ministry will pastor relatively small churches. I am not suggesting that anyone think small and avoid anticipating God's powerful work. I am suggesting that you have expectations that are birthed by God and his word that are aimed at your particular context and not another's. Do not hijack someone else's vision, but have an eye for what God can do in the city or town he sends you to.
Recommended reading for those considering and pursuing the office of pastor: Note: I do not necessarily agree with everything in each of these books. In fact I take issue with a number of things in many of these volumes, but in each is something so important that it merits reading thoughtfully.
The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders An Earnest Ministry by John Angell James or Lectures to My Students by Charles Spurgeon The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges
If you are a pastor, what advice would you give those who are considering entering the pastorate?