A friend contacted me this week about preparing for vocational ministry. He asked about what I did to prepare and what would I change could I do it all over again.
These are perceptive and challenging questions that I relished in answering.
This exercise was a bit of a mental “throw back Thursday” as it challenged me to jump back 12 years (I started seminary in the fall of 2002) and contemplate what I should have done differently.
First, let me address the things that I would do again:
Attend School – I’m a big fan of education as a means to prepare someone for vocational ministry. School – seminary in particular – has taken a back seat for many and the popularity of learning “on the job” without ever receiving seminary training is on the rise. Unless someone is uniquely gifted and anointed by God, some type of education must remain a priority for seminary training.
School represents a willingness, eagerness and ability to learn. Tommy Teague used to say that leaders are life-long learners. School prepares people for ministry but even more importantly to be a life-long learner.
Enlist mentors – I’ve had four mentors in my life. One was prior to college and ministry while the other three were during and after seminary. Mentors help prepare for ministry precisely because they’ve experienced ministry. The counsel of my mentors helped me to survive my early inexperience and difficult experiences in ministry. Without them, I would most likely be a professor rather than a pastor.
Read widely – It is easy to get into the rut of reading only those whose theology you agree with – be it only reading Reformed or Baptist or Conservative or whatever authors. But when you only read from those with whom you agree, you miss out on learning a different perspective that might challenge – and thereby fortify – what you believe. For example, read Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” or McClaren’s “a Generous Orthodoxy” to challenge yourself against non-orthodox positions. Also, read guys like Hauervaus, Newbigin or Barth for exposure to non-Baptistness.
Things I didn’t do:
Explore options – Everyone I ever knew in ministry went to either Southwestern Seminary or Dallas Theological Seminary. So my senior year at A&M, I looked into 2 seminaries…and since DTS was 4 years while Southwestern was 3, (3 > 4 in school years) I decided on Southwestern.
Also, I didn’t consider any other degrees at Southwestern except the MDiv (Masters of Divinity). If I had it to do all over again, I would look at other schools and even consider a different degree (such as a Master of Arts in Theology) at Southwestern.
Make friends – During seminary I went to school, work, and home. I didn’t make any lasting friends during my 3 years at Southwestern. I have only one Facebook friend from my seminary days (shout out to Donnie Hatcher!). Let me encourage you – whether seminary is in your future or not – to make friends with ministers. Make lots of friends so that you can have people to call and chat about church stuff.
Thankfully, NRHBC has had a strong recent history of attracting seminarians, so I have a few who I can call, ask questions, receive counsel, make fun of and be made fun of by.
Be disciplined – I focused so much on my school and church work that I neglected the spiritual disciplines. Seminary was a time of great growth of my knowledge but little growth in affection of the Lord. Whether you go to school or not, let me encourage you to practice the spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, solitude, Bible study, and meditation.
While I would do these three things differently, I’m grateful for the path that I have taken since it has brought me to be the Campus Pastor of Cross Church.