Before you read this list, I want to say Seminary was wonderful and I learned a ton from seminary! My professors were amazing and I was prepared for ministry because of Seminary. Further, this post is my own experience and is not intended to be a criticism of Seminary. Others may have learned these things in Seminary, I did not.
I am a 37 year old pastor of a small church plant in south Texas. I have been in vocational ministry for over 15 years and have served at some level of leadership in a variety of churches since I was 14 years old. When I began in ministry, I recognized my need to learn. I entered Seminary with a deep desire to learn everything I could and I did so with a fierce and steady methodology. I took seminary slowly and strove to soak up everything I could from my professors. I coveted opportunity to learn from older pastors and professors who had proven track records.
I learned a great deal in Seminary. Necessary Biblical training and historical understanding of the church has served to shape me and improve my own life. I believe my seminary studies taught me much of what I need to know to serve and lead a church well. That having been said, I did not learn EVERYTHING I needed to know from seminary. There were some things that I had to learn on the job.
- How to plan for church events and yearly schedule.I’ll never forget the first time I was asked to present a schedule for a youth group for the year. I was informed that the staff had a meeting on Sunday night with the other leaders of the church. I began to panic. I walked across the hall to the associate pastor’s office with as much composure as I could muster and asked him to clarify what I was supposed to present. He graciously walked me through a basic understanding of what to do. Over the next 8 years in that position I developed a pattern of planning in advance. I would prepare sermons months in advance, events were planned almost a year ahead, and the general calendar of the youth ministry was completed in September. My fellow pastors suffered as a result of not being able to sit down and plan. So I resolved to be ahead and as a result I was often available to run events for them as well.
Now, I am always about 4 months ahead in planning for worship. I can usually tell you what I am going to teach and where the teaching is headed 8 months in advance. I can preach the sermons about 4 months ahead of time. I plan events months in advance and I have a pretty good grasp on how to schedule and plan in general.
Seminary did not teach me how to plan. I had to learn on the job. I was fortunate to serve with ministers who knew what they were doing and had experience in leading organizations. In short, here is how you plan. Pray, lay out a calendar, put your schedule down with some flexible dates, start with the easiest event to plan (most often something you’ve done before that does not need to change), then work from most common to most unique. Don’t fall into the trap of doing the soonest first. If you will plan the most common event first and then work your way to the most uncommon (or new events), then you will find momentum and you’ll enjoy the work a lot more.
- Conflict resolution.Being a pastor means that you are a shepherd. Funny thing about sheep… They bite. People are sheep. We bite, jockey for position, shove, and butt heads when we do not get our way. Seminary does not teach your pastor how to deal with Mrs. Contentious when she has upset Mrs. Overly-dramatic. The difficulty of these conflicts is that it rarely ever works out in a room with all parties present. Most of the time, conflict resolution involves talking to each party individually and slowly leading them to make decisions that help to grant grace.
To be honest, I’m still not an expert in conflict resolution. I know what the Scripture says, and I try to follow those principles. But conflict resolution is rarely an issue of HOW I read Scripture and often an issue of getting others to READ the Bible. In my inadequate amount of knowledge on conflict resolution I’ve learned four things that help me in dealing with others.
First: Remember, unless it is genuine heresy, it is not as important as we think. Do not make a big deal over secondary issues.
Second: Address confusion, gossip, and rumors immediately from the source. This is sin. So when gossip or rumors surface, address them immediately. Grant grace and be casual about the address, but do not leave sin unaddressed.
Third: Accept that some conflict is just going to be around and you’re going to have to learn to live in that tension. In a church that I served in for several years there was a particular man who just did not like me. I would try to be polite, earn favor, and do a good job in effort to somehow garner his approval, but to no avail. Eventually I just accepted that he was not going to like me and I moved on. There was no overt sin to address and he stayed in his area of ministry without causing issues elsewhere. Once I accepted that I was not going to be liked by everyone, this particular conflict stopped bothering me. I wish I had some great reconciliation story for this one, but as I said above, “Sheep bite.”
Fourth: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Seldom is anyone just being selfish or rude. Most of the time, in the church, people believe they are doing what is right. They don’t mean to be hateful or malicious. Recognize that and treat people accordingly.
- Humility.I love seminary students, I really do. They are filled with zeal and they often know the right answers. I love seminary students… especially AFTER they graduate. When I was in Seminary I was trained in how to find the answers I needed in Scripture! I know the languages of the Bible and I love to study old dead guys. I went into ministry with a tremendous grasp on theology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and every other ology! I felt as though I had answers.
While my professors worked hard to teach me that I did not know the answers to every problem, the critical environment of Seminary inadvertently taught me that I am right! I was taught to identify problems in the church and offer theoretical answers to those issues. Seminary was intended to produce a servant who would labor to display the character of Christ in the midst of fellow Christians. The result of my own arrogance produced a young man who needed some chips knocked off his shoulder.
It took me several years to realize that I am not. It took me years to learn that I needed other leaders who could walk with me through difficult circumstances and give counsel. It took me years to learn that I needed the voices of other leaders to call me out when I was in error.
The church I serve now has a plurality of elders who hold me to account. They know me well and I loose a lot of battles to those guys. I trust them and as a result, my confidence is bolstered and humility is honored.
- How to define successI was one of those students who could read the book in a day and write the report that evening and make an A on the paper. If a professor favored content over grammar, I was going to make an A+ in the class. I could make a B with little effort and found seminary to be a long, but enjoyable experience. With all my work in seminary, I never learned how to define success. I learned how to fail and what it meant to work your way back from the bottom. I failed Hebrew twice and worked hard to overcome failing Hebrew 1 eventually make an A in Hebrew 1, Hebrew 2, and Exegetical Hebrew. I knew what failure way, and I knew how to press on to overcome failure. But I did not know what success was.
Seminary does not teach you how to measure success in ministry. I did not know if I should measure myself according to the numbers in attendance or if I should find another metric. Eventually I landed on another method of judging success, you can read about that here. (article also linked below.) Whether you judge success in numbers, or life transformation, or personal devotion, strive to learn how to judge success in your ministry. It will be the catalyst for purpose and your ministry directives.
When I first began to seek a full time position at a church my first question for every church was, “can I learn from your pastors?” I was fortunate to meet a man who had been in ministry and was serving as an associate pastor. He was not a seminary grad or a wise old seasoned pastor. He was a genuine pastor who knew some things I didn’t. I credit him for much of what I do in ministry. We sharpened each other. If you are considering ministry. Find a guy that is a little further down the road from you and learn what you can from him.