I am a young pastor. As a result, other young men look at me and ask about going into pastoral ministry. One of the common things people will ask is what they need to be good at before they start training to go into ministry. In my 17 years of ministry, I would say these are things that one needs to be good at before start training for church ministry. They are necessary disciplines BEFORE one starts trying to lead others. They are things God can teach you along the way, but they are best as disciplines you implement before the pressures of ministry are added. So, if you want to be in ministry, here’s my list. Every pastor has a list of things they look for in younger ministers… Take mine with a grain of salt… before I went into ministry I was pretty solid on 5 of these… the other three I have grown in. It might be that you follow the Lord and He grows you in these places as you work. But, when I am asked what qualities need to be in a young man before ministry, these are the ones that come to mind.
- Attend church. If you will not be disciplined to attend church before you are in leadership, then you probably are not ready to be in leadership. The fortitude to attend church when you’re not in leadership is the same fortitude that will enable you to persist among dry seasons and difficulties. Many young men think that they will be good leaders in church ministry, but then they refuse to discipline themselves to attend church with any regularity. If one will not discipline themselves to attend church when they are not in leadership, then it is highly unlikely that they will have the discipline to lead a congregation.
- Read your Bible. Ministry is the work of the study and teaching of the Word. So, you need to read the Bible. You don’t need to know the original languages before starting in ministry, though it is helpful. You don’t need to be able to preach wonderfully, though that is an advantage. You don’t even need to have large portions memorized! But, you do need a love for the Word of God. If you cannot discipline yourself to study and read the Word, then you will not discipline yourself to teach it. So, read it… every day.
- Worship well privately. Part of leading in ministry is leading other people to have a deep personal relationship with the Living God! As a manifestation of that relationship, there ought to be some sort of private worship that you regularly engage in. This private worship is what will save you in moments of despair in the ministry. It will be the balm necessary for you to press through difficult situations. This private worship is a pre-requisite for survival in your training. Every church has dry spells. We cannot always depend on the community to fuel our worship. We must learn to fuel our Spirits. Only then will we be able to lead others.
- Worship well corporately. One of the marks of Christianity is corporate worship. In Acts 2, the first church begins in corporate worship. Church History records corporate worship as an act that EVERY church engaged in regularly. Preaching, singing, prayer, and feasting all were weekly and normative in the church. The best people to worship with are those who are totally absorbed in worshiping the living God. I stood next to a young man who couldn’t sing well and was constantly bumping into the person next to him (me). At first, I was bothered and considered his zeal an impediment to my ability to worship. I grumbled quietly and moved a few inches. Suddenly I was bumped again. Slightly irritated I turned to look at him, determined to say something. As I turned I felt his arm wrap around my shoulders, eyes filled with tears, he was singing at the top of his lungs and I was drawn into the presence of the Living God! This young man worshiped with abandon and it was contagious. Immediately I forgot my shame and joined in the worship. Be like that before you try to lead others to be that way.
- Learn to be wrong. I am wrong often and I know it. I am comfortable with being wrong. I learned early to accept when I am wrong and move forward. I will seek to see the truth and, if someone presents a better case, I’ll gladly say I was wrong. As a pastor, you need to be able to be wrong. Churches will often prove you wrong. You’ll be wrong about people, passages, policy, and even Jesus. A good leader will recognize when they are wrong, apologize, and figure out how to move forward. If a pastor cannot admit when he is wrong, then he will not be able to lead people.
- Learn to be wrong, when you’re probably right. I distinctly remember being scolded by a person about something I said in a sermon. I was young and their statement was false. They accused me of something I had not said and misunderstood something I had said in the message. I apologized for what they heard me say and simply said, “That was not right of me, please forgive me.” I was pretty certain I hadn’t said what they accused me of so, afterward, I went back and listened to the sermon. Indeed, they were wrong. I had never said what they accused me of saying. However, they heard what they heard and as a leader, it is not mine to correct perception. My job is to help people move beyond perceived offense and model granting grace. If I had to be known as right or gracious, I’ll choose gracious. So, I’ll be happy to be wrong if it means I can model grace to those who believe themselves to be right even if they are wrong.
- Learn to listen. It is difficult to listen when you know things. Perhaps the first step in listening is recognizing that we don’t know everything. I have a dear brother who always says, “Better to stay silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.” The Proverbs put it this way, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28). Being silent and listen. Prove that you can learn before you start trying to teach.
- Learn grace extended. This is perhaps the chief and most helpful perspective I had before training for ministry. To read more about it go here.
Again, take these with a grain of salt, I learned many of these growing up. Some I still grow in. If you’re a pastor, what’s your list to give to young men who ask what they need to be before they go into ministry? Leave it in comments.