(my mentor, Dr. Tod Tanner on graduation day December, 2006).
Training is important. For those called into the full-time ministry it usually means either Bible college or seminary at some point. For me, I went to the Baptist College of Florida and Liberty University. I am thankful for both institutions for helping improve my development as a follower of Christ and leader. I spent many hours writing papers, studying for tests and writing sermons. It was great practical help that led to me following God into the ministry.
Outside of the classroom, I was taught more practical ministry advice than I often learned in class. I had specific professors who made time for me outside of the classroom that mentored me. Mentoring was the biggest influence in my life and has taught me more than sitting in the classroom. I just wish they would have taught me more about practical, everyday life and ministry choices.
What I Wish I Would Have Learned in class (that I've learned the hard way)...
- How to respond to and help those who are victims of abuse? (sexual abuse, self-abuse, emotional abuse). It is crucial for those called into the ministry to actually know the most relevant and current issues facing culture! Do we know the laws and issues facing students and families involved in abuse?
- How to manage time each day, especially how to balance time with ministry and family? (what should be a daily plan? how to invest in the family?). How does a minister balance time with a wife and children? Does the youth pastor need to be at every sport event?
- How to have healthy expectations of the pastor and staff. (Rarely did we talk about how to find out how personality types and ministry philosophies play a role in being effective at a church). There is no perfect church, staff, or locale in ministry that will fully make us happy. Joy must be found in our relationship with Christ.
- How to continually change the methods (especially if they don't work!) but maintain the same message? We are facing a huge problem today in many churches who are about to close doors. Leaders need to be trained how to "be all things to all men" like Paul wrote and reach people where they are at and quit expecting people to walk into church already "cleaned up." We need less arguing and debating on music style, dress codes, and whether the choir wears robes or not! We need passionate leaders who are impacting the lost with the gospel and leading them to church where they see true worship occur. If we do not change some of our methods, we are in danger of missing a generation who is looking for authenticity more so than traditionalism.
- How to make wise decisions with finances and what is needed to live on in full-time ministry? One issue that I continually hear from friends and college students going into ministry is how to manage money. Especially how do you manage money on a minister's salary (especially those in staff positions). How do you decide on whether to take on any debt for college/seminary? Do you want your wife to stay at home or work and eventually put children into daycare? Practical, helpful and wise teaching on how to make decisions is needed, especially in seminary and Bible college.
- How to say "No" to doing everything and "yes" to what is most important? Clear expectations of any position or relationship is important for it to grow in health. Saying "no" is important if we are going to do what is most important and prevent ministry burnout.
- Who do I talk to when I am discouraged, depressed or struggling? Ministry can be lonely. Outside of my family (super supportive) it can be hard to find people to talk too. Why? Because we are expected to "have it all together." People usually do not say it, but they expect those in ministry to not struggle. For most people, they think that ministers only work one or two days a week. I've been asked before, "So, when are you going to become a real pastor?" I have learned that I must have a mentor in my life that I can talk to about every struggle I face.
- How do I line up my calling with my spiritual gifts and personality? The most typical response is to be put into a mold. Each leader needs to discover who they are in Christ, their passions, gifting and then lead in that way! A majority of the discussions I have with college students I work with is that they struggle with who they are in Christ and what they are supposed to do for Christ.
I'm thankful for those who spoke into my life and continue too! Biblical training is crucial and helpful. Above all, we need less knowledge-based teaching and more practical life-application teaching in ministry training! Our focus must be upon reaching this world with the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ!