…According to a full-time seminarian interviewed by Christianity Today magazine. While the results are predictable, it’s a question that needs asking as the remnant of Christianity watches all the official denominations weld together into the Apostate Orthodox
Church 501c3 Nonprofit Organization.
‘What Should I Do to Become a Pastor?’
By Derek Hiebert, 12 Sept. 2018.
Recently a young man asked me this question via text message. I imagine you have been asked the same question by someone in your congregation—an eager person looking to take the next step in their spiritual growth.
And you told those aspirants to get professional help… “you” here being pastors, the target readership of this article. You didn’t give them opportunity to lead services or teach a brief Bible class, no, you told him to go away and become a competitor without your assistance.
Tell me that’s not what you do, pastors.
You probably have a safe guess as to what my answer was, especially since I am the director of the Western Seminary Seattle Teaching Site. We all know the assumed logic in America for landing a career:
1. Decide what to do with your life.
2. Go to school to learn the skillset.
3. Graduate from said school.
4. Get hired for a job using that skillset.
He’s correct, and the problems with this are obvious: Step 1 is really hard when you’re age 17 and not born gifted. Step 2 is unaffordable. Step 3 is reserved for wimmins and non-whites. And Step 4 is straight-up wishful thinking.
Now substitute “school” with “seminary,” and voilà! You have a career in pastoring … right?
You might be surprised to learn that this isn’t the answer I texted back to the aspiring pastor, and it isn’t the answer I hope pastors give congregants who ask the same question. In the Bible, those God called to shepherd his people didn’t look at their ministry work as a career—at least not in the way we understand the concept. Their learning came first from development in the context of a local church, with an eye for Christ-centered conviction, character formation, and the ability to make and multiply disciples. Formal training, if they received it, came after the core development they received within the local church.
A pleasant surprise for him to admit this. Of course, if he actually believed that Christ’s example was a good one…
That is not to say I am anti-seminary. As I wrote above, my full-time job is with a seminary. Academic training is an important resource for those entering full-time ministry. My aim here is not to discourage pastors from recommending seminary,
…then he’d be out of a job.
but to provide an intentional order of steps they can offer aspiring pastors that starts long before formal, academic training. This model comes in part from my personal experience of being mentored in the local church prior to attending seminary and in part from my current work counseling people toward theological training.
And even more, I expect, from your personal experience of attaining success via credentialing and seniority rather than devotion to Father or strength under trial.
Step 1: Learn to Kiss Ass
Step 1: Commit to a local church and begin serving.
This may seem basic, but it’s too important to skip, and it isn’t a given. A friend of mine recalls meeting several people during his seminary education who had not committed to a local congregation in years. Some were indecisive. Others were jaded. Many couldn’t imagine joining a congregation that didn’t fit their ideal vision of church—one they hoped to implement right after graduation.
I one listened to a combined assistant-pastor-and-Christian-school-director give his idea on how to foster local talent. After ten years of membership and low-level service, he thought laymen would have proven themselves sufficiently qualified to handle backroom church tasks such as groundskeeping oversight. Another 10-15 years and they might move up to budget work, not including budget decisions. So, about 20 years of rent-seeking to go from “guy off the street” to “Bible study substitute teacher”.
This while I was working though a correspondence seminary in the hopes that a low-level certification would impress them. That was money spent poorly.
You bet some of us potential pastors are jaded. But oh noes, we “lack commitment” if the pew cushion hasn’t yet conformed to our butt.
If a pastor’s primary task is to shepherd a local church, the sooner aspiring pastors commit to life in the local church—in all its imperfection and beauty—the better prepared they will be for future pastoral ministry. It is primarily in the context of the local church where on-the-job ministry training begins.
Before I began any formal leadership role in the local church, I immersed myself in volunteer ministry by serving with middle school students in the youth program. There, I began to learn what it means to be a servant: committing to show up for weekly youth events, helping with setup and cleanup, making space in my schedule to spend one-on-one time with kids, and enduring all-nighters and weekend retreats. I was not paid to serve in this way, nor was I given an “upfront” role. I was merely one of a team of servants giving of my time, energy, and gifts to serve the church.
I tried that by volunteering to work with kids. I don’t like kids but was tired of running the slide projector. They assigned me to the sixth graders. Although wild, most of them liked me well enough except for one problem kid who did everything from publicly slandering me to distributing porn. I was not trusted with enough authority to remove him from the group because “he needed a father figure”. I quit in frustration.
Step 2: Read the whole Bible at least once.
Holy illiterate, Batman! Didn’t you do that when you first became a Christian? A Protestant, no less? But I suppose it’s advice that must be given in Current Year. Sola Some-O’-Scriptura!
I worry that the process of reading the entire Bible is becoming a lost art. That’s unfortunate for any Christian, but for potential pastors, it is devastating. Admittedly, this is a step I didn’t experience early in my faith and church experience. I was encouraged to read portions of Scripture—key narratives and memorable passages—before I began leading in ministry, but reading the whole Bible was not part of my regular practice until later.
OMG. The blind are leading the seminary.
Step 3: Learn how to make disciples and shepherd people.
The Great Commission undergirds all pastoral ministry. There is no pastoring without disciple-making. It is absolutely imperative that aspiring pastors learn what the Great Commission ought to look like in the local church and everyday life.
During my early development, I learned that making disciples happens not just through weekly, large-group teaching, but through one-on-one and small-group environments. In one situation, I had built a relationship with a middle school boy who was deficient in his reading ability. Part of my discipleship strategy with him was reading Scripture, as well as books from the Chronicles of Narnia. This was immensely fruitful for both of us. He learned to read, and I learned how to do life-on-life discipleship.
He impresses me again by giving lip service to the Great Commission, such are my expectations. But the example he gives is not one of discipleship. Useful, yes, appropriate Christian conduct, yes, but that kid wasn’t about to be delegated any authority. This is a bait-and-switch.
Pastors often say things like, “Seminary didn’t teach me how discouraging it would be to toil in obscurity,” or, “Seminary didn’t train me to shepherd distracted people and naysayers.” Those things should be discovered in the discipleship process of any committed Christian, and I encourage you to push aspiring pastors in those areas before discerning a particular call to pastoral ministry.
One wonders what Director Derek of Western Seminary does train them to do. 501c3 Administration, pontificating and Koine Greek are my first three guesses.
Step 4: Pray and listen for God’s direction toward ministry.
Aspiring pastors cannot answer the question “How do I become a pastor?” until they have first answered the question, “What is God telling me to do?” Whatever your view of “calling” into ministry, the potential pastors you’re guiding won’t get very far without committed time in prayer and listening to God. I encourage this step after someone has spent time serving and making disciples because it is during those experiences when people typically begin to get a specific sense of God’s leading.
When I attended a Charismatic church, there was one time in a small group we were discussing the voice of God. Pastor called for a show of hands; turned out, he and half the group claimed to hear God’s audible voice on a daily basis, advising them on how to live that particular day. I regret to say that I was too dumbfounded to speak any of the limitless potential sarcastic responses I’ve thought of since then.
A month later, I was talking with the music director and he mentioned how that incident freaked him out. I agreed and he was thrilled to find a second guy who thought as he did.
Truth time: If God wants to micromanage your life then He won’t wait for you to ask His permission to do it. Put your dollar in the vending machine of life, make your choice and own the consequences. Don’t wait for the voices in your head to relieve you of responsibility first. That will not help.
Step 5: If God is leading toward pastoral ministry, begin to look at seminary.
I insert this step near the end as a way to define the nature and purpose of seminary. Unlike the typical role of education in the modern American model of career building, seminary is not the end-all means of ministry training, nor should it be the first step in the training regimen for future pastors—and I trust many seminaries would agree.
What is the purpose of seminary? Serious question, what is it? Is it a graduate school for men who are already working as pastors? Then Derek missed a critical opportunity to complain about seminary credentialism being used as a gatekeeper for paid pastoral jobs. Is it to qualify men as acceptable pastors? Then Derek should not have advised them to first learn on-the-job. Is it to cover the inevitable deficiencies of what most pastors do to recruit talent? Then why didn’t Derek call that out given the opportunity?
They offer a unique context for honing theology and ministry theory, but they are not the kind of environment where potential pastors can learn the crucial skillsets of shepherding and making disciples. This context can only be found within the local church.
You cannot learn theology from a book or a class. The Pharisees were living proof of this, having been fanatically devoted to the holy texts while completely missing the point of them.
I am living proof of this. What I read about marriage in the Bible was the opposite of what every pastor I knew of was teaching, back in the 1980s. I was very confused. Scripture couldn’t be wrong about marriage & human nature but the entire Church, independently and uniformly, was acting like it was. Surely not EVERY pastor and priest could be wrong about such basic theology.
Turned out, EVERY pastor and priest I knew actually was wrong… and fatally, rebelliously wrong at that. But I hadn’t had the life experience, the maturity to act on Biblical teachings in the face of stiff opposition.
You can’t get that kind of education from Derek’s seminary. Therefore, you don’t want a graduate of Derek seminary to tell you about God, even though he might be able to do so in the original Hebrew. You want a battle-scarred, burned, jaded, shot-up survivor of the trenches to tell you about God.
This post is a setup for one on Theodicy. Boxer mentioned he wanted to read about that topic from a Christian perspective and it’s difficult because a theological explanation of suffering is not the way to teach it. A rational explanation of why you must be miserable is useless. A personal example of “I went through the Valley of Darkness first and here is what I learned” is priceless. Because most Christian leaders are Derek types, they have no clue about this.
So, reread this post. Who would you trust to teach about God: Derek or me? That is why I had to suffer. Not that I’m looking for a position, but the quote “All things work together for the good of those who know Christ”, well, seeing is believing.