I’ll never forget that evening. I was Youth Pastor of a church in Tallahassee, Florida, and had taken a group of young people on a mission trip to lead Backyard Bible Clubs for a young church in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.
One night we had arranged to take the whole group into Philadelphia for a Phillies baseball game. It was daylight when we got to the ballpark, but well past dark when the game concluded and we piled onto the bus and lead van to head back to Downingtown. Somehow – perhaps my keen sense of navigational skills had something to do with it – we got lost in inner city Philadelphia.
We pulled off the highway, pulled out the map, and discovered an important truth: maps don’t help much unless you already know where you are! (Needless to say, I was never so glad to see a flashing blue light behind me as I was that night – the nice officer helped us get back on the right road and out of our predicament.)
In this article, let’s talk a bit about a road map for your ministry call – where do I go from here? But the best map doesn’t help if you don’t know where you are now – so I am writing this with the assumption that you have a sense of God’s call upon your life to serve in some kind of ministry. The reality is that there are many roads on which God might take you, and it’s going to be an exciting adventure as you follow His direction for your life and ministry.
On any journey, it’s important to make preparations. If your family was heading out on a big trip, you’d make sure you had the items necessary for an enjoyable journey – gas for the car, clothes, copies of your hotel reservations and other arrangements, and so on.
On your journey toward God’s call for your life, it’s vital that you prepare. That preparation takes many forms.
Be Involved in Your Own Local Church. This goes under the heading: be faithful where you already are. There are at least two reasons why this is important.
First, you need the fellowship and support of your own faith community. Your church is the place you worship, enjoy relationships with fellow believers, find encouragement from others in the joys and sorrows of life and ministry. Chances are, your church is the place God is using to help guide you in your own journey to spiritual maturity and the place from which He has called you to ministry.
Second, one day you will be calling on others to be active and faithful in their involvement in the local church. Now is your opportunity to set an example of such faithfulness, and to demonstrate that church involvement is not simply for those who are paid ministers, but for all believers.
Look for Ways to Serve. Right now you have a wonderful opportunity to gain valuable ministry experience in various areas of service. Whatever your stage in life – still in school, or already working in some other field – you can begin preparing for a life of ministry by serving right where you are.
There is no shortage of places that need the help of talented, faithful believers. In your own church, there are Bible study classes that needs teachers and leaders, youth and children’s ministries that can use help, outreach programs that can use committed workers and leaders. Your own church is a good place to gain useful experience in seeing how churches work as you assist with things like media and communications ministries, volunteer as a pastoral care associate, or even help as an usher or in some other place of service. Some day you may be encouraging others to take on such roles – why not do it yourself now?
The opportunity for service extends beyond your own church also. There are likely ministries in your community working with those who need a helping hand – rescue missions, shelters for abused women, children’s homes, and many more. You’ll be blessed by your faithful service in Christ’s name, and the experience you gain will be of great value in your future ministry.
Begin Your Ministry Education
An important part of your preparation is the formal part of your education, which can include your undergraduate degree in a college or university, plus graduate study in ministry. Such education will provide a foundation for your lifelong learning experience as a minister of the gospel.
If you have not yet started your college education, consider your options carefully when you begin to plan for college. As you prepare for years of vital ministry service, you will want the best foundation possible – one that will equip you to learn well, to think critically, and to communicate effectively.
Many students preparing for ministry will naturally choose to attend a Christian college or university. Be aware that just because a school has a church or denominational relationship does not mean that you will be receiving a Christ-centered higher education. At some schools, that church relationship means little more than weekly chapel services.
At an authentically Christ-centered college or university, that commitment will impact every element of life – from the residence hall to the classroom. You’ll have Christian scholars in the classroom, integrating insights from a Christian worldview into your academic disciplines. The application of Christian thinking into varied fields will be a great model for you as you prepare for the same challenge in your own ministry.
And as a future pastor or church leader, one of the other benefits of a Christian college or university is the relationships you will establish that will stay with you for the rest of your life and ministry. The friend you make in New Testament class or in the ministerial association may become a trusted friend and colleague with whom your life will intersect for decades to come.
One question that many students ask is: if I am going on to seminary, do I need to major in religion or Christian studies in my bachelor’s degree? While some students do opt for other majors – such as history or English, for example – there are real benefits to doing an undergraduate major in college as well. One benefit is that it provides a solid basis for later excellence in graduate or seminary programs – in fact, you can sometimes take advanced courses in seminary in place of more basic courses you did in a strong Christian Studies program as an undergraduate. A benefit for those who may delay graduate study is that their undergraduate program provides the majority of their preparation for ministry service as they graduate and move into church or other ministry roles.
Beyond college, many ministers will seek additional preparation through study at a seminary or graduate school of ministry. Your choice of schools will depend on many factors: your personal situation and location, the likely direction of your ministry, your academic interests, denominational relationships, faculty preferences and more. For example, I think professors who have actually served full-time in church ministry positions bring a valuable extra dimension to the classroom – as you prepare for ministry, it can be a great advantage to study with those who have “been there, done that.”
Consider carefully the place where you study for ministry – it can make an enormous difference in your own future service.
May God lead you as you start down that journey begun with God’s call on your life!
God has Called Me to Ministry - Where Do I Go from Here? is an excerpt from Called | Understanding the Call to Ministry, a free book provided by Anderson University. Available upon request.