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Does Ministry Take More Brains Than Guts?*

So…you’ve decided to go into the ministry.  Fantastic! Wait, what? Oh…you were “called” into the ministry.  Yes, yes, that’s nice.  I’m not going to quibble over that.  Fine…I’ll use “call” then.

Anyway, having been “called” (as you say) at one time myself, I thought I would share some of the things I learned along the way that might have kept me “called,” so to speak.  Here are some do’s and don’t’s that I think can help you along the way, especially early on.

DO…stay involved in your daily life.  (The corollary of which is “Don’t let church activities consume your time.”)  If you restrict yourself to church activities and church friends and church events and church conversations and—well you get the point—you will have an ivory tower mentality that will make it impossible for you to ever really reach people outside the walls of the church (who live in “the real world”), not to mention it will eventually make you miserable.

DON’T…talk it over with people serving in ministry.  Yes this seems odd but it’s true.  Ask them what they do on a typical day or in a typical week.  Ask them what they think about ministry—what it is and (maybe) what it should be.  But do not ask them if you should  think about going into the ministry.  We all want people to think we’re just absolutely overjoyed to be doing what we’re doing for a living.  Now, we may be thrilled to have a job (especially in today’s economy) but that is not the same as loving what we’re doing.  You need candor, not a sales pitch.

DO…tell your family.  Every family is different so you’ll have to consider the best way to approach it.  Some will be disappointed while others will be overjoyed.  Many families will have a mixture of the two or myriad other responses.  In any case, they’re often the ones who know you best and their feedback can be invaluable.  Just because they discourage going into the ministry doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.  On the other hand, if your family is all excited about you “becoming a preacher” it may not be the right direction for you.  Either way, your family can give you a lot of insight into yourself before you make the final decision, uh, I mean, before you follow through on your “call”.

DON’T…tell your pastor/clergy about it immediately.  This sounds almost counterintuitive, I know.  I put “immediately” for a reason.  Only when you’re absolutely certain about your decision, uh, “call” should you tell your clergy.  The simple reason being that, if you tell them immediately, you will be offered as much to do as can possibly be given to you, little of which may be particularly relevant.  You’ll become the intern that gets coffee, runs errands, does computer work, etc.  Now these are all a part of “church work” (especially in a smaller congregation) but do you really need to learn this kind of thing in that setting?  Do you not know how to make coffee or run to the bank or store?  If you’re still considering whether to go into the ministry or not…I mean, considering your “call”…this kind of thing can quickly turn you against it.

DON’T…enroll in college as a religion major (or go immediately to seminary if you’re already a college graduate).  This is particularly true in denominations that don’t require any kind of formal training (e.g. Baptists).  As a high school student looking at college, choose something besides religion—economics, history, political science, biology, anything.  As an undergraduate, don’t change your major…stick with what you’re in (or change to another non-religion major if you like).  It will help you relate to people because you’ll have (potentially) a point of contact (and something to fall back on when…er, um…if ministry doesn’t pan out).  If you’re already out of college, don’t just jump right into a seminary program because it’s close to you (I’m looking at you bazillions of extension programs across the country).  Take the time to search for a seminary that is the right fit for you, academically and spiritually, even if it means moving to attend there (and avoid an extension program if you can help it at all).

DON’T…think that “doing” ministry is saving the world.  Somebody lived over 2,000 years ago that already did that.  He doesn’t need your help; he allows you to work for him.  Your job is no more important than the janitor who cleans the church or the cashier at the grocery store or the owner of the local bank.  People may tell you, “If you’re called to be a servant of the King, don’t stoop to be president. ”  Every believer is (or should be) a servant of the King, not just clergy.  The sooner you get over yourself, the sooner you can actually do ministry.

DO…everything you possibly can to avoid the “call.”  If you can do anything else, do it.  Especially if you’re going to half-ass it.  There are enough lousy to mediocre ministers in the world.  Don’t add to their ranks.  Better to be a mediocre garbage collector than a lousy minister.  (I’m pretty sure God has never called anyone to be a half-ass minister…I’m just sayin’.)

Finally, DON’T…stay in an unhealthy congregation.  This should go for almost anyone but especially if you’re considering going into the ministry…I mean, considering a “call” into ministry.  Toxic churches breed toxic ministers and toxic ministers create more toxic churches.  If there is a power struggle or if there is an abuse of power (either clergy or lay leaders) or any other leadership problems, get out before you go any further in going into the ministry.

Basically, when it comes down to it: DO…think; DON’T…go with your gut!

* – This is satire (sort of).  Like all satire (both good and bad) there is truth in it, but don’t read it too literally.

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