I’m a Master. Not only am I a Master, but I’m a Master of the Divine! That’s a pretty big deal…
All I really am is someone who spent hours reading, writing, and studying, paid thousands of dollars, and went to classes for three and half years to earn my master’s degree – an MDiv. This is the graduate degree that many pastors are encouraged to earn as they prepare for a life of vocational ministry.
But, before going on, let me step back a moment and ask this really confusing, but important question:
How can you be prepared to do something you don’t even know how to be prepared for or what it is you really need to be prepared for? Was that question easy to follow? I doubt it. It’s similar to figuring out what it means to be a pastor and even more so, figuring out a good way to prepare to become a pastor.
In the summer of 2004, I received my call to ministry at a Christian camp in the mountains of Arizona. At the time I was studying to become a junior high mathematics teacher and a high school football coach. The question of preparation immediately accompanied God’s calling on my life. Would I switch majors and schools? No, I enjoyed my college experience at a secular school in Indiana where I was able to play football. How, then, would I be prepared to pastor? I would attend graduate school, a seminary, Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City – that experience and degree would fully prepare me for ministry, right?
So immediately after I graduated from college I packed up and drove out to Kansas City for their Masters of Divinity program. I studied pastoral care, Greek, theology, biblical interpretation, spiritual practices, worship, pastoral leadership, and preaching. After all of those amazing classes, I surely would be prepared to pastor!
Before moving on, let me say these words: I greatly enjoyed and appreciated my time in seminary! The conversations I had, the books I read, and the professors I met and learned from were all part of an invaluable process and tool that God used to shape my call and future ministry. If I had the choice to do it all over again, I would still go to seminary! Also, know that I fully endorse education and believe that all pastors should enter into a life-long process of learning and development.
However, now, as a pastor, I know full well that no school or degree can fully prepare you (whatever that means) for ministry. There are things that simply cannot be taught or at least cannot be taught in a helpful way without your specific context in ministry, which most of us don’t know while we are in seminary.
Let me give you a specific and funny example. One pastor friend baptized an elderly woman at one of the churches he was serving. It was very apparent that she would not be able to be fully immersed in a typical baptismal. My friend decided to sprinkle her, but had never done or seen this method in practice. When the day came to baptize this woman, the act of baptism looked more like flicking than sprinkling!
In my own pastoral experience, I was immediately immersed in many things and issues I was unprepared for: church taxes that had been neglected, marital affairs in the church, the death of babies and teenagers, and countless pastoral care situations involving drugs, alcohol, runaways, depression, eating disorders, hospital visits, car wrecks, and so on.
The reality is that no one can be prepared for everything a life of ministry will present to you. My friend, Pastor Josiah, addresses this fact in his book. However, as we both quickly discovered, this is not as discouraging as it may appear. In fact, as pastors, this reality should bring us great hope! I can never be the pastor God has called me to be without God’s presence in my life and ministry. No, I was not prepared for many of the situations I have encountered in ministry so far and am not prepared for the many more I will encounter in the days ahead – but thanks be to God, who works through my weaknesses, shortcomings, and even my sin! It is solely the Spirit of God, as I allow it, actively moving and working in and through me that enables my ministry to be faithful and fruitful.
Yes, please work, read, and prepare for pastoral ministry as much as you can – it will help – but know that this is God’s work and God is faithful!
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