I had a very clear calling to pastoral ministry when I was seventeen years old. The steps below written by a veteran pastor are steps that I took by default – however, I could have benefited from Dave Harvey’s book immensely in my pastoral journey which began over thirty years ago [DPC]:
What to DO While You Are WAITING for Your Ministry MARCHING ORDERS from God
by David T. Harvey
A man listening for a call is never a man sitting still. A key sign of the summons is godly ambition that’s been channeled into action. That’s why, as a leader responsible for weighing in on external call issues, I’m not just looking at who a guy is and what he might do. I’m looking for what he’s already doing. That helps me gauge the degree of aspiration as well as desire— “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1).
Brothers, there’s a lot you can do right now to prepare yourself in the summons (God’s call on your life to ministry – Harvey defines a “Summons” as: “a call away from one thing and into another”). Here are some ideas to get you started. For each one, I’ve included some specific “next actions” you can take.
(1) Be honest about your desires. If you “aspire to the office of overseer,” tell your pastor. If you don’t have a pastor, find a good church and get a pastor. It’s not humble to remain silent about your dreams. You’re not Mary treasuring “up all these things in [your] heart” (Luke 2:51). It’s far more profitable to share your dreams. Evaluation from others is going to happen eventually; why not let it start now?
A practical step: Write your pastor and share your sense of call and desire for ministry. Invite him to lunch to specifically discuss his feedback on your letter.
(2) Pray. Do you consistently pray about your calling?
A practical step: Schedule regular times of prayer, perhaps even personal retreats, where you’re able to both stoke your sense of call and lay it on the altar before the Lord.
(3) Start Serving. Calling is revealed in service. A young, called guy so often wants to find a role right now that matches his gifts. But at this stage, the summons is not a warrant to flex your gifts; it’s an invitation to be a servant wherever you’re needed. Feel called to preach to the masses? Great—go teach in children’s ministry. It’s a great place to start.
A practical step: Go to your church leaders and say, “Where does our church need the most help?” Then do whatever they need you to do. Serving in obscurity can do more to shape a future leader than a dozen years of combing evangelicalism for the perfect position.
(4) If you’re in college, pursue a vocational direction. Moving directly from college into full-time ministry is the exception, not the rule. Don’t assume you need a degree that will directly relate to ministry.
A practical step: Be a disciplined, well-balanced student. Pursue excellence and immerse yourself in the ministry opportunities that come with college life. Don’t hide in your Christian group—engage the campus as a witness for Christ. Learn to think and persuade from a biblical perspective. Choose someone who you think is a humble influencer of others, and ask a lot of questions.
(5) Pursue counsel and evaluation. Are you actively and consistently pursuing the wisdom of men who know you and sense of call?
A practical step: Keep taking your pastor out to lunch—invite his ongoing insight into your personal life. Also, cultivate accountable fellowship with wise men your age and older.
(6) Study. Are you deepening your theological well through a systematic study of sound doctrine and biblical theology?
A practical step: Ask your pastor for a book list to study. Then make a plan for how and when you’ll complete that study—and give it to your pastor so he can follow up with you.
(7) Mature. How does your life presently line up with the qualities of an elder as found in 1 Timothy and Titus? Where do you need to grow?
A practical step: Seek regular accountability and correction from those closest to you. If you’re married, begin with your wife. As Wayne Grudem says, “It is not optional that [pastors’] lives be examples for others to follow; it is a requirement.”
(8) Get your house in order. The path to pastoral ministry is often a sacrificial one. You may need to live lean and flexible. Are you prepared to make sacrifices to pursue your call? I know a number of men, for example, whose ability to act on an opportunity has been blocked by excessive debt. You should also care for your wife as you explore your call. If she doesn’t [confidently agree with your calling], then preparing for ministry means hearing her reservations, carefully considering her reuluctance, and humbly responding to her observations.
A practical step: Get rid of all the debt you can, and stay that way. If you’re married, make sure your call is an open conversation your wife can have whenever she wants. Explore any concerns she may bring. Discuss any objections with trusted friends and a wise pastor.
(9) Patiently persevere. Are you committed to waiting for God to bring you into ministry rather than anxiously brokering your own opportunities?
A practical step: Pursue a vocation that you can live on and grow in. Develop employable skills so you won’t be depending on the ministry for survival.
*Adapted from Chapter 10 of David T. Harvey’s excellent book published by Crossway entitled Am I Called?. David T. Harvey is responsible for church planting, church care, and international expansion for Sovereign Grace Ministries, having served on the leadership team since 1995. He has a D. Min. from Westminster Theological Seminary, is the author of When Sinners Say I Do, and is a contributing author to Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World.