December 7, 2002, Re-edited December 17, 2006
This essay is to men, recently called by God to pastor. I want to share, in hind-sight, what I might have done differently in my early ministry beginnings.
If I had it to do all over again, I might not put such a premium on getting a Bible college and/or seminary education. I might wait, or even permanently delay such training. Much of what I learned in my formal, certified, registered and denominationally accepted education, in which I received my BA in religion and my Masters of Divinity degrees, was not all that necessary to REAL ministry.
To me REAL ministry is touching the lives of people, pointing them to the Lord Jesus Christ, sharing the wonderful news in God's Word. It isn't so much what a pastor does behind the pulpit. It isn't doing weddings, funerals and directing the day to day happens in some steepled building.
I've discovered that ministers are not as closely listened to as it might appear on the surface. Very often preachers are humored. Many people pretend to be listening intently when in reality they are hoping the preacher will conclude his ramblings, and go on about his business some where else. Many people look upon professional ministers as people who are really out of touch with what the vast majority must go through. They see pastors and preachers as a group who don't have to do hard physical work, who have a nice office with few bad deadlines or demands. The general public see men of the clothe as ivory tower people. They often see ministers as someone you DO NOT want to take too seriously, someone who is kind of "out of touch" with the real "dog eat dog" world.
I'm not saying that the above view point is reality, I'm only saying that I have come to the conclusion that this view point is held by many members of our society.
I've also discovered that some of the most fulfilled ministry people are those who minister as laymen. They rub shoulders with the regular working person. They go out and put in eight or more hours of labor each day. They utilize their lunch and work breaks to shine for Christ. They also spend time after work hours visiting the needy, in jails and prisons and hospitals. They minister uniquely at their local church. Before and after church these people can be found in the parking lot or vestibule touching the lives of their fellow believers. They visit in the homes of fellow church members. They pray for the sick. They lead people to Christ. They keep a very low profile when on the church campus, so as not to conflict or compete with clergy. But mostly they circulate in the business and labor world where clergyman are mostly an extinct species.
One layman I know was told by the Lord that his business clients would be his church congregation. And so as he called upon his clients he became a caring listener. When he was on the many road trips to visit clients he prayed for hours for individual customers. He touched his congregation one person at a time, not in mass. After a few years these secular business men began to append the title of "Brother" in front of his first name (as in Brother Bill). Several of his clients took him aside to tell him that they were dedicating their lives to Christ because of his life. God would speak to this man and tell him things that were about to happen to his clients. He was told to warn his clients in advance of certain equipment that was about to break down. God was never wrong. Soon his associates and clients began to speak about how this man had supernatural help. Because he was known as a man of prayer he was called as far as 250 miles away to pray for direction in the repair of heavy equipment. God taught him that the Lord was concerned for all people and would even heal equipment in order to show HIS mighty power. This layman was called to hospitals to pray for the sick. When he prayed cancer and heart problems disappeared. Several prominent business men as well as lowly mechanics received Christ as their saviour. He went into the local jail and saw over 300 men pray to receive Jesus as Lord of their lives. Many pastors never see the level of results that this layman saw. What a privilege for me to know this man personally! He has been a marvelous blessing in my life too.
Much of my higher education turned out to be pass-keys and pass-codes to enable me to see denominational doors open before me. But, some of the things I was asked to learn retarded my spiritual growth. Some of the questions raised about the Scriptures caused me unnecessary doubts. Later I discovered that the Bible was more trustworthy than I could imagine. But for a while I struggled with the so called "problems of the Scripture" topic that came up in one of my religion classes in college.
I spent much money and time on my formal theological education. Now, many years later, with all of this specialized training, and having been defrocked because I wanted to follow the Bible rather than church traditions, I am of diminished value in assisting my family financially. With my religion degrees I have few options. except public school teaching. God has not led me back into professional ministry. Instead God has given me fulfilling lay ministries. People really listen to me now that I'm a laymen. I'm one of them.
It is hard for me to find good paying jobs in order to take care of my family. I'm turned down for many jobs because I am "over educated." Prospective employers see my Master's Degree and figure I will leave them for a better job soon. But in actuality a Master's Degree in Divinity is of little value in the secular market place. A Masters in Computer Science would be much more useful.
Prior to my call into ministry I had been an Electronics Engineering major. When God called me to be a preacher I halted my secular education and immediately entered ministerial studies. I suppose at the time that was all that I could do. But I see that for men today, there might be other options, especially since the churches are becoming more and more disconnected from the control of the Holy Spirit. God is seeking for people who will follow HIM directly, at all costs.
If I had it to do over again today maybe I would go ahead and finish my training in a secular field, or in some trade. I might start out in that trade or business, seeking God for direction. I've discovered that the Lord most often wants us to stay where we are and minister where we live and move. Sometimes God moves people far off. But most often HE likes to use people where they are familiar, where they understand the locale.
Men with a call today might seek the Lord and see if they could be like Saint Paul and finish learning a "tent making" skill of some kind that could bring in "bread and butter" when needed. Then, too, they will not have a conflict of interests, later, if they become a professional minister. I believe being a bi-vocational minister is a much wiser thing, even though my former denomination put down bi-vocational ministry as a less than optimum thing. The reason it is less than optimum, in their eyes, was that they lost some of their power over a minister. A bi-vocational minister never was tempted to fear that he would starve if he had a difference of opinion with the local church or the denomination.
Many full-time pastors have a conflict of interest! When God speaks to them to proclaim truths that are hard for a congregation to accept, those pastors are tempted to soften that truth. Those pastors know that the church and denomination can dismiss them, and if ALL their training is only in ministry they are placed in a conflict. They realize that their family could suffer greatly in poverty if they are dismissed. They find themselves pressured to come into agreement with the denomination or the local church at all costs. Satan is more able to create fear in them. They find it easier to tickle men's ears. They are like an ox with a ring in his nose. A little jerk of the denominational ring brings them right back in line! They can easily be manipulated by the local church. The possibility of unemployment can be a powerful weapon in the hands of the paymaster institution.
If, on the other hand, they have a trade or skill that is needed in the world, they know that they can quickly find work. They are not a slave to the church. And the church knows it cannot as easily manipulate that minister. The pastor can even stay on without any church salary, because he is bi-vocational. Or if he resigns he won't lose his home, or see his car re-possessed. He won't be forced to move his family to his parent's house, while he tries to find another ministry position.
If I had gotten a trade or specialty in my life, I could have supported myself between pastorates, and/or during pastorates. I wouldn't have felt that a congregation or denomination was a threat to my family. I would have had much less concern of what would happen if they threatened to dismiss or defrock me.
Because all my training was in religion I was quite dependent on my denomination to take care of me, to provide a place to minister, so that I could see my family fed and clothed. When the denomination decided that my beliefs about the Holy Spirit did not line up with their dogma, I was cast away. Their dogma was a matter of tradition. They did not appreciate me deciding to follow the simple teaching of the Bible concerning the Holy Spirit.
My ministerial training was pretty useless to feed my family. Worse yet the denomination confiscated my professional license and my ordination. That made it difficult for me to find a new denomination. All I was left with were college and seminary degrees and the stigma of being defrocked. Any new denomination I would go to wanted a complete re-hash of what had happened to me in the former communion. I appeared like a traitor, like some unfaithful one, a maverick, all because I saw something in the Word of God that my denomination dismissed.
As a pastor there was always that fear in the background that if the church turned on me that I would be in a world of hurt. So, in my early ministry I was very careful to follow every rule of tradition and try to make my leaders as happy as possible. Later when I began to listen more closely to the Lord I was defrocked. But God took me through!
I was hungry for more of God. And I soon discovered that my denomination and many denominations had little to satisfy the deepest need of God's people for the fullness and total direction of the Holy Spirit.
Now I am a lay minister. That's where God was moving me to anyway. I have found so much fulfillment being free to minister as the Bible directs and without overseers, presbyters and superintendents telling me what God wants me to do. I hear God's voice and follow HIS direction directly by the aid of the Holy Spirit. I am so much more fulfilled.
God gave me work supernaturally and has taken care of me. HE is my source and my resource.
But, I was so bound up for so many years. I did not know the wonderful deeper workings of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit was known to a degree, and I believed myself to be some kind of expert on the subject of the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost. But in reality I was pretty much in the dark about the work of the Holy Spirit.
I would advise perspective ministers to delay formal training, unless the Lord gives you direct orders to go. Instead I would advise that you deepen your prayer life vastly. Seek the fullness of the Spirit of God. Get into the School of the Holy Ghost. Find yourself a real man of God, an anointed pastor or laymen and hang out with that anointed man of God. Meanwhile let the Lord direct you in training for a secular trade or profession. Remember, Paul learned tent making first, before he ministered.
When you find a truly anointed man of God, follow him around as he prays for the sick and leads people to Jesus. Notice how the Spirit of God anoints him to proclaim the Gospel. Make sure your man of God moves in the Holy Ghost!! If you don't know what that statement means, then you will have trouble for sure!! Learn about "the move of the Holy Ghost." It is an old time expression...but it has deep importance!
Also, all perspective ministers need to know that in today's world the official organized churches and denominations pretty much control most public venues of ministry. They will not allow you to be ordained by more than one group at a time. They will see to it that if you are not sanctioned by men that you cannot minister much in their buildings and on their grounds. So if you choose to move inter-denominationally you will generally find that some doors will be closed to you, except among the churches that are free and independent.
Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that you hear from God what, if any, organization you are going to be attached or affiliated with. Don't join any group, church or denomination as a minister until or unless God directs!!!!
Remember, normal church members have much more freedom than clergy or pastors. Denominations keep a very tight rein on their clergy. I know of some denominations that will discipline a minister if he dares to preach in another denomination without their permission. So, follow the Holy Spirit in these things and you will be kept safe. I've discovered that as a layman, I have freedoms that are awesome. God has given me a very satisfying Internet ministry. I am now solely ordained by the Lord God, and NOT by men.
I have discovered, that I am a layman in the eyes of the organized churches, I have MUCH MORE freedom. No one can tell me that I can't preach in a certain city or town. Of course I cannot perform marriage ceremonies. But that is no big thing. And I am not invited to speak in many denominations. But, Jesus spoke more in the outdoors. I have freedom to speak in public and private places to small groups, and to individuals. Ministering to individuals is very fulfilling.
May the Lord touch you and help you. Remember to read the Bible in massive doses. Don't just study the Word, eat it, drink it, take it in, in large quantities. Get filled with the Holy Ghost. Seek for the Baptism of the Spirit. Tarry or wait before the Lord for HIM to plunge you into the depths of HIS Spirit. Even if it takes months or years, seek until you are filled. That is a paramount need of all believers.
I began my ministry opposed to most of the gifts of the Spirit, especially the gift of tongues. I believed such gifts were only for the 120 in Jerusalem in the first century. I have since found that the gifts are for real. The gift of tongues is the kindergarten and first grade of the gifts. If you flunk kindergarten and first grade you will have a very difficult time going on to higher things.
May God bless you. I trust that you will do far better than I, that God will have more to work with in you. God is so glorious!