15. Get out of debt if you can.

These days it’s possible to accumulate $30,000-$60,000 in debt by the time you graduate from college. You could double that when you add in three or four years of seminary. You owe it to yourself and to the ministries you serve not to start with a heavy load of debt hanging over your head. That may mean taking fewer classes each semester and spending a couple of extra years in school so you can pay as you go, or it may mean working somewhere for a year or two after your training to get your debt down to manageable levels. Given the current economic climate, this will become a more important issue.

16. Look for mentors along the way.

Note the plural. If you are fortunate enough to have Tim Keller or Howard Hendricks personally disciple you, you are greatly blessed. For the rest of us, we will need to find a variety of people along the way who can help us with parenting, spiritual disciplines, leadership, marriage, decision-making, prayer, conflict resolution, skill development, and the all-important but very general Wisdom Department of life. Most effective mentoring tends to happen in informal settings. You don’t need to have someone say, “I’ll be your mentor” in order to learn from them. But it is worthwhile to pray that God will send those people across your path and pray to see them and learn from them while you can because a true heart for God is better caught than taught.

17. Seek training through the local church.

I mention this because more and more churches offer internships, weeknight classes, training institutes, online courses, and other methods of ministerial training. In earlier generations training tended to happen on-the-job in real-world settings. Spurgeon trained hundreds of young men for the ministry in London in the 1800s through his college associated with the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Look around and see if your church, or a church near you, offers some sort of formal leadership training. 

18. Expect some detours along the way. 

This touches more the attitude you should have than any particular step you need to take. But since a big part of preparing for the ministry involves developing godly character, and since godly character is formed largely through the trials of life, set your heart to serve the Lord, knowing that the course of your life will not go exactly as you envision now, that you will face times of trial, and that those hard times are necessary for you to become a useful servant of the Lord. You may face sickness, you will certainly encounter opposition, you may see your dreams crumble more than once. Don’t be surprised when it happens. God’s leaders must go through the fire to produce the gold of tested character.

19. Be a student, not a victim. 

This follows from what I just said. Victims complain, students learn. Victims blame others, students look in the mirror. Victims make excuses, students learn from their mistakes. Victims are stuck in the past, students keep growing. Victims accuse God of unfairness, students seek God’s face. Victims focus on themselves, students share what they have learned. Students make great leaders because their hard times develop wisdom, humility, compassion and courage. 

20. See your marriage as part of your ministry.

I almost didn’t include this in the list because it’s not exactly like the other items. So I took it out and then decided later to put it back in for a very particular reason. I think many people put marriage in one category and ministry in another. It’s easy to act as if marriage is over here and the ministry is that stuff you do for God over there. But that’s not right. The Puritans hit the mark when they talked about “every home a little church.” As the list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 indicates, there is a strong connection between leadership in the home and in the church. The one prepares you for the other. No one knows you better than your wife. You can’t fool a good wife and you shouldn’t try. Ditto for the kids. Marriage is one of God’s best tools in our sanctification. You certainly don’t have to be married to go into the ministry, but if you are married, you should view your marriage as a vital part of your ministry and not something separate from it. 

21. Listen more than you talk.

I could have said this differently–something like “Be a follower first.” Remember that the essence of ministry is serving others. You don’t need to be in charge of anything at first. Prove your faithfulness and promotion will come in due time. Remember that “everyone is my teacher because everyone knows something I don’t know.” So pay attention. Ask questions. Don’t be a big shot know-it-all. Be swift to hear and slow to speak. And that “slow to anger” part is important too.

As I think about these 21 things, it occurs to me that you could do all of them and still be a washout in the ministry. In the final analysis only God can make true ministers of the gospel. He must call us, he must qualify us, he alone can “establish the work of our hands.” There are no guarantees, but these 21 things can help you become the kind of person God uses to bless others in Jesus’ name. 

I have one final thing on my mind that I will share tomorrow. 

You can reach the author at ray@keepbelieving.com. Click here to sign up for the free weekly email sermon.