Twice in the last week I have been asked what advice I would give to a young person preparing to go into the ministry. The question is so broad that it defies an easy answer.

But when you are asked the same question twice in the span  of a few days, that does make you pay closer attention. So here are my thoughts, arranged in no particular order, to the question, “What advice would I give to a young person preparing for the ministry?"

1. Read widely.

In the years ahead we will need well-educated young men and women. So read widely, read from the bestseller list, read people you don’t agree with. It’s not a good sign if you’ve read 700 books and all of them support what you already believe. 

2. Learn to speak well and write well.

All things being equal, the people who can speak with confidence and who can write clearly will rise to the top in any field. Take a few speech classes, join Toastmasters, take every speaking opportunity you can get until you feel at home on your feet. As for writing, technology gives this generation a huge advantage. My parents were raised on manual typewriters, I started with an IBM Selectric. The advent of the personal computer means that no one has an excuse for not writing well. Keep a blog. Write out your sermons in full. 

3. Find out what you can do well.

This takes about ten years–or maybe a little longer. In the beginning, you naturally think you can do everything. You can’t. You’ll learn that the hard way. Find out what you do that God blesses–and keep on doing it. 

4. Decide now to be flexible later.

Don’t get stuck in the trap of thinking that you have to be a pastor or a teacher or a missionary forever. We’re past the day when people stay in the same position for a lifetime. Your only call is to serve the Lord in whatever way he chooses to use you and wherever he wants to put you. Flexibility is a great blessing and inflexibility tends to be a career-ender. So stay loose.

5. Ask the Lord to put you in over your head.

He’ll probably do it anyway, but it’s more fun if you ask in advance. If you are so cool and so well-prepared and so competent that you can do it all, why do you need God? It’s a good thing to be thrown in the deep end where you don’t know what you’re doing and if God doesn’t help you, you’re sunk. That’s when you learn how to pray.

6. Beware of envy.

It’s a big time-waster. In the great game of life, we’re all constantly being compared to everyone else around us. We’re all being measured, quantified, and examined to see how well we’re doing versus those around us. And there is nothing we can do about it. Envy tends to be the sin of moderately successful people. Pray to be delivered from it because it destroys your joy and makes you a miserable person to be around. 

7. Learn to do a few things well and the rest just okay.

In the beginning you won’t be able to specialize so learn how to do it all. In my first church I folded the bulletins, printed them, opened the church, led the singing and preached. But I started my writing by doing a weekly column on the back of the bulletin and continued for 27 years. Do whatever needs to be done–and then learn to do a few things well. 


8. Travel.

In earlier generations travel was expensive and difficult. Today it’s no big deal to go online, book a ticket, and fly to Spain or China or Kenya or Chile. Tom Friedman is right. The world is flat, and the future belongs to those who have multicultural experience. So take a semester and study abroad. Build an orphanage in Ecuador. Go to Russia and see the Hermitage. Ride a train through Europe. Spend a few months on a Mercy Ship. Put down the remote, stop playing video games, hop on a plane, and go see the world. It will give you new vision for the global cause of Christ.