9. Serve the Lord now.

We used to say, “If you aren’t winning souls now, what makes you think you’ll win souls when you go to Thailand?” It’s a good point. One way to get ready for the ministry is to serve in small ways now. Teach Sunday School, sing in the choir, visit the sick, help in the kitchen, play the piano, be an usher, clean the altar, mow the grass, take Evangelism Explosion, type the bulletin, clean the church offices, speak at the nursing home, do whatever needs to be done.  A record of faithfulness in small things matters more than great potential never used.

10. Get a good education.

This probably matters more than it did 100 years ago. One year isn’t enough. Two years probably isn’t enough. Get a college degree if you can. Go to seminary if you have the desire. Billy Graham has said that he regrets not having done more ministry preparation. You’ll never regret the time spent getting the tools necessary to be effective. Can’t wait? Take online courses while you serve the Lord somewhere.

11. Stay involved in your local church.

What I mean is, don’t think that you can ditch the church and be successful in the ministry. You can’t. We’re all in this together. So have a church, be part of a church, stay close to your church. And don’t criticize your own church while preparing for the ministry. You need the accountability of other believers to help you grow spiritually. And they need your contributions. If no one else around you supports your desire to go into the ministry, maybe you should think about a career in auto repair. Generally speaking, God’s call comes through the church, not apart from the church. 

12. Get some real-world experience if you can.

You’ll have more credibility with people if you’ve had a “real job” somewhere along the line. Work at a bank, be an assistant coach, serve in the military, teach for a few years, work in an office, run a restaurant, start a business, learn how to handle money and people and all the problems that people routinely face in the business world. There is nothing like hiring and firing and balancing a budget (and maybe being laid off yourself) to give you empathy and believability in your ministry. 

13. Don’t be too picky early on.

Sometimes young people try to “game plan” their ministry career (an oxymoron, by the way) too carefully. Few of us spend our lifetime in the same place doing the same thing. There really isn’t any rule for what the first step should be. Small church? Large church? Rural? Suburban? Big city? Staff or senior pastor? Internship? I just shrugged my shoulders because who knows what you should do. I’m not saying, “Go through the first open door,” only that you shouldn’t try to figure out where you’ll be in 20 years. Only God knows that–and he’s not telling in advance. But don’t say no because it doesn’t advance your career. Take the opportunity that seems right at the time and leave the future in God’s hands.

14. If you ever stop learning, you’re finished.

Keep growing, keep reading, keep your eyes open, keep stretching, keep learning. Very few twenty-year-olds know what they’re doing. Come to think of it, very few fifty-six-year-olds do either. Your seminary degree probably opens a few doors, but it doesn’t guarantee anything. Keep growing!  

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.