What can you do now, more than a year from graduation, to ensure that the stage is set for an effective candidacy? The first thing you can do is get the experience.
By now, you've probably figured out that you're not going to learn everything you need to know for ministry in the classroom; there are plenty of essential ministry skills that can only be gained in the doing. You've heard this before-- but what are these elusive skills and experiences?
- Preaching experience. Unless you think you'll be fine (you won't) with just a handful of sermons under your belt-- the ones you preached in class-- you should find some opportunities to preach before you start candidacy.
- Teaching time. Many of you will spend more time in your first ministry teaching than you will preaching; logging time here can be easier to come by, but shouldn't be taken for granted.
- Familiarity with leadership. It's highly possible that you have never been singularly in charge of an event, an ongoing activity, or a group of people. Yet these circumstances will occur all the time in ministry, and you need to be ready.
- Comfort with counseling. Unless you specialize in this, you won't necessarily spend a lot of time in formal, structured counseling; nevertheless, you WILL see a lot of time where your people ask you sincere, important questions over the fellowship hall table, or stop you after the Bible study to tell you something intimate and vulnerable.
- An initiation to visitation. It's almost impossible to overstate how much visitation most pastors do-- and how foreign and awkward it can be until you've gotten the hang of it.
There are others that will also be prominent: small group leadership, organizing and leading meetings, developing reports and budgets, leading in worship. How do you gain these vital experiences?
- Look at what you already do. Maybe there are opportunities for some of these in the job(s) you already have; some, more than others, of course. Ask to be given more leadership, and you might find a number of necessary experiences coming your way.
- Look (and ask) around your seminary. Most seminaries have plenty of leadership opportunities that current students could fulfill, and they know of a lot more. Helping to lead a community Bible study, giving prospective students a tour of campus or hosting them in a class, or leading worship for chapel may be readily available to you. Your seminary will certainly know of nearby preaching opportunities, too.
- Talk to your pastor(s). Finding out what needs there are in your local congregation may be the easiest way to find all of these experiences. Teaching Sunday School is not the only path of service in the local church-- but it is a good one! Ask to sit in on meetings, come along to visit a home-bound member, or lead worship. Be willing to serve.
- Find local ministries to serve. There are many church-affiliated and parachurch ministries that need volunteers, and some may also be hiring interns or part-time staff. Here you may get experience with administrative leadership that might elude you elsewhere-- and you'll likely have ample opportunities for teaching and counseling, as well.
- Serve as a student Pastor. For the ultimate orientation to pastoral ministry, there may be a church nearby that needs a part-time or interim Pastor. Here you'll see it all-- but you will likely find them quite forgiving of your inexperience, as well.