Don’t Just React
One of the most important pieces of counsel I would give to an aspiring pastor is to learn to pastor from faithful pastors and healthy churches. Most men, one way or another, are going to lead a church in terms of what they've seen done in the church. They're going to do what they've had modeled to them. The better the model you're working from, the more faithful it is to Scripture, the more you've seen this at work in men's lives in the fruit it bears in the congregation, the better equipped you'll be. One way to see it is to think in terms of a medical analogy. You want to learn health from the healthy before you try to lead the unhealthy to health.
There's another danger here, which is that some men develop a real burden for ministry out of being in a really unhealthy church or by seeing people poorly cared for. Maybe they’ve seen some good fruit from their own teaching or Bible study or youth ministry. But in the context of a church, that isn't as healthy. A danger there would be incomplete, reactionary mode against all the bad things they've seen done in a church. But knowing what's wrong is not the same thing as seeing well and practically how to do what's right. So you need to be careful about being in a reactionary mode.
Learn from the Church
I'm a big believer in formal theological training, but even more important than seminary would be simply to plant your life in a local church where you can really get to know people and where they can really get to know you—especially if it's a church that will give you more access to what's going on in the eldership. It provides great experience if a church’s pastors can actually spare time to bring you along when they do some pastoral counseling or bring you into their sermon preparation process.
A number of churches (ours included) even have more formal residences where they try to bring guys in full time and support them for a season. For us, it's five months at a time. Some churches might have a year or two during which the goal is to observe pastoral ministry up close. The goal is to listen in on elders meetings and sit in on membership interviews and see pastoring being done by men who are hopefully doing it faithfully and to get a workable model. Not that you'll go away and copy every single detail, but you'll have imprinted on you the character of a shepherd and idea of how pastoral ministry actually works.
Coming here to Capitol Hill Baptist Church back in 2008 for the pastoral internship was probably one of the most formative experiences for me in learning how to be a pastor. I was just sitting in on the elders meetings and hearing man after man pray for member after member, knowing what's going on in their lives, what their background is, what struggles they have, what spiritual opportunities were facing them. They had detailed knowledge of every single member of the church, and I saw the painstaking care they were investing in them—getting to know members one by one by one, and then praying for them one by one by one.
See the Complexities
I'm a very thinking, ideas, black-and-white guy by nature, so it was also helpful to just see the vast sea of grey that pastors have to swim in all the time with the complexities of people's marriages and jobs and the struggles people are facing. Pastors are just constantly living in grey areas. Your whole pastoral formation can’t just come from podcast preachers, reading good books, or a kind of talking-head Christianity.
Learn health from the healthy. Learn to pastor from faithful pastors and healthy churches.
There might be great stuff you're learning, but you're probably pretty far from actually being equipped to be a pastor if you don't know how to get into those messy details of people's lives to earn their trust and affection and actually help shepherd them step-by-step into a healthier place. During my internship, I saw all that—and more—from our own church's elders. It's sort of imprinted in me what to pursue to actually grow into being a pastor.
So, learn health from the healthy. Learn to pastor from faithful pastors and healthy churches. If you're thinking about moving and uprooting your life to go to seminary, even more important than that would be to move and uproot your life to be a part of a healthy church where you can get in-person education.
Bobby Jamieson is the author of The Path to Being a Pastor: A Guide for the Aspiring.
Your ability to do your job as a church member depends on pastors or elders doing their jobs.
The centrality of the Word coming from the front, from the preacher, the one specially gifted by God and called to that ministry, is the most important thing you can look for in a church.
Every elder is a pastor. The New Testament uses three terms that are all distinct, but they all describe the same office.
Ministry is a gift of grace. So, hold your aspirations loosely and recognize any opportunity to serve God's people is a gift from him.