3 Ways to Prepare for a Career as a Pastor

March 26, 2020

Training to be a pastor is often exciting, enlightening, and transformative. At times, however, people preparing for pastoral ministry feel worried about finding stable work in today’s job market. “Will I be able to find a job once I’m done my training?” they might ask. “And what can I do to set myself up for success in a job search and in a future pastoral position?

Both of these questions are important. In February Emmanuel published an article addressing the first one. The article explored a number of important trends in evangelical church ministry and stated that “there will likely be many varying opportunities” for those who are now pursuing, or will soon pursue, a career in this area of service. Even so, those who want to be pastors should consider the second question given above: what can they do to set themselves up for success?

An easy way to begin answering this question is to state the importance of postsecondary education. Pastors have a highly consequential role in the church and the world and therefore should have proper specialized training. For this reason many denominations require all candidates for ordination to have formal theological education. Even when formal education isn’t required, pastors should still pursue it if possible. (Emmanuel has been training people for ministry for eighty years and offers an array of certificates, diplomas, and degrees.)

In addition to doing postsecondary studies, there are several ways in which those planning to become pastors can set themselves up for success. Here are three of the most important.

1. Find a mentor.

John Cressman, a regional minister in the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada, says that those who want to become pastors should pair theological education with a mentoring relationship. We at Emmanuel agree. Pastoral mentors often complement academic education by providing training that is highly relational, personalized, and interactive, and they can help the student navigate uncertain situations and make important life choices. As they do this, students benefit from observing their character, their passion, and the manner in which they carry out their tasks. Furthermore, mentors can help students with practical concerns such as networking with other pastors.

Emmanuel provides students with many opportunities to get connected with mentors and build mentoring relationships. Probably the most common way Emmanuel students begin a mentoring relationship is through Field Education placements, internships, and co-ops, in which students participate in real-life ministry work under the guidance of an experienced supervisor. In many cases these supervisors become long-term mentors. Additionally, students benefit from meaningful relationships with faculty and staff, who are deeply committed to raising up leaders and helping students prepare for ministry.

2. Develop a variety of skills.

Those who study pastoral ministry at a theological institution will likely take courses in a fairly wide variety of subjects, such as biblical studies, systematic theology, church history, counselling, and preaching. As they gain knowledge in these areas, students also develop important skills like conducting research, thinking critically, and explaining ideas clearly.  All this knowledge and all these skills are important and will help the students serve effectively as pastors. However, being a pastor will also involve knowledge and skills not taught in the classroom. On a normal weekday, a church pastor might counsel a couple, do social-media marketing, set up an electric drum set, write part of a sermon, and lead a video-based small-group session. While postsecondary education is indispensable, it may not prepare the pastor to fulfill every one of these tasks, such as setting up the electric drums.

Therefore, as Emmanuel graduate Stephen Veerasammy observes, it is wise for students to develop a wide array of skills. It is very important to practise preaching and to learn how to provide godly counselling, but it may also be worthwhile to learn something about music equipment or—to use an example that is particularly relevant for many churches during the current COVID-19 crisis—livestreaming on Facebook or YouTube. Veerasammy notes as well that a wide array of skills is especially helpful in smaller congregations, where there might not be a music director who can set up drums or a congregant who knows about livestreaming.

Emmanuel students can develop these kinds of skills through Field Education placements, internships, and co-ops. To give an example, a student might do a three-month placement as an assistant music director, focusing partially on sound equipment, and then do a three-month placement as an assistant church administrator, focusing partially on social-media posting and livestreaming.

3. Be flexible.

While there is reason to be optimistic about the number of pastoral positions that will be available in the coming years, those planning to be pastors should not expect that after finishing their studies they will immediately find what they think is the ideal job for them—perhaps a full-time senior-pastor role in a thriving contemporary church in their home city or town. Serving God faithfully and wisely will likely require something different, so students should prepare for a position that is not their dream job.

Both Cressman and Veerasammy identify willingness to relocate as an important factor in finding employment. Many people entering ministry do not want to move for a job, but in some cases that is necessary in following God’s leading and in getting started quickly in a successful ministry career. Of course, not everyone can move, but those who are able to do so would do well to consider it. Also helpful is openness to serving in churches of various styles. Those who are inflexibly committed to one particular style of church—for example, the contemporary church with the latest in evangelical fashion or the traditional church with an organ and hymn books—will bar themselves from many good opportunities and may be resistant to the Lord’s direction.

Being flexible is partially about one’s mindset, but there are also practical steps students can take that facilitate flexibility. For instance, students can make life choices that allow for fairly easy relocation and can also familiarize themselves with various expressions of evangelical Christianity found in Canada.

Further Guidance

Those who are considering a career in pastoral ministry and are not currently enrolled at Emmanuel are encouraged to visit the school’s website, view the academic catalogue, and consider contacting the Admissions Team at admissions@emmanuelbiblecollege.ca. Emmanuel students preparing for pastoral work may wish to speak to their program director or other staff or faculty members, and all those seeking employment in ministry are invited to visit the College’s Job Board.