How to Become a Minister
The steps to become a minister are specific to each religious community and each ordaining body. There are some common characteristics though that you should consider and have in mind if you are considering becoming a minister. Though there are ways to become an ordained minister that are easy and quick (you can get ordained online) they usually are not respected and cheat the process. Instead, consider the steps this article outlines as the better way to become a minister and get ordained.
Explore Your Calling
When you decide to become a minister you are pursuing a vocation. Your primary calling is devotion to God. Your secondary calling is your profession or career: what good will you bring to the world? This calling should have several components, though not necessarily in this order: a sense of compulsion or divine will, confirmation by your worshipping community, and giftedness for ministry revealed by positive results of ministerial efforts.
For some "the call" is a supernatural or mystical experience from which they cannot escape: a dream, an image implanted, a thought during prayer that can't be chased away, a scripture that jumps off the page, and so forth. For others, it is a growing and compelling urge to be a minister. You are not called to become a minister in isolation though.
There are a lot of crazies claiming to be a minister. Your community needs to affirm and confirm your calling. The exception to this rule is a prejudiced community that oppresses a marginalized person (for example, a woman.) If this is the case generally speaking a different community will affirm your call over time.
Finally, even though you may feel a compulsion or have a mystical experience and have a community that confirms it, the proof is in the pudding. This does not mean you have to be the next Billy Graham, Harry Fosdick, Mother Theresa, reincarnate Confucius or Maccabbee. It simply means your ministry should minister to people. The community you trust most should confirm some level of gifting and ability.
If you sense the call, your community is confirming, and your gifts are emerging then do good in the world. This does not mean you should skip training, apprenticeship, or ordination. It simply means you don't need to put off pursuing your passion until the world officially sanctions you as a minister. Ministry is something you learn along the way from the ground up. Find a spot to volunteer and get plugged in to the life of your worshipping community. You will learn the most about becoming a minister through ongoing participation in your practices of faith and reflection on how your participation went. Get involved.
Get Ministerial Training
Different worship traditions offer training differently. The African American church generally assigns an old mentor to a person who announces their call. When the mentor thinks the apprentice is ready they will preach a "trial sermon." The people are gracious and want the person to do well and verbally encourage them along the sermon's way. When the community thinks that minister is ready, they may send them off to get official education or training and pursue ordination. White Mainline churches often require seminary level education and stringent processes toward licensing before significant positions of ministry are able to be held. Evangelical congregations generally fall somewhere in between with Pentecostals allowing a lot more leeway for the methods of ministerial development.
Ask a trusted minister what the best process for your faith tradition is. What is the accepted route? You don't necessarily have to follow that route in a lock-step fashion. But it's wise to know the expectations and the marks of a minister in your tradition. Consider theological education and ministerial training extremely valuable and worthwhile pursuits. Those ministers who take every step of training and education seriously generally speaking do much better than those who see it as merely a hoop through which they have to jump. Training and education in ordained ministry can save you many mistakes and headaches over time.
You may not feel that ordained ministry is your calling and that is fine. Many ministers stay at a lay level or a licensed level of some sort short of ordination. However, if you can and are not opposed to it, ordination will provide you with many more open doors for ministry. Ordained ministers are assumed to be better equipped and are given more credence and respect in nearly every community. Ordination is also the dividing line in many faith communities between who can perform certain practices of the church and who cannot. More importantly, ordination is the step where not only your faith community but the broader community of ministers says to you "Yes, we agree you should are called. You should become a minister."
* See other related articles and resources above and in the sidebars for more information and help on becoming a minister.
© David B Ward, 2010. All rights reserved.