During the unholy morning hours of June 6, 1944, U.S. Army paratroopers jumped from their airplanes into the occupied countryside of northern France, miles inland from the beaches at Normandy. My father was one of those soldiers. As a member of the rough and ready 101st Airborne, my dad had the best combat training available in the free world. He had studied in vivid detail the topographical features of the French countryside. Training had coached him on the deadly perils of anti-aircraft fire; the shock of jumping out of an airplane into the yawning darkness; the proper way to land, roll to avoid injury, gather, and engage the enemy; and how to handle hundreds of other battlefield eventualities. Dad had undergone enough drills on weapons and tactics that he could repeat the steps in his sleep for decades to come.
But June 6 was not a drill; it was war. He was not quite prepared for the relentless ferocity of the German machine guns, the exploding mortar shells, or the omnipresent and deadly Bouncing Betty mines. Basic training had given him wonderful training, but it could not have simulated the sights, sounds, smells, and overall horrors of war. Only one thing could acclimate him to the battlefield: war itself.
Ministry, likewise, is war. And only war can prepare you for the heat of battle. Will you fight, or will you run in the face of the menacing realities of ministry? Only the front lines of Christian ministry called the local church will answer that question for you.
My father’s son attended one of the finest theological seminaries in the world, the theological-ministerial equivalent of Army Ranger or Navy Seals school. They taught his boy great theology. By God’s grace, they lashed his heart and ministry to an inspired, inerrant Bible and centered his eyes on the story of redemption that beats intensely at the Bible’s heart. It was rigorous and wonderful preparation for war. But it was not war.
Two years ago, I left that great theological training camp. In the months since, it has been my privilege to serve as pastor of a wonderful, patient group of godly people in Birmingham, Alabama. Together we are learning the difference between life and ministry in theory and life and ministry in reality. I have learned much, and I have much more to learn. Here are 10 things no theological seminary, no matter how faithful and competent, could have prepared me for in real-world ministry: