Ken Idleman, who served as president of Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Mo., from 1979 to 2006, and later served as senior pastor with Crossroads Christian Church in Newburgh, Indiana, shares this advice for aspiring young preachers in the August 2020 issue of Christian Standard. (This is a sidebar to the article “7 Practical Guidelines When Hiring a Young Leader,” which also appears in the August issue.)
By Ken Idleman
If I were counseling an aspiring young preacher fresh out of Bible college or seminary, champing at the bit to lead in the church, I would offer these three bits of advice:
1. Confirm your calling. If you have a strong sense of God’s calling on your life to preach the Word and serve the church, you will not take no for an answer. The apostle admonished us, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do . . . you will never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10). Of course, in context, Peter is talking about our salvation calling, not our vocational calling. But there is a principle here: we must confirm our calling to full-time vocational ministry if we want to endure. When you know God has called you, it will be enough to sustain you on those days when you are criticized, when you are weary in well-doing, when you are not paid what you think you are worth.
2. Be content and wait on the Lord. Chances are you will not get your first choice of opportunities right out of college or seminary. Trust God to open the right door for you. Make him your partner by committing to focused prayer. His plan may not perfectly match your ambition. Proverbs 16:9 is relevant here: “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (New Living Translation). Be content. Bloom where you are planted and wait on the Lord.
I was fresh out of seminary with my Master of Divinity degree in 1973. I wanted to preach, but my only two opportunities were to serve as an associate minister in churches of fewer than 1,000 in Atlanta and Indianapolis. Then I got a call from Ozark Christian College to teach in the areas of Bible and preaching. But I wanted to lead a local church. I really did not see myself as a teacher. So I thought, OK, Lord, I will teach for a few years and then seek a located ministry. I ended up teaching for four years and then transitioned to serve the college in administration for the next 30 years. Then, at age 59, I was called to serve a great church for a decade. Looking back, I would not change a thing. I am glad my heavenly Father was directing my steps.
3. Learn the joy of sacrifice. I have known some men who decided to drop out of full-time church leadership because of their perceived financial deprivation. I understand that the ministry is not a lucrative profession. At the same time, I can truthfully say I have always “felt” overpaid. I determined somewhere along the way that I would not set my salary, ask for a raise, charge a fee for my service, or market myself.
I remember hearing missionary Isabel Dittamore speak. She casually mentioned that before going to China in her late twenties (for a lifetime/no furloughs), she had all of her teeth pulled and was fitted with dentures so she would not have to be burdened with dental problems on the mission field. That changed my perception of what it means to sacrifice in serving Jesus.