Stepping out of college and into the world of ministry can be a daunting prospect. After graduation, young ministers often feel unsure of how to use their education and apply it in the “real world.”

Rev. Miles Welch—executive director of leadership initiatives at 12 Stone Church—has witnessed the struggles of many young pastors as they have entered the world of ministry. He believes residencies are a good next step for new pastors and are a way to gain practical ministry experience before being officially hired in a pastoral position.

Sixteen years ago, Welch founded the 12 Stone Residency Program to help shape how people become pastors at churches in the United States. Since that time, about 250 residents have graduated from the program, which is designed to complement a theological education with practical experience. The purpose of the program is to provide real-life ministry experience so residents have the know-how to lead competently and effectively as pastors.

Welch recognizes that young ministers have to “earn the right” to lead people on a larger scale before they can be successful at sharing their vision for ministry in the church where they are hired. He believes a servant’s heart is at the center of what makes a young pastor successful.

Through the residency program at 12 Stone, residents are given responsibilities little by little until they become better at carrying the weight of ministry. The objective is to teach that achieving a small goal “earns the right” to head the next, greater goal.  By the time the two-year program is finished, residents are essentially carrying the same weight of responsibility as a full-time minister.

Welch wants young pastors to learn how to serve the vision of the church. It is often becomes a pitfall for a minister when she or he comes into a church with a “takeover” mentality. However, when a minister comes into a church with the mentality of serving the current vision, he or she will help in any way possible to make that vision successful. This also helps a pastor become invested in the church and to rise and grow with the church. A pastor who is invested will stick with the church through the highs and lows of ministry.

Welch believes successful young pastors are those who find a healthy church where they come willing to serve in whatever position they can – even if it is not a position they were originally seeking. Once in the “right” church, it is much easier to grow into the “right” position.

Great pastors are good leaders as well, and good leadership requires care in every aspect of life. It is essential for young pastors to take care of their spiritual health, physical health and their families when they first start out in ministry if they aim to be successful for the long haul. Welch believes shortchanging any one of these areas sets the stage for failure in ministry. The best young pastors, he says, are the ones who serve the vision of the church and make incremental gains for the kingdom.