Becoming a Research Assistant: Or, How to Best Pursue Your Dreams of Assistantship-Based Glory
In all seriousness, I count myself quite undeserving of the opportunities I have had to study under godly, gifted men in preparation for pastoral and academic ministry. The Lord has blessed me richly by giving me opportunities to study under men like Mark Dever and Al Mohler. How, then, did I get such opportunities? The quick and easy answer is that there is no easy answer. As with every blessing that you and I receive, the Lord decides in His will when to give us gifts. I didn't figure out a magic formula by which to fit certain positions into my life. I simply lived the Christian life and, as we all do in different days, experienced the Lord's kindness in many ways.
With that said--and it must be said--young men who desire training under godly, gifted men in preparation for a life of sacrificial, self-denying service for the Kingdom can do a few things to win such opportunities. Here are a number I've thought of, though I state them without any pretense to systematic or definitive thought and without any belief that I have practiced these points with great success. Take these as humble thoughts from one young man to others.
1. Pursue godliness: Strive first and foremost to be a godly man. Do not strive to be a famous or successful or well-known man. Strive to be holy, to live in a way that glorifies Christ, and to do what will honor Him with your life. If you determine that you are called to some form of future leadership that will be enriched by training under a godly, gifted man, then pursue research assistantships (or internships, or whatever they may be). But don't pursue them for your own glory. Mark this first point carefully. Many men do not, and you can spot them. They are the ones who don't care a great deal about holiness, about God's mission in the earth, and about preparation for ministry. They care more about fame, reputation, and success. If you are interested in training opportunities for these reasons, please, repent. After you learn in the context of a local church how to pursue things rightly, then consider pursuing ministry opportunities. But don't start out doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.
2. Work hard: If you and others around you perceive that you are called to leadership of the church of some sort, then work very diligently in all that is before you. Don't seek the rewards of labor without engaging in the labor itself. By this I mean that ambitious young men should tax themselves to sharpen their minds and hearts for the glory of God. Men who need assistants and interns aren't looking for sycophants to tell them how great they are, they aren't looking for staff who are interested in basking in their reflected glory, and they aren't looking for lazy stair-steppers who are zealous only to climb the next step. Such men are looking for workers who can make a meaningful contribution to their scholarship and ministry. If you want to work under them, then, work very hard to make your mind and your spirit useful to such a man. Take hard classes, participate in ministry, speak up in class, get to know other action-oriented guys, and pray that you'll work well and humbly in all that you do. I've come into contact with many guys who think one's resume is shaped by one's connections. This is true to a degree, but the most important earthly factor is being a person who others would refer and who leaders can use in their work for the Lord. The men I've worked for prized the ability to think critically, to think quickly at times, to anticipate needs and requests, to bring a level of knowledge to one's work, and to work with a spirit of zest and energy. Cultivate these qualities as you seek opportunities.
3. Practice humility: This is a subset of point one, admittedly, but it is so important as to bear stating. The Bible teaches us clearly that the Lord blesses the humble. Above all, pursue humility in your walk with Christ. Do not seek to glorify and exalt yourself. Seek to humbly serve the Lord and His church by the application of your gifts and abilities to a vocational calling. As you gain opportunities, speak little of them. Talk little about what you've been able to do and who you've worked under. Talk much about Christ and His kingdom. Concern yourself with what truly matters. It may be well and good to write articles, to pen books, to lead ministries, to work for evangelical dignitaries, or whatever else you may be able to do, but these things are not ends in themselves. They are merely channels by which you can send some glory to God. This is one of the hardest things to remember in life, but it is one of the most essential. Pursue humility.
4. Seek opportunities in alignment with your calling: Don't seek opportunities for their own sake. You might have snagged a killer internship, but what good will that do you if it has no bearing on your future life? Take care not to be jealous, then, of those who are getting opportunities that have little relation to what you want to do. (Take extra care not to be jealous of those who have the positions you seek, of course!) Focus on what your heart and your church members and friends tell you they perceive to be your calling. Don't chase glory. Chase preparation. If an internship under an unknown pastor will prepare you for ministry better than one under a big-name pastor, take the former. Remember, you're not seeking a slick resume. You're seeking a godly heart, a seasoned mind, an experienced hand at the vocation God seems to be directing you toward. Seek what will furnish you with these qualities.
There are a few thoughts for those who are seeking ministerial opportunities. There's much more that could be said, but I hope that this is at least minimally helpful. If I can leave you with just one thought, remember that you are not working for your own glory in this life, but the glory of God. Those who seek opportunities are often ambitious young men. There is nothing wrong with ambition in itself, as it can be directed to godly ends, but the execution of this matter makes all the difference in the world as to whether you end up a profitable, useful servant of the Lord or a self-centered, opportunistic, self-glorifying servant of your own ego. Be ambitious, then, but be ambitious for the Kingdom. That is a skill and a qualification that fits you not only for earthly work, but for a heavenly rest.