Practical Advice for Seminary Students

Leadership,Pastoral Ministry | Posted by: Editors

By Kevin Schaub, Director of Family & Youth Ministry

Kevin Schaub, Director of Family & Youth Ministry

As a follow-up to Ashok’s recent post on leadership development in the local church, I would like to write a simple word of encouragement and advice to young, developing future leaders. Perhaps you are an under-30-something seminary student, and you’re excited and can’t wait to be a pastor. What practical advice might help you? The following are six things that have come to my mind over the years as I have aspired to be a pastor—nothing really groundbreaking, just helpful reminders.

1. Don’t rush it
 

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a pastor while not yet being one. In 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul writes, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” However, Paul also mentions things like: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (3:6). Even for the role of deacon service, Paul writes that one must be “tested” first (3:10), and there is no reason to think that similar testing should not happen for an aspiring pastor as well.

Also, keep in mind that aspiring for the role of pastor does not guarantee that you’ll get to serve in that role, and for most of us, there is a need for a season of preparation prior to serving in that role. That season of preparation is what should mold together the inward call of the individual to pastoral ministry and the local church’s eventual confirmation of that call upon the evidence of that individual’s qualifications and spiritual maturity.

2. Be an active church member
 

Be sure to take church membership seriously. If you’re not already involved in a local church, you need to get involved. Don’t expect to be ready to be a pastor anytime soon if you’re not already an active member of a local church. The healthier a church is (i.e., the more it cares about doctrine, church membership, missions, discipleship, and etc.), the more helpful and fruitful your time of preparation under its care will be.

3. Don’t expect a leadership role right away
 

For seminary students moving from their home church to another church near the seminary, there is sometimes the tendency for some to show up at a local church with an expectation to be teaching a Sunday School class or leading a small group within no time. Usually, however, healthy churches just won’t plug new guys in right away. The leadership at good churches will want to get to know you first, to see your spiritual maturity and ability to handle God’s Word in everyday conversation. Don’t worry; it’s not a knock on your character or abilities. Rather, it is a demonstration of their serious commitment to shepherding their flock well.

In other words, while you’re in seminary, if you are at a local church for a year before you are asked to lead a Bible study, then that might be a good thing. It might show that your local church takes ministry and shepherding seriously, which might mean that it’s a good place for you to learn the ropes, while being discipled and developed by a group of godly men.

4. Be a student of the Word
 

In addition to the above, be careful not to neglect your studies as you prepare for pastoral ministry, especially your study of God’s Word. Many young men who feel called to ministry are prone to get so excited about reading the latest hot book off the shelves that they risk neglecting their time spent learning from God’s Word itself.

Of course, I think all of us need both, but we need the Bible more than any other book. If you’re a seminary student, keep in mind that one day you will be done as a student at school, but you will never be done as a student of God’s Word, whether you are called to pastoral ministry or not. While you are at seminary or Bible college, make the most of your studies by learning as much as you can; create good habits of study that will last you the rest of your life. However, be sure to read the Word, study it, pray for the Lord to make it increasingly clear to you, that you might see it implanted deeply in your heart.

5. Take care of your soul and your family
 

Don’t neglect to take care of your soul and your family in your days of preparation. One of the great benefits of spending time in the study of God’s Word is that it should have a positive influence on your spiritual growth and your role as leader of your family. And these aren’t things that you can simply switch on once you’re in pastoral ministry.

Many of the qualifications for elder listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 have to do with character; for example, he must be above reproach, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not a drunk. By the Lord’s help, you need to care for your soul now, and make it a habit for the rest of your life. And, of course, the care for your soul happens best within covenant membership in a healthy local church.

6. Trust the sovereignty of God in your preparation time and waiting
 

Don’t forget to trust in the sovereignty of God along the way, and don’t try to manipulate things while you wait. It seems so obvious, but it needs to be said. There are many ways in which you can “work” your way into becoming a pastor, but most aren’t helpful. I’m sure there are many churches out there that would love to have a young man fill their pulpit and shepherd their souls, and that may be exactly what the Lord wills for you. But, should that opportunity come your way, I would encourage you to talk with your elders and other godly men and women in your church, and ask them whether they think you are ready. And ask them to be as honest as they possibly can. 

If you are truly called and truly ready, then a healthy church will confirm that calling, and the Lord will place you in that role of ministry, all when the time is right.

____________________

Also check out Jeff Robinson’s blog post, “Ministry Means War: 10 Lessons Seminary Never Taught Me,” at The Gospel Coalition’s website.

Practical Steps for Leadership Development

Church,Leadership,Pastoral Ministry | Posted by: Editors

By Ashok Nachnani, Elder

Ashok Nachnani

When is the right time to think about leadership development in your church? I would imagine all of us would agree in principle that it’s never too early. But time and resource constraints often mean that we don’t give it serious consideration until we’re faced with an imminent need. Perhaps an unexpected elder or deacon vacancy comes up with no clear Plan B, or a burst of ministry challenges with few “go-to” members to step in and fill the need.

Because of realities like this, it’s important for church leaders to set their eyes towards replacing themselves and training up the next generation of leaders. But how? We can take our cues from the best developers of church leaders there has ever been: Jesus and Paul.

1. The Examples of Jesus & Paul
 

Our Savior spent much of his earthly ministry intentionally pouring into twelve men in a variety of ways, for example: 

Teaching (e.g., Matt 5–7);
Patiently answering questions (e.g., Luke 5:33–39);
Modeling prayer (e.g. Matt 6:9–13) and service (e.g. Mark 6:30–44);
Handing out training assignments (Mark 6:7–13);
Admonishing (e.g., Luke 9:46–48)

Jesus clearly had in mind the day that he knew was coming—the day he would lay down his life as a ransom for many—when he wouldn’t physically be with the Twelve anymore, and when they would be called to lead the church themselves by the power of the Spirit.

The Apostle Paul provides a similar example for us. In imitating Christ, his ministry pattern was to plant churches and leave behind leaders who would cultivate them and see them grow, all while imploring those same leaders to find and raise up still other leaders that will bear the qualifications for leadership as seen in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1:5–16. And, it should be recognized that Paul’s instruction extended beyond the office of overseer to all the men and women in the church (see Titus 2:1–10; Col 3:16; 1 Thess 5:11), suggesting that all of us have a role in leading and caring for others, not just the elders.

2. Practical Steps
 

The following are some practical steps that can be taken for developing leaders in your local church. Some of the steps focus more directly on the office of elder, while others address leadership more generally.

a. Agree on the critical traits of an elder: Ephesians 4:11–13 tells us that elders are a gift from the Lord for the good of the church. It should be your church’s prayer that the Lord would raise up as many men as possible who will satisfy the qualifications for the office of elder set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9. In this process at FBC Durham, the elders have discussed in great depth what it would look like for a man to demonstrate these traits, and then we boiled that discussion down to a single-page document: “Critical Traits of an Elder.”

This exercise was tremendously clarifying for all of us, and the one-page output has served as a useful tool in one-on-one discipleship, serving as a guide for how—by God’s grace—we hope to see men in the church grow. My regular challenge to the men I meet with echoes the one I heard when I was a new Christian: “Aspire to be worthy of being called as an elder, regardless of whether it ever happens.” Think about it: what’s the downside of growing in these areas?

b. Have focused discussion and prayer during elders’ meetings about leadership development: Having our “Critical Traits” document has enabled us to take the next step in having very helpful, focused discussion about a number of men in our church, and it has led to some of our sweetest and richest prayer times as a group. It’s been incredibly encouraging to share stories of different ways that God is using men in our church to bless others in the body and beyond. It has also helped us be more purposeful with the time we spend with certain guys who demonstrate both a desire to grow and the potential to assume greater responsibilities in the church.

c. Make more effective use of ministry opportunities: By starting our leadership development discussion among the elders, it has helped us begin to think about the overall pipeline of potential leaders in the church, and it has given us some context for a broader discussion. Who is showing general leadership skills? Who are our current and potential teachers? How can we create more teaching and leadership opportunities through our small group ministry? Who are our best role models for hospitality, evangelism, prayer, and etc.?

d. Develop a formal leadership training program. There are many ways this can be done. The elders of FBC Durham reached out to a few like-minded churches to find out how they are formally developing leaders in their church body. The approach we are taking has been to leverage some 9Marks materials, have monthly group meetings with a handful of men who have expressed a desire to grow spiritually as leaders, and have periodic one-on-one meetings between each of these men and one of our elders. The goal is to help each of these men grow in godliness—thus building our pipeline of leaders.

I love how Thabiti Anyabwile introduces his book, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons: “A church without godly leaders is an endangered church. And a church that does not train leaders is an unfaithful church. God gives leaders to his churches for the maturity, unity, and soundness of each local congregation. Without godly, faithful, replicating leadership, churches suffer deeply.” Amen.

That’s why it’s important for the local church to consider how they might, by God’s grace, raise and train up future leaders, and why it’s never too early to get started.