By 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.