Disaster in the Making: The Worst Advice Ever for Young Ministers

“Let no one despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (I Timothy 4:12)

People love to give advice to young adults just entering the ministry. I’m sure they think they’re helping.

I was a senior in college when the Lord fingered me for the ministry. When my coal miner Dad got the news, even though his experience with church leadership was minimal, he had advice for his number three son. “Start off pastoring small churches. That way you learn how to do it before moving on to the bigger places.”

As if I had a choice.

Unity Baptist in Kimberly, Ala., ran 35 on a good Sunday. I pastored it in the slivers of time available when not working at a cast iron pipe plant and trying to be husband and father, and stayed 14 months. I did them no harm and they did me a lot of good. When in seminary, the Paradis Baptist Church of the bayou community of Paradis, La., checked me out as a possible pastor, the fact that I had (ahem) pastoral experience tilted the scales. That church ran 40, but we lived in the apartment in the back of the educational building and more or less pastored full-time, if you don’t count the four days a week spent 25 miles east on the seminary campus.

The third church ran 140 in attendance, and the fourth one over 500. I was off and running (smiley-face here).

Not all advice young ministers get is as basic and solid as what my Dad offered. Some of what follows I heard personally, and some was volunteered by friends.

1) If you can do anything else other than preach, do it.

I suppose what this implies is that “if you can be happy doing anything else,” then do it. But even then, the advice is suspect.

On the surface, it implies that if one is a carpenter or has skills in some other line that would support his family, he should stay out of the ministry. What about all the wonderful bi-vocational ministers, we wonder?

2) Study diligently until you are 40 years old, and after that, preach out of the overflow.

Yes, that counsel was given me. My ordination council was composed of two ministers from our church, several neighboring preachers and the editor of our state Baptist paper. It was the editor who offered this strange counsel. He was 60-ish, as I recall, and therefore we may assume he’d not studied for 20 years or more. What I would not give for the opportunity to ask a followup question of him. Something eloquent, like, “Say what?”

When I shared this advice with an older minister who became a mentor, he scoffed, “What overflow?”

3) Do not get close to your people.

Several friends say this counsel was given to them, so it’s not as rare as No. 2 above.

We assume this means you should not have church members as your closest friends and should not take members into your confidence. It’s something of a half-truth, I expect, as there are churches where it holds and some where it does not.

Early in our ministry, my wife confided in a lady who was so helpful and had a great attitude. Soon we discovered she was telling others everything about us. A hard lesson well learned. We continued to hold the woman as a friend, but limited what we said to her.

In subsequent churches, the Lord gave us true friends who remain to this day some of our best and dearest friends. We thank God for mature, godly believers who came alongside us and loved us as the flawed disciples we were.

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Joe McKeever
Joe McKeever has been a believer over 60 years, has been preaching the Gospel over 50 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian Publications over 40 years. He lives in New Orleans.