Those who do not reproduce go extinct. That’s the first rule of survival in nature, and it holds true in the church and in the ministry of the church. For the wisdom of the pastorate to endure, it must be passed along. We are living in a strange time. On the one hand, there are a lot of self-proclaimed, self-trained, self-destructive people speaking in pulpits on behalf of Jesus.
Just because you think you have something to say doesn’t make you a preacher. The biblical prerequisite for preaching is not the ability to speak, but the willingness to submit oneself to careful instruction and discipline in godliness. Speaking to his son in the faith, Paul said to Timothy, “Physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8 NET).
On the other hand, we have a lot of people genuinely called, sincerely gifted by God in both godliness and shepherding skill, who struggle to find their way past the gatekeepers in our churches and denominations. There are a lot of called people who are not exercising their gifts because they have never been coached, never been encouraged, or have not been able to find a coach and a place to exercise their gifts. There are others who refuse coaching. There are still others who wouldn’t know where to get it if they looked. We have an epidemic of unskilled players handling the ball while some of our best players are sitting on the sidelines or just watching from the stands.
We can do better. Thankfully, many churches and their leaders are doing better. I had a conversation through a simple survey of several pastors from my denomination, a few missionaries, and local church leaders from a variety of backgrounds. Here are a few insights I gained about how we are cultivating tomorrow’s pastors today. These insights have raised as many questions for me as answers.
I asked: “Do you yield the pulpit to those training to become pastors?”
Several of those polled report that they do not. Interestingly, it seems not to be for a lack of willingness so much as for a lack of candidates. One veteran pastor reported that he would enjoy mentoring a budding preacher, but sees fewer men seeking to enter the ministry today than in the past. In my own experience, it seems that today budding pastors seek out mentoring far less than they should.
It is as common for a man who senses the call to pastoral ministry to be denied the opportunity to be trained in the local church as it is for him simply to start his own church. Perhaps this is a symptom of a lack of desire to be trained and held accountable. Perhaps the shortage that some pastors see of up-and-coming preachers has a lot to do with a preference on the part of many not to be mentored. Could it be that the church today is cultivating a collection of self-appointed experts who don’t recognize the value of mentorship?
In a small minority of cases, the senior pastor yields the pulpit on a routine basis, at most monthly and more likely quarterly, as an opportunity to hone his skills in the pulpit for present and future ministry. More often, associate pastors are only preaching in the main service while the senior pastor is on vacation, a mission trip or is ill. How is an associate pastor who has aspirations of becoming a senior or solo pastor ever to learn how to preach effectively if he isn’t given routine opportunity to do so?
When I entered ministry, my first preaching assignments were given to me from my beloved first mentor, who is now home with the Lord. He had me preaching in nursing homes and retirement communities. He taught me that the best way to learn how to preach is by preaching with coaching. In some cases, of course, an associate pastor is a man nearing retirement or someone with no desire or calling to anything other than the associate role he or she plays. Often that is not the case. If the youth pastors, small group pastors and other associate pastors today are the senior pastors of tomorrow, shouldn’t they be honing preaching skills today?
I received responses from about 30 pastors and a few missionaries. I only found one church that has an active program of discipleship for those who are on their way into the pastoral ministry. A church in Minnesota actively seeks out those who sense a call to the pastoral ministry and provides opportunities and training for them to preach. In fact, the pastor and a local denominational leader have sat in as the audience for a sermon delivery, and later reviewed and offered insights to the budding preacher on his sermon delivered in the safe environment of his mentors.
This kind of coaching is much less common than it should be. In the New Testament we see that the Apostle Paul had a mentoring relationship like this with Timothy. Writing to his son in the faith he says, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2 NIV84). While this kind of mentoring may occur in seminary, is it not much more practical for local pastors to supplement a seminary education with hands-on preaching instruction and coaching?
What about those people called to ministry who cannot afford, or find a way to attend, seminary? What about the shortage of lay preachers to take the Gospel into nursing homes, rescue shelters, prisons and other places where local church pastors are often too consumed with church ministry needs to go?
If the church today is to reach the world with the Gospel through preaching, we need to do a better job of intentionally training preachers.
Until everyone has heard the Gospel there cannot be enough preaching.
And for that preaching to be effective and God-honoring, those preaching need to be trained. What is your church doing to train future preachers and pastors?
What are you doing to be trained? A calling to the pastoral ministry without training for pastoral ministry has become strangely acceptable to the church. If there is to be a proper pastoral ministry, there must be a spirit of vigorous preparation of upcoming pastors.