YOUNG MEN IN PASTORAL MINISTRY
I guess it is possible that the last two posts on this blog could lead young men in the ministry to think I am somehow against them. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have a deep affection and admiration for any young person who answers the call of God on their lives. And I have a great burden for their success.
But it should be understood that I have an even deeper love for God’s church. My concern is for the future of the church under the leadership of those who are now entering the ministry. My concern comes from the cultural, theological and, sadly, educational influences on young men in the ministry. I want to see God’s church thrive and I want to see young pastors do well. So, what I write must be taken within that context.
Under the best of circumstances, seminary education cannot prepare you for ministry. It can teach you a theological vocabulary, give you are a framework on which to build and give you the tools to think theologically. But being the pastor of a church is something that one learns by doing.
When I was much younger, I would have given almost anything to have worked with an older pastor. I did not have anyone who took the time to teach me what I needed to know. For years we Baptists have known that we needed a mentor program for seminary students. (Our Baptist polity makes it difficult to do so) The best of circumstances is for a young man to get experience working under the supervision of an older pastor and then attend seminary. Only then would the student know what questions to ask.
If you cannot work with a pastor, the next best thing is to work in public, retail sales or something that exposes you to people. Too often young men went to Christians schools, colleges and then seminary with no exposure to the world.
When one becomes a pastor, you realize that you are charged with the care of souls. It becomes a serious matter when your job is to tend to the spiritual development of a congregation. You are responsible for rightly dividing the Word of God. It is eternal work. Pastoral ministry transcends culture and time because you are dealing with eternal matters, the souls of people and the Bride of Christ.
Simply preaching on a weekly basis does not make you a pastor. Some have rejected the biblical model of Shepherd for more modern models like the CEO model. There will always be something of the CEO in every pastor, a little bit coach, teacher, administrator, and occasional janitor. But the over arching model is the shepherd. A shepherd lives with his sheep and he lays his life down for them. A CEO is a hireling. A hireling works for his paycheck from eight to five and goes home. He takes no chances, no risks. He does only what he has to do. The shepherd guides, feeds, cares for and protects his flock. He is with them in the pasture. At night he sleeps in the gate to keep them from straying and to keep out the wolves who see to devour them. A shepherd gives up a lot of comfort and suffers with his sheep.
When you become a shepherd, you will hurt deeper than you ever thought possible. When you bury a child, what words will bring comfort. You will sit by the bedside of the dying until their last breath. And sometimes you will bury your friends with so much pain that you can barely get through the funeral. What do you do with the 40-year-old drug addict who falls off the wagon for the 10th time? Or when there is a knock at your door at 11:00 at night and it is a crack addict wanting your help-meaning your money? Or when the addict threatens to visit your wife later in the night because he knows your not home? How do you help the prostitute who comes to you and asks is God displeased with her lifestyle? What do you say when one of your church members is murdered? How do you preach the funeral?
These are very typical, every one of them has happened in my life, many more than once. You add that to pastoral counseling, marriage counseling, teaching, preaching and contending with church members who easily lose sight of purpose of the church and you begin to understand the burden. And as these things pile up on you, you come to realize that you are now a pastor. And while you are grateful for you seminary training, they never prepared you for most of this. They never told you how to unclog toilets or remove dead possums from a gutter.
Most men called into ministry will serve in smaller churches and do so most of their lives. We have the illusion that the typical church is a high-powered mega church. But most churches, something on the order of 70%, run less than 100 in worship. Those churches need pastors called of God. They need patience and respect and love and the drive that comes from being young. Unfortunately, students in seminary are told over and over gain in classes that the typical church is plateaued or declining. They are no longer taught to love and respect God’s church. I have been told by more than one by seminary student that the professors treat the church with disrespect, which I am sure is unintentional. Nonetheless, the students come out of seminary thinking that something is radically wrong with the traditional church. (See the excellent article, On the Disparagement of the Church,Â by pastor Neil Combe.)
It is God’s church. Nothing else in this life is eternal except the church. To be called as a pastor means that God has allowed you to be a part of an eternal work. The church deserves your love and respect even when it does not love or respect you in return. One day it will be your privilege to present to our Savior His Bride. Can you think of a greater blessing than that?
As a pastor, you are not entitled to your own, personal vision of the church. It is not about you nor is it about the kingdom that you dream of building. We are entitled to God’s vision of the Church. God’s vision of the church is presented to us in Scripture. This is where I want young pastors to hear me the most. We do not need to run after every fad that comes along in ministry. You cannot go into a church and the third week, tear out the choir loft, take away the pulpit and install a house band and expect to keep your position. And if it is so important to you to have a church that only rocks and is not traditional, you need to examine your calling. You take the church where it is and you become their pastor. Your job is not to turn a traditional church into a contemporary church (whatever that means to you). Your calling is to turn sinners into the saints of God.
The fact is, since all of the church growth innovations have become common in churches, churches have been in steep decline. Compromising with the world does not win the admiration of the world. It simply compromises you as a minister. The last thing that needs to happen is to let culture dictate how the church should operate. The world’s values cannot reside in the same house as God’s values.
Now, I am not talking the kind of music that is sung or the style of preaching that you might use. As I write this, I am listening to Casting Crowns and wondering how I can get someone to sing Stained Glass Masquerade in our worship service. Every generation writes music in its own sound. What I am most concerned about is that young men do not take seriously the call to holiness that God places on his people. No doubt we are all influenced by our culture but the church should be counter cultural because God is counter cultural. All culture is human culture and therefore fallen. God is calling us to a new kind of culture and it should be found in the church. It is a God centered culture where we pursue holiness with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Pastors are subversives who are working to conform their church members to the character of Christ. It takes a life time to bend and reshape the human soul into the likeness of Christ. We need to return to basics in our churches which means making disciples who are obedient to Jesus. Without obedience to Christ, the church is useless. We need to return worship to God. It is not about us or what we want but what God wants. It is in worship that we are confronted by a holy God and change is soon made in us by the Holy Spirit. That can only happen when we pastors take biblical worship seriously and make preaching central in worship, not our singing and other things we might do in worship. See Amos 5:21-23.
Holiness and obedience are what God desires. Pastoral ministry calls us to discipline so that we may live as examples before the church. And that is the greatest surprise of pastoral ministry. You live as an example. How you deal with others in their sin comes from how you deal with yourself in your own sin. How you live before them, and even how you suffer before them teaches the things of God. The only way to bear such a burden is to spend a lot of time with God in prayer. And it does not hurt to have other pastors, even older pastors to talk to. The old man who has been crippled by his ministry is a good person to befriend and seek his advice.
After I became a pastor, God did provide good pastor friends who helped me along the way. Some of them are my age, some are older. None of us pastor churches in isolation. God provides men, who are rich in wisdom that comes from experience, to mentor us. Timothy had his Paul. And Paul instructed the elders to teach the younger men how to be men. Is it a need for older pastors to share in the lives of a younger pastor? Maybe. But perhaps it is a God-given need, even a compulsion so that the work of the church can be carried on for another generation. Perhaps it is part of God’s vison for us after all.