Knowing God’s word on pastoral qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-7) is essential for aspiring pastors. Equally important to knowing the qualifications for pastoral ministry, is the practical application of those qualifications. Most seminarians understand that they have a long way to go, but they are usually desperate to be discipled in practical ways during their years of ministry training. The fact is, aspiring pastors don’t just need to be told about the high standard for ministry, they need to be coached on how to serve at a high standard in ministry. Sure, it’s easy to say, “If he’s got it, he’s got it,” but most men don’t naturally graduate from seminary as expert financial planners and super-shepherds who go on to become the next John MacArthur. It takes faithful men who take them under their wing and guide them like a father guides a son – like Paul guided Timothy – for them to become strong leaders.
In this post we’ll offer 8 time-tested strategies that can prove useful in a local church setting. The list is not exhaustive, and not all of these need to (or should) happen simultaneously. Each depends on the stage of pastoral training and can be a starting point for examining how aspiring men can be well supported:
- Title Them Appropriately
One of the worst things an aspiring pastor can be given is the title of pastor. I’ll never forget the day I went from being a “pastor” (in my former charismatic life), to being a “pastor-in-training” at a Bible Church. It was humbling, but a great relief. I felt like the kid who just got the rod of correction and was set free from the heavy burden of my sin. Aspiring pastors shouldn’t be acting as something they aren’t. They shouldn’t be staring at 1 Timothy 3:1-7 thinking, “Hmmm…maybe no one has noticed yet.” Give aspiring pastors titles like: associate, coordinator, pastoral intern, or pastor-in-training. Never guarantee anything beyond where God has them right now.
- Let Them Preach
Yes, in Reformed circles these days everyone wants a Charles Spurgeon with (Th.M) behind his name before he gets to touch the pulpit. This is a good security measure so young men don’t make a mockery of the gospel, but if properly discipled by the pastor-theologians who regularly teach, aspiring pastors who possess giftedness for preaching should be able to preach in some forum within the local church. Options could include: the youth ministry, the Sunday or Wednesday evening service, Sunday school, Children’s ministry, small groups, staff devotionals, ministry events, prison ministry, street preaching, or pulpit supply.
- Coach Their Preaching
One of the fondest memories in my young preaching ministry thus far was when our teaching pastor introduced me to something called, “sermon mapping” after one of my pulpit excursions. It should have been called, “sermon shredding.” His sentiments were something like, “For 17 minutes you told us what you were going to preach about, then for 7 minutes you actually preached…it was as though God was speaking to people from His word through you for those few minutes. Then for 11 minutes you repeated yourself…then you circled the runway for a long time on the last section and it was getting about time for you to land that plane.” I’m forever grateful! It was back to the drawing board. Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students is great, MacArthur’s Expository Preaching is life-changing, but personal coaching from trusted men beats them all. Aspiring pastors need one-on-one feedback, manuscript deadlines, help with formatting their notes, body language coaching, special study assignments, and honesty when it’s clear they aren’t able to teach. Wise elders are the voice of reason for aspiring pastors.
- Coach Their Priorities
Aspiring pastors may think they know a lot about priorities, but marriage, parenting, and ministry will teach them otherwise. They may have some bad habits (and probably do). If they are newly wed they’ll need coaching on biblical priorities within a marriage. If single, they’ll need to be taught that playing video games in mom’s basement is not the best way to prepare for marriage and a life in ministry. Most aspiring pastors need help learning how to plan their calendar, strategizing workflow, and saying “no.” Keep them accountable when it comes to spiritual discipline, require prayer reports that show the evidence of their prayer life, and ask them often, “What is God teaching you through His word this week?” Effective prioritization is a make or break quality that a pastor must posses.
- Help Them Build a Budget
Ask seminary students what the #1 thing seminary didn’t help them with when they got their first pastoral position. Too many will say, “finances.” Dave Ramsey has made snowball debt pay down popular, but not every aspiring pastor has the 411 on building, balancing, and adjusting a budget. I had no idea how to financially plan my own budget when I first got married, let alone a church budget. It wasn’t until a long-time pastor sat me down with an excel spreadsheet and laid down the law. And that was only the first step! Aspiring pastors are often unable to handle financial planning because they have never been taught. Insecurity cripples them from being honest because many in the church assume they should know what they’re doing, and the spiral of confusion only gets worse when they have kids. Aspiring pastors need to be coached on how to set financial goals, how to pay off debt, how to ask for a raise if merited, and how to ask for what they actually need when they’re scared of being labeled: “greedy.” They need strategies from wise men who have been where they’ve been so that they can lead the church through time-tested principles – not insecurity.
- Affirm Their Giftedness
There is no greater disservice to aspiring pastors than to be led on when they are clearly not cut out for pastoral ministry. It’s equally as frustrating when a man is not pointed in the right direction based on his gifting. If young men cannot teach they must be told so. If they are better suited as counselors or deacons, they must be told so. Conversely, if they are a great leader but don’t see it, they must be told so! One of the most challenging aspects to this process is the fact that a man must be observed before his gifts can be affirmed so expectations about length of the observation period must be clear. All of this helps men and the church avoid wasting valuable time. If a man is not called as a pastor, he can readily enter the workforce and excel in his job, while joining a ministry team and building up the body as a valuable member.
- Model Pastoral Qualifications
Even the best of men are men at best, but hypocrisy has no place in the training of aspiring pastors. No leader is perfect, but there must still be a model of holiness worth following. Aspiring pastors need discipleship from wiser men in regards to how they function when under stress, how to respond to angry members, or even how to handle children who are disobedient in the face of biblical parenting. How should a pastor respond when provided an alcoholic beverage during a home visit? What should a pastor say to a woman who is crying and pleading for private counsel? How many nights a week out of the house doing ministry is too many when kids are young? Men need help answering these questions and more. One way to help aspiring pastors is to make them a “wing man” for hospital visits, membership classes, mission trips, funerals, and weddings. All of these opportunities help them see how the character qualifications of a pastor are put into practice. Finally, one of the best ministry models for aspiring pastors is the study habits of faithful men. When a young man sees the hours it takes to rightly divide the word of truth, and the hours spent praying and pouring into people, he’ll think long and hard about whether or not that life is for him.
- Spend Quality Time with Them
Much of discipleship is caught, not taught. This list would be incomplete without the relational element to pastoral training. Listen to an older pastor preach and it won’t be long before you hear:
- “I’ll never forget my Systematic Theology professor taking me out for lunch one day and setting me straight…to this day we’re dear friends.”
- “One day my mentor at the time looked me square in the eye and told me…”
- “When I was going through one of the toughest seasons in my life it was an elder who invited my wife and I to his house. That evening he and his wife shared wisdom that shaped us forever.”
The ministry that aspiring pastors will go on to build will directly relate to the investment of the men who oversee them. With wives to love, families to raise, and churches to lead, pastor-elders can’t be expected to hold the hand of every young man who comes along. But discipleship can’t occur without some level of life-on-life relational investment. Aspiring pastors will remember the moments that shaped their life forever, and a generation will rise up for the glory of God.