Posts

8 Ways to Disciple Aspiring Pastors

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 aspiring pastors 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 a seminary like gracechristian.edu/online as expert financial stewards 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 consider 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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 for the brutally honest feedback! It was back to the drawing board. Reading Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students is great, MacArthur’s Expository Preaching is life-changing, but nothing beats personal coaching from gifted, proven mentors. 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.

  1. 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 a newlywed 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, how to go about strategizing their workflow and study time, and how to say “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.

  1. 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! Many 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 and ignorance.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 offered 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.

  1. 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.

Are You Easy Prey for False Teachers?

Modern-day Christian culture is obsessed with experience. The Bible has become a footnote.

Truth, we say, is important, but it must come second to our experience. Modern mystics claim, “We owe the world an encounter!” They’re referring to their ability to help people experience a special anointing of God. One of the newest faith healers on the circuit states, “The cross, to me, isn’t a revelation of my sin, it’s a revelation of my value!” He’d prefer we don’t talk about sin.

God’s Word is being grossly misrepresented and instead of challenging the divorce of truth from experience, the church at large has embraced experience as the preeminent proof of spiritual maturity. He who says, “God told me…”, wins the crowd. Man-centered experience, and man-centered gospels are sweeping across the landscape of evangelicalism. People are loving it and false teachers are too.

It’s an uphill battle, and a marathon fight, but we must never stop contending for the faith by calling today’s world back to the timeless truth of God’s Word.

  • Do you know your Bible?
  • Do you use Scripture accurately and confidently?
  • Do you trust subjective “impressions” over the objective truth of God’s Word?
  • Do you offer sentiments like, “I think” and “I feel” to others or do you point them to God’s truth?
  • Do you find yourself able to discern false teaching because you know the truth of God’s Word?

The way you answer those questions provides you with an accurate gauge of how useful you are in fighting the good fight of faith right now. Simply put, knowing your Bible is one of the highest priorities of the Christian life. How else will you know God’s will for your life? God’s voice isn’t the “whisper” in your head or the wind blowing through your hair – it’s the Bible – and it’s knowledge you need to survive and thrive if you call yourself a Christian.

“To live by impressions is oftentimes to live the life of a fool and even to fall into downright rebellion against the revealed Word of God. Not your impressions, but that which is in this Bible must always guide you. ‘To the Law and to the Testimony.’ If it is not according to this Word, the impression comes not from God — it may proceed from Satan, or from your own distempered brain! Our prayer must be, ‘Order my steps in Your Word.’ Now, that rule of life, the written Word of God, we ought to study and obey.”

– Charles Spurgeon

Some people think that knowing the Bible is about being a super-Christian who can thump everyone over the head with their jaw-dropping knowledge – but that’s just egotism. The Pharisees knew a lot about the Law. A lot of good that did them. Knowing the Bible is about knowing your God and therefore, enabling your life and worship to be rooted in who God is. The what is good to know; the why is equally as important.

In the spirit of knowing why you should take knowing your Bible seriously, here are 3 dangers of not knowing how to use your Bible in these experience-driven times:

  1. You Are Easy Prey for Predators

Have you ever watched one of those animal shows where the hungry lion creeps in the tall grass of the African Savanna while an Impala peacefully grazes? The lion has the perfect strategy in play as it blends into the grass and silently inches closer, and closer. When it seems like the Impala is done for, their head perks up, they somehow hear the lion, and they’re gone before the lion can hit full stride.

What saves the Impala’s life? Those big ears and a lighting quick leap that allows them to cover 30 feet in a single bound! A beautiful design by our Creator to level the playing field a bit – they can hear a pin drop in a hail storm and be from home plate to first base in 3 hops. That gives them a fighting chance against a roaring lion, and that’s the exact picture of what a Christian armed with God’s Word can do. An Impala without big ears is like you without a bible – lion lunch.  15325676887_3e8accd6a4_b

False teachers are banking on biblical illiteracy to exploit you with their greed (2 Peter 2:3), establish abusive power, and do Satan’s bidding. A Christian with a growing knowledge of the Word of God is able to discern when that Word is being twisted. If your mind is rooted in Scripture, it can’t be “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). This starts with asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Bible’s truth to your ignorant eyes, finding trusted Bible resources to learn from, plugging into a trusted church to grow with, and following qualified pastors who take their role seriously (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Hebrews 13:17). Biblical literacy will be a challenge you will come to enjoy, and it will save you from the headache of heretics plundering your wallet.

  1. You Can’t Help Anyone Else

What do you call a person who can’t swim but jumps into a pool to save a drowning friend? Fill in the blank: ______________. I bet your word of choice wasn’t “useful” or “helpful.” So it is with the person who isn’t growing in their use of the Bible but is trying to help everyone with their opinions. If Christians do not continually devote themselves to internalizing the wisdom of God’s Word, what useful insight can they offer? They’re aimlessly dependent on wild stabs at “that one verse I think is in the Bible,” self-help books, and the odd nugget of wisdom that their granddaddy told them.

When answers to life’s toughest questions are needed, only the timeless wisdom of God’s Word will do. Divine wisdom is what people need. Biblically illiterate Christians can only attempt to sell desperately needy individuals their own empty palaver.

This has become increasingly problematic in church leadership as well. In a poor effort to make the gospel relevant, we’ve allowed the “cool factor” of a man to dictate his becoming a hired pastor. Pastors can get hired at a church because of how popular they are for things other than pastoring people. Never mind how faithful they’ve been to the Scriptures or how devoted they are to growing in doctrinal depth. It’s about how many followers they have on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Pastors can get hired at a church because they wrote some self-help books or look hip. Pastors can get hired at a church without ever knowing that their qualifications are listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. If our leadership is biblically illiterate and unqualified, and evangelicalism at large supports that, we shouldn’t be surprised that so many who follow them are biblically illiterate.

The world doesn’t need any more celebrity Christian leaders who slosh around in the mushy-middle of evangelicalism with a pocket-knife in hand. The world needs men and women of God who can take up the sword of the Spirit and wield faithfully for Christ.

  1. You Are Sinking

Christians who don’t know their Bible are on a sinking ship. That is, either their church, their own life, or both, are sinking. You can try pull a “Jonah” and toss things overboard, bail out water one bucket at time, or pray your heart out, but that ship is going down and only all-out devotion to the sufficiency of the Bible can save it. This is not a new problem for the church.

A mega-church was on the cutting edge of Christianity for decades. They were packing out the seats with tens of thousands, drawing people in from all walks of life, and writing best-selling books on church growth and leadership. There was just one glaring problem they didn’t yet realize. When the congregation was surveyed, it turns out the ship had a hole in the hull.

By the time they caught on, it was too late. The congregation was surveyed on their spiritual growth and the results were sobering to say the least. The church was amazing at getting people in the door, but once in the door, they were spiritually inept – that is, they didn’t have deep roots in Christ let alone have a handle on His Word. The sheep are most often the ones who become causalities of spiritual war when a pastor won’t demand that the people devote themselves to the Word of God, and this was no exception.

After some soul-searching, one of the pastors said,

We should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become self-feeders…We should have taught people how to read their Bibles between services, how to do the spiritual practices…What’s happening to these people [is that] the older they get, the more they’re expecting the church to feed them, when, in fact, the more mature a Christian becomes, a Christian should become more of a self-feeder…We’re going to up the level of responsibility we put on the people themselves so that they can grow even if the church doesn’t meet all their needs.

Now that’s more like it.

The Bible speaks to the kind of earthly wisdom that doesn’t produce lasting spiritual fruit.

  • Isaiah said that the Word of our God endures forever (Isiah 40:8).
  • Isaiah also prophesied, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes…” (Isaiah 5:21).
  • Jeremiah declared that a man shouldn’t boast in his own wisdom but know God (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
  • Paul called the wisdom of this world “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 3:19).
  • Jesus said those who hear His words and don’t do them are building on sinking sand (Matthew 7:26).

It’s not a bad idea to go with Scripture when it comes to pouring the spiritual foundation of wisdom in your life. In fact, it’s the best idea.

Many Christians are at different places when it comes to Bible knowledge, but every Christian is supposed to be enjoying the same process when it comes to Bible knowledge – progression!

And let’s be honest, nobody gets it right every time. There is no one pastor who has mastered the art of interpretive perfection. Still, every Christian is called to continuous growth in handling God’s Word. There are no good excuses for biblical illiteracy.

The Psalmist declared, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). You don’t have to live under the cover of darkness. Pick up your Bible and let the light of God’s Word pour in.


Recommended Resources:

Our forthcoming book, Defining Deception, will challenge today’s mystical-miracle movements who hold objective truth as secondary to “experience.” We hope that people will look to the sufficiency of Christ and His Word over the latest false fads. 

Other specific tools from proven Christian leaders are listed below:

How to Study God’s Word – John MacArthur

Searching the Scriptures – Chuck Swindoll

The Origin of the Bible – FF. Bruce, J.I. Packer, Philip Comfort, Carl F.H. Henry

Women of the Word – Jen Wilkin