A 2019 Barna Report gives a frightening fact—more men are leaving than entering ministry.1Barna Group, Leadership Transitions: How Churches Navigate Pastoral Change—and Stay Healthy (Ventura, CA: Barna Group, 2019), 25. In my own world, I can immediately think of several ministries that are looking for men to fill the pulpit of a pastor who has or will have stepped down. Sometimes churches can be too picky, but sometimes a younger pastor is simply hard to find.
Compounding the matter, churches often receive short notice that a pastor is leaving (maybe a month or two), take time to assemble a search committee (one to three months), take in resumes and recommendations, sift through a pile of names, narrow the process to a handful of men, and give multiple interviews to these men (one to two years). The church hopefully finds a good match for them at the end of this process.
In all of this time, the church may not have a primary voice in the pulpit, or if the church employs a single pastor, no pastor at all. Sheep might wander, finances suffer, and the church flounders for a time, if it even finds a pastor at all. How does Scripture address this issue?
Trust God and Train Some Pastors
On the one hand, churches must trust God to supply their pastors. Pastors are placed by the Father (1 Cor 12:28), given by the Son (Eph 4:11), and appointed by the Spirit (Acts 20:28). We should pray that the Lord would raise up laborers for his harvest (cf. Matthew 9:35–38).
On the other hand, a healthy church will regularly identify and train potential pastors (cf. 1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9). God commanded the church towards this end: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2 ESV).
Timothy functioned as an elder in Ephesus. He was to identify men who were faithful and able to teach. He would entrust to them the doctrine that Paul had given to him. While Paul does not use the word “elder” in this context, it seems that elders are in view—men who are faithful and able to teach.
The point is this—Timothy was to train elders for future pastoral ministry in the church. Pastors and their churches should do the same today. But how?
Pastoral Training in Scripture
In one sense, training pastors should not be difficult. It’s as easy as identifying faithful men who have the ability to teach and then entrusting him with the scriptural doctrine that one has learned. In actual practice, however, pastoral training is often forgotten. Sermon study, hospital visits, working around somebody’s job, raising kids, time with one’s wife—these factors make it hard to simply get together. Perhaps we could learn some things from a couple of examples in Scripture.
Some examples are general. Paul and Barnabas trained and appointed elders in the churches that they planted (Acts 14:23). Titus did the same with the churches on Crete (Titus 1:5). Timothy was instructed about the laying on of hands in Ephesus (i.e., appointing elders; 1 Tim 5:22), implying that the process of training and appointing pastors carried on after its initial apostolic involvement. We should do the same today.
Some examples are more descriptive. From Paul’s letters and Acts, we see that Paul took Timothy with him, traveled with him, taught him, knew his family, gave him opportunities, sent him on specific tasks, promoted his ministry, and spoke well of him to others. If pastors were mindful to give this kind of training to younger guys today, maybe we might have more men to fill the holes that are being left behind.
From the above, perhaps it is most helpful to say it this way—pastoral training must be intentional, but it must be informal as well. It’s not merely the transfer of doctrine. It’s also the sharing of one’s life. And it all takes place within the context of the church.
Pastoral Training Today
Luther had his table talks. Zwingli and Calvin formally met with students and others. These formal times were springboards for further discipleship and ministry.2Phil A. Newton, The Mentoring Church: How Pastor and Churches Cultivate Leaders (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2017), 83–92. When I went to seminary for my M.Div., the professors intentionally took breaks with the students, and their impact on me was immense. The same could be said for my academic advisor in my doctoral work as well. My senior pastor at the time would wander into my office when he was on his breaks and simply sit down to talk. Those intentional, informal hours were priceless and trained me unlike anything a classroom ever could.
In one’s own church, pastors should create some kind of formal training program, even if it is formal only to them. Smaller churches can budget to take on interns. Tie this program into seminary training if possible. Bring these men into your meetings as much as their maturity allows. As they gain a good standing in the church, increase their ministry as you are able. Do lunch with them. Exercise with them. Bring your families together for fellowship. Pray together, serve together, weep together, rejoice together. Budget unstructured time together just to chew the ministerial fat. However you do it, do something, or nothing will happen instead.
Easier said than done, right? But God has given us the command—teach faithful men who can teach others as well. If we do not, our churches will suffer, but if we do, Christ will have pastors to shepherd his glorious church.
A great resource for how to train pastors is found in Phil A. Newton’s The Mentoring Church: How Pastor and Churches Cultivate Leaders (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2017).