He’s out there. Sometimes he’s perceptive of the stirrings to preach, sometimes he’s clueless over the call upon his life. But he’s there. He may still be in seminary, or college, or happily settled in a job…but he’s there. God’s commitment to build the church (Matt 16:18) and see the gospel preached in all nations (Matt 28:18-20) ensures His commitment to call men for the mission. So they’re out there. The question at the heart of this post is: How does a pastor find potentially called men?.
Here are some practical steps.
Build the Culture for the Called
The first step involves creating a culture in our churches where pastoral ministry is defined and affirmed without being exalted. How does this happen? Start with the pulpit; it’s our steering wheel. We teach on the nature of pastoral ministry. In other words, we explain from Scripture why God has given pastors to the church. We talk specifically of the biblical job description for a pastor (1 Peter 5:2-4). This instruction should begin with the church’s membership process so those coming in the front door know what we believe about pastors and why finding men for the mission is so important.
Remember whatever we affirm we reproduce. Installations, ordinations, new hires, or appointments are all opportunities to reinforce the purpose and value of ministry. We can also look for ways to affirm the importance of ministry roles through various messages or illustrations. This not only has the benefit of educating the whole church on why leadership exists, but it also helps establish a culture where leadership is valued. Yes, we certainly need to talk about the important role of a congregation, but that’s another article. Bottom line here is that we want to make sure that the aspiration for ministry is not instinctively interpreted as a godless power grab, but as a noble thing worthy of desire (1 Tim 3:1).
If we want our churches to be an incubator for leaders, we must build a culture that wisely values them.
Stoke the Aspiration
Paul seems to have assumed that God would be at work in the churches of Ephesus and Crete, granting grace to certain men for leadership. 1 Timothy and Titus both include sections that tell these men (Timothy and Titus that is) what to look for when selecting men for ministry. But the assumption seems clear – God goes before us by igniting desire in some men and then supplying the necessary grace to fulfil the requirements. These qualities then become self-attesting; they tell the church that God has bestowed grace upon the man to lead. Yet it often starts with a seed of desire (1 Tim. 3:1).
Prior to entering ministry, I felt a growing, God-inspired desire to lead God’s people. This wasn’t an aspiration I manufactured, this was something God sparked in my heart. We should expect God to be doing similar works in men in our churches. Our job as pastors is to encourage men to express these desires, and then shepherd them through a process which evaluates the accuracy of the desires.
How we handle a man who expresses his desire for ministry can either catapult or confuse him. Remember, it’s a good thing when God gives a man a desire for ministry. He needs a shepherd willing to help him steward that sense of call. Instead of feeling threatened or being dismissive, a good pastor affirms the nobility of the desire, and then finds wise ways to help him assess his call.
In an upcoming Am I Called podcast, Michael Horton tells a fascinating story. When he was thirteen years old, he attended a theology conference which was being led by the renowned pastor/theologian James Montgomery Boice. During a break, Horton approached Boice and told him that he too wanted to be a reformer, just as Boice was. Remember, Horton was only thirteen at the time…and he was talking to Dr. Boice, one of the most respected men in evangelicalism! But Boice didn’t dismiss Horton. Instead, he invited Horton to share the packed lunch he was about to eat. This led to a lifetime mentorship between Horton and Boice.
When a man comes to you with a desire for pastoral ministry, don’t dismiss him or feel threatened by him. Instead, come alongside him and help him think biblically through his desire. Remember, the next Michael Horton could be standing in front of you!
Roll Up Your Sleeves
One of the most important ways a pastor spends his time is in training leaders (2 Timothy 2:2). Tomorrow’s pastors and church planters may be leading small groups right now in our church. Don’t get tripped up by the fact that you don’t have a formal program or well-planned study to take men through. Many aspects of leadership are better caught than taught. Start with just giving some time. Invite guys in your church to a series of ‘ask-anything’ coffee times. Go through some great books together – you know, the ones that have shaped your own understanding of ministry. Have them over for a meal. Find some ways to laugh together.
I’m not disparaging the need for rigorous training, but rather pointing out that the first step might be a relational one. Once you know a man personally, you can then customize a training program to his particular strengths and weaknesses.
A local church attracts leaders when it gains a reputation for training them. This commitment to training should start with the lead pastor, regardless of whether he leads a church of 70 or 7000 people. When I was leading a large church, we made finding and training potentially called men part of my job description. This helped me own the responsibility of raising up future church planters, elders, and ministry team leaders. Sure, it took time – lots of it! But it was one of the most valuable things I did.
Starting with your church doesn’t mean there’s no room for outsiders. One way to attract outsiders is through your willingness to host interns. An internship is a well defined training regimen for those who feel called. Often times, internships are required by Bible schools or seminaries for graduation. A church network or denomination can also require internships as a step towards church planting or a pastoral role. For example, Sojourn Network, the church planting ministry I’m privileged to work with, encourages this approach.
Funding for internships can span the spectrum from ‘non-funded (I avoid using the word ‘free’ because hosting interns always cost the church something), to self-funded by the intern, to fully funded by the church. Things can get very creative when it comes to funding. But to really make it work, there must be local churches willing to host and direct the interns. If any of that is new information, check with your denomination/network as well as any local seminaries for more information. But the point remains: If you build a church that invests in leadership training, future leaders will be drawn to it.
Internships can also be a great way to concentrate your investment into home-grown guys. Earlier this year, we invited six men from our church who were wrestling with a call to ministry into an unpaid internship program. It may sound crazy, but we asked guys with full-time jobs if they would dedicate 15-20 hours each week to a venture where we would train and assess them. We bought their books, met with them twice a month, invited them to write papers, attend certain pastors meetings, and listened to them preach. The program was far from flawless, but it achieved the goal of investing in future leaders and in most cases brought some clarity to their call. I’d be happy to send anyone the internship plan if you would like to see what we did.
Target the Public Skills
Future elders (be it church planters or local church leaders) must be apt to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). This means God will gift these leaders with an ability to organize and communicate doctrine in a competent manner. But this gift doesn’t just spring up at ordination. The traces of it are often seen long before then.
Churches must maintain the bar of teaching for future elders/pastors. If a guy cannot adequately teach, he probably shouldn’t pastor. If we merely target and recruit those living godly lives, there’s a good chance we’ll end up spending most of our time training deacons (which is still necessary and important, but not what we’re after here!). We’re looking for the kind of person who influences leaders specifically by how he communicates.
As you scan the guys in our congregation, look for men who have influence not only by their godliness but also by their ability to communicate. The glimmers of good preaching are often detected in how a man organizes his thoughts in conversation and how he uses vocabulary when talking. This often shows up in private long before its public debut.
Consider gathering these men for a few months just to study preaching. Have them preach at the beginning to establish a benchmark, and then at the end so you can mark their progress and celebrate their growth. Aim for 15 – 20 minute messages, and video the sessions where possible. Give them honest feedback about the strengths and weakness of their preaching. Give them specific areas to seek growth. Believe me, it’s worth the time.
Finding called men is one of the most satisfying ways a leader can spend his time. Some of my most enjoyable moments of ministry have come from sitting in my living room with men (and their wives) who went on to plant churches, become pastors and are now serving fruitfully in ministry. Because God loves his church and wants a harvest, he’s committed to supplying the workers. Yet for some inexplicable reason, he invites us to help identify and train them. Go figure.
May God not only send us the men, but help us to know what to do once they arrive!