This article was originally published on The Gospel Coalition.
It was the worst feeling I’ve ever had in church, a gut-wrenching emptiness that sprung from a complete separation from what I felt was my lifelong calling. The music was gospel-centered. The preacher had a Spurgeon-like knack for seeing Christ in the Old Testament. Once upon a time, I would’ve loved this church service enough to shout.
Now? It merely brought a sense of disarray. The spark for ministry that had once burned brightly in me had flamed out. I was no longer a pastor.
Over the next few weeks, I tried to work through what had happened. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the difficult truth. I left the pastorate because I had entered ministry too young.
I felt a call to ministry at a young age, but it wasn’t until after years of struggle that received the outward confirmation from the local church. Over time, I grew ecstatic. I was ready to “get out there” and minister to people. And I thought I had everything I needed.
I had the support of my church. I had leadership experience. I had an overwhelming passion for theology and studying God’s Word. I had the “trifecta” that most young guys assign to their ministry calling. What could go wrong?
As a pastor, I had to deal with people. They’re messy and slow to change—like me. They’re sinners fighting to become more like Jesus. But the more I struggled with people, the more discouraged I grew. And then there were the typical struggles of life in a church plant. Sometimes, it felt as if ministry existed for its own sake and not for Jesus’s.
I don’t think I was incapable of handling ministry, but I was lacking life experience. I’d never had to operate in many situations that ministry threw at me. Previous experiences that could have molded my conduct were missing. I didn’t have a deep well from which to draw wisdom. I’m convinced this is why things disintegrated so quickly.
Those days were awful. Ministry nearly ruined my marriage, and it nearly ruined my relationship with God—after only four years. The spiritual disciplines had filed for bankruptcy. I couldn’t preach the gospel to others because I couldn’t preach it to myself.
Eventually God, as only he can do, restored me, and I’m joyfully serving again in part-time ministry. The Lord has confirmed that I was indeed too young, too immature, to be a pastor. While I’m still learning lessons from that ordeal, here are a few things he taught me from being young, immature, and a pastor.
1. It’s not unbiblical to enter ministry at a young age, but it may be unwise.
In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul charges Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
Young pastors love this verse. They throw it into their quiver, ready to pull it out and fire when an older church member questions their position. And if it isn’t that verse, it’s typically a Cliff’s-Notes lesson on the book of Job and his young friend, Elihu.
I was ready to defend the position in which God had placed me. I was resolved to set that example. And early on, I thought I was doing well. But as time went on, my energy was depleted, and my patience bolted out the door. Patience and wisdom come through time and experience.
2. Sound doctrine isn’t enough.
Problems can’t always be fixed with a theological discussion (as we young and enthusiastic men sometimes believe). Granted, theological truth is vital and must be defended (1 Tim. 4:16), but doctrinal discussions usually don’t fix problems. God’s truths do not exist in a vacuum. Theological truth is like a salve that you spread onto a wound. It applies to everyday life. It shapes how we interact with the world.
I hadn’t had much time to grow in living out my theology.
When a church member comes to you in despair because they’re struggling with addiction or with a wayward child or a cheating spouse, they need to know how to live out their doctrine. A minister lacking the ability to apply doctrine to real life is failing.
3. Time and experience don’t make a pastor—but it certainly helps.
Someone reading this might think, But we never grow in ministry without experience in ministry. I agree, but ministry doesn’t always mean being a pastor. I still have a calling to ministry as one who falls under Christ’s command to make disciples. And I can still lead people. Will God call me as a pastor in the future? I honestly don’t know. But I still have a calling to minister as a follower of Christ.
I’ve heard stories about people sharing the gospel for the first time and feeling so exhilarated they assume they’re called to pastor—when in reality sharing the gospel just makes them an obedient Christian. If you sense a call to ministry, seek wisdom and counsel from others. Go slow and be careful. If nothing else, the extra time will add wisdom.
4. Your marriage is more important than ministry.
Your wife will become your greatest warrior when you’re attacked, and she can quickly grow to resent ministry life if you’re not careful. Your burdens will become her burdens. Your pain, her pain.
Husbands, we are to love our wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25), and we are to live with them in an understanding way (1 Pet. 3:7). Put your wife first. Make sure she knows that she’s more important than ministry. It’s ok to say “no’’ for your family’s sake.
We must be pastors at home before we’re ready to be pastors anywhere else.
Not an Accident
I recognize that I was in God’s ordained will when I was in pastoral ministry, but looking back I believe I became a pastor too young. Why he sovereignly chose for me to be a pastor when I was, I don’t know, and I may not know until glorification. What I do know is that it was all part of his plan to conform me to the image of Jesus, and I’m eternally grateful for that.
For now, God has placed me in a new season of life where I am to work hard, love my family, and serve the local church as a member and part-time music minister. I’m excited about the future.