Learn to Pastor from Faithful Pastors and Healthy Churches


Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from chapter 5 of The Path to Being a Pastor, by Bobby Jamieson.

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What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:9)

“Not enough is studied about how the body keeps well. Medicine treats symptoms and doesn’t get at causes. Studying disease is a backward way to do medicine. When you treat an ulcer, you’re not treating what caused it. Teaching such things to a patient should be ninety percent of the practice of medicine. It’s not—as done by most people.” So says family practice physician Sue Cochran, as reported by John McPhee in his 1986 book Heirs of General Practice[1]

How does the church body keep well? What causes a church to flourish or collapse? Do you know how to tell the difference, spiritually speaking, between symptoms and causes?

Sometimes a man’s desire to pastor is stoked by experiencing a lack of health in a church. That is one way that God brings good from evil (Gen. 50:20). But, as in medicine, studying negative symptoms affords only a partial, unbalanced education. If all you know about what a church should be is, “Not like that one,” slow down. Reaction breeds overreaction.

A healthy church is a mature, self-healing organism. The ultimate cause of its health is always God’s grace. You cannot create a healthy church any more than you can create a healthy human. But God works through means, through secondary causes. The preached word, made effective by his sovereign Spirit, is the principal instrument through which God grants a church life and health. And God works through a host of other means that apply and extend that preached word.

The best way to learn the art of pastoral medicine is by closely observing a healthy church body. Learn to pastor from faithful pastors and healthy churches. If you desire to pastor but are not, and have never been, a member of a healthy church, I would strongly urge you to join a thriving, mature church. Learn health from the healthy before you try to lead the unhealthy to health.

Think of marinating in a healthy church as akin to a medical residency. Physicians learn to practice medicine not just from books and lectures, but from a residency in which they watch experienced doctors work, and those experienced doctors watch them work. My church’s pastoral internship is one version of such a residency. Observation is half the work we assign the interns. They attend every public service of the church, every elders’ meeting, every pastoral staff meeting, every Sunday night service review. They sit in on membership interviews and have meals with a long list of elders, staff, deacons, and church members. They each are mentored throughout the semester by one of our pastoral staff. In all this, the goal is for them to connect the dots between biblical principles and pastoral practice. The goal is for them to see what health looks like and learn something about how to foster that health.

If you are unable to participate in a formal residency like ours, consider how you can cobble together an informal one. Ask your pastor what you might be able to observe of the church’s inner workings, and on which of his pastoral rounds you might be able to ride along.

Every pastor is a sheep before he is a shepherd. One of the best ways you can prepare to pastor is by joining a healthy church and devoting yourself to being a faithful member. Whether or not a church offers you any formal training, a healthy church will incubate an aspiring pastor far better than an unhealthy one.

I have placed this chapter at the head of the path. Why? Because nearly everything I am about to exhort you to do will be helped by being a member of a healthy church and hindered if you are not. A healthy church is a greenhouse that will accelerate the growth of all the fruits I will challenge you to cultivate. Want to grow as a leader, teacher, and preacher? Stick yourself under the ministry of godly, gifted men. Do you want to start setting a godly example? Then seek godly examples. Where will you find them? In a healthy church. Want to learn the work of an elder? Then learn it from men who are doing it. Praying with breadth and depth, overcoming lust, learning to be a faithful husband and father, studying God’s designs for the church, being sanctified through trials—a healthy local church will help you with all this and more. So find one, join one, and then pour your life into it.


[1] John McPhee, Heirs of General Practice (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984), 81.

Bobby Jamieson

Bobby Jamieson (PhD, University of Cambridge) is an associate pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. Most recently, he is the author, with Tyler Wittman, of Biblical Reasoning: Christological and Trinitarian Rules for Exegesis (Baker Academic, 2022).

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