Pastor, Train Future Pastors
“Part of my responsibility is to send younger pastors into the land that I cannot go—the future.”
I heard these words roughly ten years ago while serving as a pastoral intern under Mark Dever. Prior to that I’d been a pastor for seven years, but I had never even considered that faithfulness in gospel ministry meant investing in other pastors. I had struggled enough to be a pastor, let alone help other pastors.
Yet the more I studied Scripture and watched pastors I respected, I became convinced that pastors have the opportunity and responsibility to train other pastors. Not all pastors will do this work the same way, but every pastor should be devoted to the work.
Pastor training isn’t just another item on our to-do-list; in one sense, it’s central to our task. We want to protect and proclaim the gospel not only in our generation but also in the generations to come. We must train younger pastors to take the gospel to the land we cannot go.
THE BIBLICAL MODEL
As the gospel went forth from Jerusalem, sinners repented and churches were planted. The Lord called Paul and Barnabas to appoint “elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting” (Acts 14:23). God charged them with the responsibility to recognize, train, and establish pastors to lead churches in carrying out the Great Commission.
But pastoral training wasn’t reserved for the apostles. Consider Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “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). Part of the way Timothy would “guard the good deposit” of the gospel (2 Tim. 1:14) was by training other men to faithfully teach it to others.
Paul gave a similar commission to Titus: “I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). The Apostle Peter seemed to expect younger men to be humbly training under experienced elders while they awaited their opportunity to serve in a similar capacity (1 Pt. 5:1–7).
When you search the Scriptures, you don’t find seminaries training pastors, you find pastors training pastors. To be clear, seminaries have their place, but churches must not outsource the work of training gospel ministers. Seminaries should serve as a supplement to a church’s pastoral training efforts, not a substitute for it.
Being a pastor who trains pastors requires thoughtful leadership. What follows are five elements that go into developing a pastor-training ministry. Reading these may feel daunting, but I encourage you to bring brothers along with what you’re already doing as much as possible.
1. Entreat God desperately.
Jesus gives pastors to his church as a gift (Eph. 4:7–16; 1 Cor. 12). Unless he gives them and makes them grow, all of our training will be in vain (Ps. 127:1). So “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38). Plead with God to raise up pastors for you to invest in. Pray that he’d raise up pastors to serve alongside you, pastors to send out from you, and pastors to one day replace you.
2. Equip men intentionally.
Though pastors are gifts, we also believe gifts from God are to be fanned into flame and not neglected (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6). To that end, create contexts in which future pastors can be trained. Whether you’re investing in one brother or a whole crop of them, be intentional.
As we refine our pastoral training program we are continually asking: if I were an aspiring pastor, what would I want and need someone to teach me? What key books should be read? What skills need to be taught? What theological convictions must be formalized? What opportunities could be given? What feedback ought to be delivered? Asking questions like these will help you develop an intentional approach to training aspiring pastors.
3. Exemplify faith vulnerably.
Many of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in ministry came from watching other pastors in action. That’s because training is caught as much as it is taught. Aspiring pastors should hear us say to them “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1; cf. 1 Cor. 4:6, 10:33; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2 Thess. 3:9; Heb. 6:12). They should have a front row seat to “consider the outcome of [our] way of life and imitate [our] faith” (Heb. 13:7).
Something I always tell our pastoral interns is to observe me. Watch me serve well and watch me struggle. Watch me resist sin and watch me confess it. Watch me serve my family and watch me botch it. I tell them I’m an imperfect open book. As they observe me, there will be aspects of my life and ministry they will want to emulate and others they’ll want to avoid.
4. Entrust opportunities plentifully.
Because ministry is not merely theoretical, training must include opportunities to serve. Creatively find ways to get aspiring pastors involved. Give them chances to pray, preach, teach, disciple, counsel, lead meetings, visit members, perform funerals, etc. Resist the temptation to hold onto ministry opportunities as if they were really yours to begin with. Remember this is Jesus’ kingdom and that he delights in us investing in the shepherds who care for his sheep.
5. Examine their work honestly.
One of the most important elements of pastoral training is to provide regular, honest, constructive feedback. If brothers serve without receiving godly encouragement and godly critique, they will not know how they need to grow. Study 1 Timothy 3:1–7 together and encourage evidences of grace while also pointing out areas where they need to grow. Give them opportunities to preach and then share feedback on what was edifying and what they could improve. Affirm their strengths and help them see where they need the strengths of others to complement them.
At times, this includes telling brothers when they aren’t ready to be pastors. These are some of the most difficult conversations you may have. But if a brother isn’t called or isn’t ready, you serve them, their families, and other churches by telling them the truth. You should be gentle as you walk with them through this and also remember that John Mark ended up being useful after all (2 Tim. 4:11; cf. Acts 15:36–41).
I am eternally grateful to the pastors who loved me enough to take the time to help me cultivate my gifts—and to point out my flaws. If they had not spent time teaching me the Scriptures and modeling how to apply them, I know I would be of little help to those around me today.
Brother, I pray that as you read this list, it does not feel burdensome. God has called us to this work and my prayer for us is that we would “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1). He delights in giving grace, so we have much hope!