Category Archives: Ministry

Meaningful Mentorship for Ministry

As I talk with friends and acquaintances who believe that God has gifted them for pastoral ministry but aren’t there yet, I’ve picked up on some common themes. One of the biggest is this: “My church doesn’t have a plan to mentor me toward ministry. Or if they do, I’m not aware of it.” Okay, it’s not usually said that bluntly. But you can frequently elicit this conclusion by asking someone what path they’re being guided down, what kind of pastoral mentorship they’re receiving, what counsel they’re getting on next steps, and what the church’s timeline is for sending them.

Let’s take a step back and look at the less-than-meaningful method of handling up and coming servants in the church and then suggest some correctives.

They give me service for service’s sake

Men and women with a heart for ministry will do anything—yes, anything—if their pastor asks them to do it. I know guys who’ve had their hearts set on ministry and have spent years plunging toilets or teaching kids. Don’t get me wrong, these are awesome ministries. But tossing a dude a service ministry in hopes that he shuts up or learns on his own is an absolute death sentence for future pastors, planters, and missionaries. If the guy is passive, he’ll stay and serve in frustration, waiting on you to clear him for other opportunities. If the guy is hyper-passionate, he’ll quickly burn out or blow you off and move on to another ministry. Either situation isn’t great for developing next generation leaders in your church.

Instead, give those next generation leaders a variety of opportunities as they are faithful and willing. Let them try their hand at greeting, teaching, technology, nursery, counseling, music, or administration. You’ll never understand the impact of this question: “What areas could you use opportunities to develop your gifts?” Try asking one of the young leaders in your church that question this week. They’ll appreciate it far more than you can imagine.

They don’t give me much/any feedback

Once someone passionate for ministry gets assigned to serve, they get little, if any, feedback from their pastors. They serve in silence. The only feedback they get is if something didn’t turn out well. Good feedback from church leaders is one of the most effective ways for a person to nail down aspects of calling and gifting. By not giving feedback, pastors avoid offering the next generation the clarity that they desperately desire regarding God’s will for their lives.

Take time to give feedback to young leaders. No, this doesn’t always mean that you have to sit in their class or visit their small group. Just start by asking questions of those who serve alongside them or those who sit under their teaching. Collect what you hear and talk it over with him or her. It’s really not super hard. A teachable servant of the church will soak up the feedback and be open to critique. Be cautious about forming internal opinions about the young leader without discussing critiques and giving them clear ways to improve. If they’re consistently dropping the ball and you think they need to put ministry ambitions on hold (or reshape those ambitions in some way), clearly tell them as much. They’ll thank you for it later.

Pairing the idea of feedback with the previous idea of meaningful service, I’d recommend using a two-year leadership development plan. Let a young leader serve in a number of general ways in the church for a year with basic feedback and accountability. Then evaluate their fitness for Gospel ministry. If it makes sense, then do a year of directed and intense service with more robust feedback and follow-up. The goal at the end of the second year is to launch that leader into pastoral ministry. With intentional planning like this, it won’t take long for the word to get out and you won’t know what to do with all the men and women looking for an opportunity for meaningful mentorship for ministry.

They gave me a book to read

Among many evangelical churches in the US, head training is one of the things we do well. We have great books. We attend great conferences. We have great seminaries. It’s all great knowledge at arm’s length. So when a young guy seems to have a passion to plant churches, he’s often given a book (or a stack of them). Sometimes a pastor will meet with him and discuss theology. But who is talking with him about spiritual formation, calling, gifting, and ministerial challenges? Who’s prodding him about his sin struggles and spiritual disciplines?

Assign an elder to meet weekly or bi-weekly with next generation leaders. Use a programmatic tool to guide discussions to ensure that you’re equipping young leaders on a broad scale of topics and issues.

They told me to move and attend seminary

Sometimes I wonder if churches understand what they’re doing when they tell a young leader to leave and go to seminary. Often this advice demonstrates that the church leadership frankly doesn’t know with a young, aspiring leader. It essentially says that the church’s role in a leader’s development ends where seminary begins. Here are some of the bad results of this advice:

  • Young leaders leave their spiritual community, with plenty of potentially ruinous spiritual effects. The doctrinal and spiritual mooring of a local church can be helpful to young leaders as they weigh what they learn in seminary.
  • Young leaders lack the locale to practice the hands-on aspects of ministry. Enough said.
  • Young leaders lose a sense of sending and arrive at a sense of searching. Sending is when a church has your back. Searching is when you’re trying to find your own way. Sending is awesome. Searching sucks. Send your next-up leaders. Don’t leave them searching.
  • Young leaders are driven to non-relational networking to find pastoral ministry opportunities. Most of the ministry roles worth having are not the ones you find with a resume. They’re ones that are either forged through planting/revitalizing or initiated by others who know you well.
  • Young leaders make poor decisions about where to attend seminary. When telling a guy to go to seminary is a “check-out” move by a church, guys often make dumb decisions about where to go. What many guys don’t realize is that seminaries set them up to serve in and be heard by particular audiences or denominations. Stay involved in the process and visit a seminary or two with your young leaders. Make helpful recommendations based on what you know of them.

If your default is to tell a guy to pack his things, consider changing to more of an apprentice model. Can he take hybrid or online courses? Can he commute? Is there any possible way he can get a theological education while undergoing spiritual formation and pastoral training in your church? If you feel willing to train a next generation leader but lack the resources or ability, try asking about other churches in the area that do this well and forging a partnership with them. Do your utmost to retain the God-given task of pastoral training within the local assembly.

Someday, by God’s grace, I hope I can start meeting with more next generation leaders who can tell me: “One of my pastors and I meet weekly for accountability and discussing pastoral responsibilities, and I’m on a two-year track to be sent to revitalize a church in a nearby city.”

Gideon: Freedom from Fear of Man

I love the biblical story of Gideon. And I think it’s because I identify so well with the man. So many people I know possess special gifts for leadership.  Gideon did not have anything of the sort.  Gideon was just a regular guy.  I am not one of the classic “type A” personalities that most people look to in a leader.  I am not a “driver.”  I am full of fears and concerns for myself and others.  I am often far too concerned about what others will think and fear acting alone.  I am a Gideon.

Me at Gideon's stream, where God pared back his army to an unthinkable low.
Me at Gideon’s stream, where God pared back his army to an unthinkable low.

At the beginning of Gideon’s story, we find him hiding in a winepress threshing wheat.  This would have given Gideon a place to hide from the Midianites.  His fear drove him into hiding.  He was not the sort of guy who would have naturally confronted an enemy no matter whether the odds were in his favor or not.  I fear confrontation and avoid it like the plague.  In order to do what God wanted, Gideon had to learn to trust God.  Thankfully God was merciful to Gideon and helped him start small.  The test of overthrowing the statue of Baal in the village helped Gideon to learn to stand for what was right.  God has done the same for me.  Instead of throwing me at millions of Midianites, he gives me small challenges that I’ve learned to overcome prior to taking on the big challenges in my life.  Ultimately God has given me strength to overcome each milestone.

Here are a few applications that I’ve drawn from the life of Gideon:

  • Fear of man stems from a lack of trust in God.
    • Retain a sense of inability and rely solely on God’s grace for the task at hand.
    • Rely on God for confidence in the face of skepticism.
    • Rely on God for gifting in the face of inadequacy.
    • Rely on God for courage in the face of timidity.
  • Fear of man results in a failure to act.
    • Meet small challenges first.
    • Don’t keep asking questions when God is calling you to follow him.
    • Learn to rely on God by expanding your faith in him little by little.
    • Find a core group of friends who can help me meet these challenges, but do not place your faith in them.
  • Fear of man can be overcompensated.
    • When God gives you success and respect, don’t squander it on yourself.
    • When God gives you success and respect, invest in discipling your successors.

Ultimately, Christ alone stands as the supreme example of one who served without succumbing to fear of man or any sort of overreaction in the opposite direction. In his final hours he stood silent as accused, trusting the sovereign love of the Father. And he stands in my place as victor over this fear that I still, Gideon-like, do battle against.

From Boys to Men: Discipleship for Maturity

For some reason, the pre-teen and early teen years are some of the most important years of a person’s life. These are the years when critical decisions are made that will affect the trajectory of one’s life. And it was in these years that this quirky rail of a homeschooled teenager learned some important lessons about discipleship from two of my Sunday School teachers. I’d like to share these lessons as a tribute to these two childhood heroes of mine.

Discipleship doesn’t mean having all the answers.

I think a lot of us fear engaging others in discipleship relationships because we see that we’re still a work in progress. We see our flaws and our lack of knowledge as a hinderance to effective discipleship. But the two men that had an amazing formative impact in my life would be the first to admit that they didn’t have all the answers either. In fact, it was when we discussed tough theology or wrestled through difficult applications and they admitted the complexity that I was driven back to the Word and to deeper study on my own. Sometimes knowing the right questions to ask is better than knowing the right answers to those questions.

Discipleship doesn’t require someone amazing.

The funny thing about my childhood mentors is that they came from the two segments of the church population that are often the most marginalized and under-utilized: the singles and the divorced. Rather than seeing themselves as exceptions to God’s plan and placing themselves on the bench, these men stepped up and used their gifts anyways. As I’m writing this, I can’t help but think of the army of men and women who are sitting by watching the next generation of the church be mentored by the world, making excuses because they aren’t that hip. But making disciples isn’t a task reserved for the cool and the popular — making disciples is the mandate for *every* believer. And maybe that’s why the sidelined Christians do such a good job at it. Your impact as a discipler will always be disproportionate to who you think you are.
It is quite possible that you feel like you’re one of those sidelined groups in the church. Maybe you’re an older saint who doesn’t feel wanted in the lives of the young and progressive in the congregation. It’s easy to make the assumption that they don’t want you to disciple them and then just check-out. But, guess what, they *really do* desire your investment in their lives! No, they don’t want you to try to make them into little clones, and they aren’t looking for a list of preferences; they want someone to adopt them and grow with them.

Discipleship isn’t about following a program.

Here’s what discipleship looked like for me: cutting the church lawn in the dead of summer, watching thousands of Southwest Airlines 737’s landing at BWI airport, going on homeschooler field trips to historical sites, and gathering before church on Sundays to pray and talk about the Bible. None of this involved a book with pictures and blanks to fill in. None of this happened because someone at the top told them to do this. It happened because a couple guys had a vision and compassion for the next generation of the church. Sometimes our desire for programs and paperwork simply crowd out the real work of discipleship. I want to encourage you to put down the curriculum and pick up someone on your way to church. Stop waiting for administrative guidance and take some guys on a journey that will lead them to Jesus.

Discipleship doesn’t involve accepting the status quo.

Discipleship will break up your routines. If you’re just a Sunday-show-up-and-leave kind of Christian, discipleship is going to make you bend and break. It will demand that you arrange a morning coffee, invest your Saturdays, or turn Sundays into days of all-out ministry. The status quo is all about staying in your comfort zone and catering to your own needs; discipleship is all about breaking out of your comfort zone and ministering to the needs of others. Start small and build from there. Target a opening in your schedule and use it to make the maximum difference.

Discipleship isn’t neat and clean.

If there’s one thing I learned from being discipled by these two men is that discipleship will always cost you something. Maybe it’s the cost of a plane ticket or just a meal. Maybe it’s the time to visit a teen and his family at home. Maybe it’s the physical exertion that it takes to mow the church lawn or get rid of the leaves at a widow’s home alongside your disciple. I don’t know exactly what discipleship will look like for you, but here’s an idea: when you think of discipleship, think of Jesus. Think of guys trudging across the countryside, rowing across a sea in the middle of a storm, or starving hungry trying to figure out where to eat their next meal. This is where the real work of discipleship happens. Discipleship won’t happen as long as we remain in the pristine corridors of our churches or in the comforts of our homes. Discipleship will cost you something.
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Dedicated to Mr. Dave and Mr. Walt — selfless men with an incalculable eternal impact.

5 Necessities for Guys Pursuing Vocational Ministry

For starters, I need to make a few caveats. First, I’m not in ministry yet. I’m certainly headed in that direction, but these are some things I’ve learned while on that path. Second, I haven’t done all of this perfectly. Just because I’m recommending that you do these things doesn’t mean that I was a success in these areas. Finally, even if you aren’t planning on going into vocational ministry, these pointers may help you think about how you or your church can help a guy who is!

A Personal Walk with God

You can fake your content and your efforts for awhile, but, over time, people will see through the facade. Don’t fool yourself into complacency by resting on the results of your teaching in the lives of others; your personal relationship with God is a wholly different matter.
There are several methods of developing your walk that I found particularly helpful as a man preparing for ministry:
  1. Praying Scripture: after you read the passage and certainly before you teach it, take some time to reduce the text into a series of praises and requests. Write these out and pray them to God.
  2. Stillness: As a guy prepping for ministry, your life is a chaotic mess. I’ve been there. Use your commute to school or work as a time for quiet meditation. Turn off the radio. Don’t pull out your phone. Spend some time with God. If you don’t have this opportunity, find another time in your schedule when you can spend this time of quiet and meditation.
  3. Tuning Your Emotions: As a student of Scripture, you’ll be inclined to make the Bible an academic exercise or perhaps a sheer volitional effort. Have you forgotten that the Law of God is a delight? Have you ever told your Father that you love him? Do you get excited about going to worship your God? Do people see your overflowing joy? God wants your whole person: mind, will, and emotions.

Openness and Accountability

Don’t think that your theological studies make you superior to your brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s easy to use your training as an excuse for cloistering yourself and avoiding substantive communication with other believers. This subtle form of superiority undermines the openness and accountability that you desperately need. Staying open about your struggles will go a long way in keeping you humble as you move out into ministry.
These are a number of ways to foster openness and accountability:
  1. Committing to a local church. See below.
  2. Seeking out men from the church to study and pray with. Meet with a group of 4 or 5 guys throughout the week. Engage with them and begin sharing the ways that God is working in your life.
  3. Developing close accountability relationships with 1 or 2 men. Maybe these guys are part of the previous group, but regardless, these men need to be ones that you’re willing to be 100% honest with regarding your struggles. They’ll be able to provide you with invaluable insight as you head into the ministry.
Remember that accountability won’t come to you unless you invite it. Seek it out and don’t tune it out once it starts. Be willing to hear what hurts.

Support from a Local Body of Believers

Find a church and pastor that are willing to invest in you and that you’re going to invest in too. Once you’ve earned the trust of the people and the leadership of the church, begin discussing your goals and needs. Plan to invest at least 3-5 years in this church (this is usually the time that it takes to finish an MDiv). As your gifts become evident in the ministry of this body, they should be willing to take concrete steps to recognize your calling (Acts 13:1). This may involve taking one or more of the following actions:
  1. Formally introducing you to likeminded churches as approved for Gospel ministry
  2. Providing a paid internship
  3. Funding your education
  4. Initiating an ordination council
  5. Hiring you as full-time staff
  6. Becoming your sending church
The level of the church’s willingness and ability to assist you should be gauged about halfway through your planned time of ministry in this church.
If a church is unwilling to assist in a concrete way, you need to probe the reasoning behind this. If the church leadership is reluctant to assist in these ways, you need to determine the reasoning of the leadership. If they believe that you are unqualified for ministry, then you must engage in a period of self-evaluation in order to determine whether or not vocational ministry is the right place for you. In the rare and unfortunate case that the leadership believes that you are qualified, but they don’t have relationships or resources to assist you, then you need to sit down with the leadership immediately in order to structure a plan of action.

Two-Pronged Preparation

Ministry + Academics. You need both of them.
I know plenty of guys who are great at ministry, and so they put their whole efforts into the work of the ministry without putting much effort into their academic preparation for ministry. This approach lends itself to a man finding ministries that will use and abuse him. Often these guys end up burning themselves out and struggling to feed their congregations. By failing to pursue academic training, these pastors only shortchange themselves and their congregants over time.
I also know other guys who’ve mistakenly placed their sole focus on collecting degrees. Often, this misguided course of action is due to the influence of an academically-minded leader in a man’s life. This approach lends itself to a man finding few ministries that are willing to accept him. His grades and studies only go so far in making him a viable candidate for ministry. Failure to gain practical hands-on ministry experience will short-circuit his attempts to enter the ministry.
As you follow the advice of your mentors, be sure not to skew too far towards either of these extremes. Couple your participation in ministry with your preparation for ministry.

Personal Development

I can hardly stress this enough. I’ve seen a lot of peers rush into pastoral ministry and end up making a lot of stupid mistakes because of their immaturity. Here are four areas of personal development that I think guys should work on/allow to happen prior to entering the ministry:
  1. Age and maturity. I’ve seen very few fresh-faced college grads who have the maturity and fortitude for pastoral ministry. Be patient during your 20’s. It’s okay if God in his providence delays your entrance into ministry.
  2. Family. Develop your relationship with your wife and maybe even experience having a child before you head out into ministry. The marriage relationship requires a substantial learning curve, and your first child will also tax you and your wife to the breaking point. Trying to clear these hurdles while also acclimating to the complexities and demands of ministry may be more than necessary. Another advantage of waiting for the blessing of family is that having a family better equips you to deal with the needs of the congregation — most of which have families.
  3. Life experience. Your experience in the corporate world will serve you well in ministry. Pastors who rush into ministry without real-world experience often struggle to make real applications in a number of areas. For example, it’s one thing to tell people in the pew that they need to be sharing the Gospel in their workplaces, but it’s wholly different to be able to explain how to navigate the complexities of the work environment while sharing the Gospel at the same time.
  4. Cultural experience. Read the classics. Read from atheists and heretics. Read the Puritans and Church Fathers. Study creeds and confessions. Watch old and new movies. Listen to a broad range of music and enjoy poetry. Learn a language. Travel. Meet and talk with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Then take all of that experience and bring it into your ministry.
I’ve struggled through the years with what I see as delays in entering ministry, but all along I can see how God has been seasoning and growing me in these areas of personal development.
Are there other necessities that I’ve missed in here? Feel free to add more in the comment section!