Sunday, February 9, 2014

Affirming and Encouraging to the Ministry

Affirmation and Encouragement
"If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task," Paul said to Timothy (1 Tim. 3:1). When a church has within its congregation a young man pursuing pastoral ministry, it is a good thing. It is a visible confirmation that God is working in its midst. He is pursuing men from its flock to work in the shepherding ministry. It's a healthy sign.

Every man entering the ministry of the Gospel receives an internal call. These calls are not necessarily dramatic narratives climaxing in surrender. This call is often portrayed in the called one fighting with God and finally relenting in tears on the side of a country road. In my own experience, the internal call did not involve a campfire, a surrendering to the Lord, or even a near breakdown. As my relationship with God deepened, so did my desire to be in the ministry. It was a steady, quiet, growth. 

The internal call, though vital, should not be alone. With the internal call comes the church's affirmation of his calling in the external call. Far too often, the local assembly of believers, the church passes the young man off to the seminary to receive education and training. It serves as a poor substitute for the church's affirmation. Al Mohler has identified this as a serious problem for the church.
"I emphatically believe that the best and most proper place for the education and preparation of pastors is in the local church. We should be ashamed that churches fail miserably in their responsibility to train future pastors. Established pastors should be ashamed if they are not pouring themselves into the lives of young men whom God has called into the teaching and leadership ministry of the church."1
There are many ways a church can affirm and encourage a young man into ministry. Below are some things that came to my mind as I have thought about church affirmation. These are so ways you can affirm, support, and encourage a young man from your church who is pursuing the ministry. 

Read His Blog
Just kidding. But, I'm glad you're here!  :-)

Be Patient With Him
He is young. He is inexperienced. He is going to make mistakes. He is probably going to do or say something really stupid. Even seasoned pastors do and say extraordinarily stupid things. We have all made mistakes, some serious. When you have a young man in your congregation aspiring for the pastorate, show him some patience. We all have room to grow in our various stages of life.

Realize He Isn't Jr. High Anymore 
When you have known a young person the entire course of their life its easy to dismiss their adulthood. Sometimes, its hard to not see the child. We've all had distant relatives squeeze our seventeen year old cheeks and make remarks about how big we've gotten. Or, our relatives have treated us like we were still children. In the church, this happens easily. When you have changed someone's diaper in the nursery and seen them in their awkward, immature Jr. High days, its easy to not take them very seriously. 

People, however, change. The seminary student, or college student, or high school student is not the same person as the Jr. High runt. They've grown. They've matured. It wouldn't be fair to treat them like someone they are not. For some, it may be hard to accept that the troublesome Jr. Higher is now an adult, an adult who has received a theological education. 

Youth brings a fresh perspective. As with anything in life, fresh perspective could really be beneficial. Don't miss out on what a young person may bring to the table.   

Give Him Preaching Opportunities 
Much of the pastor's primary public ministry will be the communication and explanation of a Biblical text. A young man looking to be a life long herald of the Lord, needs opportunities to teach. These opportunities should not be restricted to children and retirement homes. He must learn to communicate to all ages. He must learn to communicate and explain passages in front of a diverse group in the regular meeting of a congregation. Those men pursuing the pastorate burn within with the desire to communicate the Word of God. Its an intense desire that burns as he is being nourished by the Word of God through the Spirit of God.

Like all developed skills, preaching requires practice. When a church does not give him the opportunity to preach, they are hindering his growth. Reading a book about preaching and actually preaching are two entirely different things. That is not to say that books about preaching shouldn't be read. They are vital. Nothing, however, can actually replace the crafting of preaching skill.

Critique His Preaching 
Ive heard many, many bad sermons in my lifetime. From wild hollering to subtle heresy, I've heard some crazy things from the pulpit. I can't help but think that for some of these well meaning men, feedback early on in their preaching career would have been very helpful. One of the things I hated but needed most was evaluation of my preaching. In both undergraduate and graduate Homiletics, I received critical feedback from my peers and professors. It was hard to stand there as the mob gave it to me. Hard, but so valuable. From distracting mannerisms to my Jerry Garcia ties to unclear communication, everything was up for grabs.

When a young man preaches in front of the congregation, it doesn't help him to give him false praise. If his delivery is distracting from the message, tell him. If he completely missed the point of the passage, he needs to know it. It was at this exact point that esteemed expositor John MacArthur was corrected. As a second year seminary student, his professor criticized him for entirely missing the point of the passage. He reflects that: 
"it was the deepest single impression I ever received in seminary. Never miss the point of the passage. To this day, when I come to the text each week and begin to study its richness and depth, I can still hear Dr. Feinberg’s heartfelt admonition ringing in my ears. If you don’t have the meaning of Scripture, you do not have the Word of God at all. If you miss the true sense of what God has said, you are not actually preaching God’s Word! That reality has compelled me for more than forty years of preaching."2
Critical feedback was essential to John MacArthur's development. It will be essential to the development of the young preacher. You don't have to be nasty in feedback, but you should be giving feedback. 

Hire Him 
Ministerial experience under the correcting care of a veteran pastor is monumental. 
The seminary should never replace the local church. Far too often, the church sends a kid off to college or to seminary and trusts their ability to train him. Seminary education is important, but it is supplemental. Seminary education should educate him in homiletics and theology, and Bible exposition. It cannot provide for him specifics of pastoral practice that can only be experienced in the heat of actual ministry.  Seminary education cannot prepare him for specific situations in specific cultural contexts. Instruction in practical ministry in Grenville, South Carolina will not be that all helpful in Farmington, New Mexico. There are few similarities between the Bible Belt and the rugged Southwest. 

Having a prolonged exposure to ministry is essential for effective training. That's why internships are so helpful. Outside, or even after an internship, hiring on a young man from your congregation to your pastoral staff would be an incredible joy to him. It gives him a taste of the vocation God has called him to. My summer internship at Victory Baptist Church in Montrose, Colorado was a highlight in my young life. I had the opportunity to experience all areas of pastoral ministry. It was in Montrose that I had opportunity to preach or teach in some capacity weekly. I grew immensely. Victory was patient with me, and so very encouraging. The significance of those months in Colorado for my own development cannot be overstated. 


Pastors, Take Him Under Your Wing 
Pastors, like most people, have many responsibilities. Central to pastoring, shepherding, is discipleship. The pastor is not a CEO and the church is not his corporation. The pastor is a shepherd. He is to feed his sheep. He is to care for his sheep. Discipleship is so much more than the preached Word. Essential to discipleship is the lived word. 

Steve Timmis and Tim Chester make some enlightening statements regarding how discipleship, real discipleship fleshes out in real life:
"We should be teaching one another the Bible as we are out walking, driving in the car,  or washing the dishes. People should learn the truth of justification not only in an exposition of Romans 5 but as they see us resting on Christ's finished work instead of anxiously trying to justify ourselves. They should understand the nature of Christian hope not only as they listen to a talk on Romans 8 but as they see us groaning in response to suffering as we wait for glory. They should understand the sovereignty of God not only from a sermon series on Isaiah but as they see us respond to trials with "pure joy" (James 1:2). We have found in our context that most learning and training takes place not through programmed teaching or training courses but in unplanned conversations--talking about life, talking about ministry, talking about problems."3
If real life with its highs and lows is the best place for discipleship to happen, shouldn't this also be the context of pastoral training? Chester,again, writes:
 "Having caught a glimpse of the benefits of mentoring when I was much younger, I made the decision early in my ministry to provide a number of young people with the opportunity to work alongside me. The aim was to see lives changed by the gospel and people equipped for  gospel ministry. Integral to the process has always been relationship. These young people not only worked for me, they worked alongside me. They witnessed firsthand both how i conducted myself in public and how I related to my family. It was a life-to-life thing--close, intimate, and demanding."4
Living life together: this was the practice of Jesus, and His disciples, and Paul, and Barnabas, and Titus. Jesus called out His disciples and walked with them. They experienced  life together. Paul surrounded himself with people. He interacted with and had many people around him as revealed in his letters to churches. He poured his life into Timothy. Barnabas took John Mark under his wing and groomed him (Acts 15:36-40). Titus appointed elders at Paul's urging (Tit. 1:5). 

Shepherds shepherding shepherds is a Biblical model. Pastors, don't waste this unique opportunity. It's an immense privilege. I'm so grateful in my own life especially for my youth pastor, Dave Deets and the pastor I interned under, Jim Welch. These men have invested their lives in me. They have engaged me in conversation, kept up with me, challenged me and served me. They have been my ministerial mentors, and I'm all the richer for it.

Consider Him for the Future
There is great risk in bringing someone outside of your church in to serve in a leadership role. Knowledge of his ministry and his character is minimal. There just has not been much exposure to him. In contrast, however, there is tremendous benefits to selecting a pastor from your own congregation. As a church you have invested in him, affirmed him, seen him grow, and know his character. As he has been an integral member of the church, he has seen the church's weakness and has a vision for its future. If, as a church, you have affirmed him into gospel ministry, why not consider him for the future of your church?

A Personal Reflection
These are not my grand philosophizing. They are reflections from from my own experience, for good and for bad. In some areas, my own church has supported and affirmed me. In some areas, it has not. I have been both helped and hurt. At various times I have been given valuable pastoral experience and some limited preaching opportunities. In reality, most of those preaching opportunities and ministerial experiences occurred in youth group under the tutelage of my youth pastor. I've had less opportunities to preach in seminary than I had  in high school. While in Seminary, I've also been overlooked for internship and pastoral staff opportunities, as well. I cannot express the deep pain I have experienced from my own church's failure to encourage and affirm me in Gospel ministry. A church's failure to affirm, encourage and embrace young men in the ministry has a tearing impact on his soul. There is always that soft bark, the faint whisper, "if your own church doesn't affirm you, who will?"

There is something unimpressive about the familiar. That was the case with Jesus in His own hometown Nazareth:
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching (Mark 6:1-6).
"A Prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household," Jesus said. The people who watched Jesus grow from a child into a man, these people of all people should have been the people to embrace Him. Instead, they rejected Him, minimized Him, and even took offense at Him. These are tragic words. My friends, if you have experienced rejection from your friends, family, or even your church you are in good company. The only good, perfect human to live was rejected by those who knew Him best. 

When I'm a pastor, I don't want to be a CEO. I want to be a shepherd. I don't want young men sensing God's calling them into ministry to not have affirmation from the body. I hope I pastor a church that is eager to nurture the call of God on young men from their flock. I hope that the church I pastor sees men of God called out, trained, and affirmed.

Conclusion
What I've written is not an attack on my church. I love it. I'm passionate for it. I want God to use it to reach thousands of people in the furthering of His Kingdom. The congregation has shown me love. Friends from my church are among my dearest relationships. I'm the person I am today because of my incredible church.

I'm writing this post because I agree with Al Mohler and see the church's (universally speaking) failure to embrace, affirm and encourage young men pursuing ministry as a serious problem. I know from the lives of my own pastor and youth pastor, that they too experienced this problem. Young men, young pastors should not have to go into exile or disappear from the scene of their home churches for five or ten or fifteen years before they can come back and play a significant role in its ministry. This process is a major problem that pastors I admire and look up to have overcome. And I too, hope to overcome it as well. It's a problem that shouldn't exist. 

Affirming and encouraging young men into the ministry is huge. A church can be a great support or an immense disappointment. Don't miss out on such a monumental joy. 




1 "Interview with Al Mohler" (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2006/11/interview-dr-albert-mohler-radio-host-and-theologian/)

2 John MacArthur, "Missing the Point" (http://www.gty.org/blog/B140106)

3 Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008), 117-118.


4 Ibid., 120.