As a new, growing church plant with a 4 ½-year history, I am often asked about planting churches, pastoring, and choosing leaders. Among these questions, choosing the lead pastor often arises.
This will be the focus of the article. In general, those considering the pastorate must:
... have a working knowledge of the truth. "He should be sure of what he means to say ... and be ready to stake body and soul, goods and reputation, on its truth" (Martin Luther). In addition to studying the Word and exegetical disciplines, one should read the Bible through once a year. I cannot emphasize this enough. The "primary" calling of a pastor is preaching and teaching. We must have a working knowledge of the Scriptures.
... have a desire to read. Many entering the ministry fail to cultivate a consistent devotional life. Lead pastors should be well versed in church history and all aspects of theology. Motivation to read should come from a desire to learn, not to impress.
... be people of prayer. "The sermon cannot rise in its life-giving forces above the man. Dead men give out dead sermons, and dead sermons kill. Everything depends on the spiritual character of the preacher" (E.M. Bounds). Who a pastor is in the prayer closet is who he is in the pulpit—the passion and conviction of his message is only as strong as the passion and conviction within him. Prayer matters! "Preaching, in one sense, merely discharges the firearm that God has loaded in the silent place" (Calvin Miller).
... evaluate motives. Many want the recognition but not the brokenness, the honor but not the humility, the limelight but not the loneliness. It can be wrongly assumed that the pastorate is an easy, somewhat carefree vocation. Nothing could be farther from the truth: "Life-giving preaching costs the preacher much—death to self, crucifixion to the world, the travail of his own soul. Crucified preaching only can give life. Crucified preaching can come only from a crucified man" (E.M. Bounds). Pastors know that leading is anything but easy.
It was Spurgeon who said, "If you can do anything else do it. If you can stay out of the ministry, stay out of the ministry." He understood the cost. Additionally, most church planters struggle with pride ... they're going to do things better than the church they left. Blinded by pride and convinced that God has called us to "do things right," we might think that we're more knowledgeable and in tune with the Spirit! Be careful here—it can be a prideful attitude—not God—that is leading.
... ask others for feedback. Don't ask those who will tell you what you want to hear, ask those who know you best—your church family. This is a vital step that cannot be overlooked. I will go as far as to say that a man should not consider the pastorate without the support of mature Christians. They should identify the calling as well. Derek Prime and Alistair Begg add, "No church is better able to confirm a call to the ministry than a man's home church—it is the natural and appropriate proving ground ..."
... make it so hard that God has to open the doors. Most church plants fail because men, not God, force doors open. If it's God's will, He will open the doors in His time. Pastoring isn't like a business venture where we can say, "Let me try this out and see if it works." It won't work without God's clear calling. With God's call comes a tremendous resistance in the spiritual realm. The enemy wants us to quit. This spiritual battle can also manifest itself within the church body as jealousy, envy, backbiting, gossip, slander, and so on seek to come against the lead pastor. The one certainty that holds us in place is to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have been called.
... be gifted with communication skills. Although Paul was not an eloquent speaker, he was extremely gifted in preaching, teaching, and communicating. In Spurgeon's words, "A man must not consider that he is called to preach until he has proved that he can speak." Countless "good" people want to pastor without the gifts of preaching and teaching. Communication is a must. After all, we are "communicating" God's truth to others.
... be certain that he is called. "Preaching is God's great institution for the planting and maturing of spiritual life. When properly executed, its benefits are untold; when wrongly executed, no evil can exceed its damaging results" (E.M. Bounds). Some are gifted to lead, others are gifted to serve; it's always best to determine your primary gifting before venturing out. Additionally, spouses complement this role; their disposition and personality are vital to success. Spouses can't qualify us for the pastorate, but they can disqualify. Another aspect of this calling involves what I call "pastoral temperaments." In general, lead pastors should be bold, assertive, committed, and disciplined. After all, they are protecting, guarding, and leading. If one does not possess these traits, God may have gifted them more toward helping and serving. It is a noble calling, according to Jesus.
Theological and expositional teachings are essential to Christian living, but how often are theology students encouraged to fast and pray as well as study? How often are they taught brokenness and repentance in addition to translating the Greek language? We can sometimes be more concerned about a Master's Degree than a degree from the Master.
... move slowly. In keeping with the need for humility in leadership, "A man who feels he is competent, and that he can do this easily, and so rushes to preach without any sense of fear or trembling, or any hesitation whatsoever, is a man who is proclaiming that he has never been 'called' to be a preacher" (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones). If God has truly called you, He will promote you.
Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. He recently released his 7th book, Desperate for More of God, which can be found at ShaneIdleman.com. Shane's sermons, articles, books, and radio program can all be found at WCFAV.org. Follow him on Facebook at: facebook.com/confusedchurch.
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