Most pastors have a rightful desire to train up future pastors. We realize that one day, our ministry will end and we ought be preparing the next generation to take the gospel to the land we cannot go. This focus, however, can lead us to overemphasize pastoral training at the cost of training “normal guys.”
What follows are a few reminders as to why we must use some of our best time, energy, and resources training up plumbers, lawyers, teachers, and bankers. I will be focusing this discussion on the discipling of men in particular. The need to care for sisters in the Lord is critical and is related to most of the points I make, but won’t be the aim of this article.
1. They make up most of your flock.
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
God has called you to give attention to all the flock, not just some of it. The size of a congregation has an impact on how much attention elders can give to each sheep, but it goes without question that every sheep must matter to us because every sheep matters to God.
If most of your time, energy, and effort is given to future pastors, you’ll neglect the majority of your flock. This focus could unintentionally stifle the growth of the majority of your members who need discipling, instruction, and pastoral counsel. It could also provoke members to bitterness, causing them to feel like “second-class-sheep” in comparison to those who aspire to be pastors. Satan delights in cultivating distrust between sheep and shepherds, and this is an easy way to do it.
One way to consider addressing this tension is to include aspiring pastors in the work of shepherding other sheep. Jesus and Paul are almost always found with disciples by their side. A wise way to care for all the flock and raise up future pastors is to bring these groups together as often as possible.
2. They can reach people pastors can’t.
Before going into full-time ministry I loved working regular jobs. This is because I’m an evangelist at heart and those jobs afforded me the opportunity to be around people who didn’t know Jesus. But when someone becomes a pastor, they’re in one sense making the decision to retreat from the front-lines of evangelism to equip others who will take the gospel into the world.
As a pastor, I view discipling our members as the development of missionaries who will reach people I’ll never be able to reach. My job is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12). If we’re predominantly spending our time with hopeful pastors, we’ll neglect the equipping of church members who are on the front-lines of gospel work in the community.
Brothers, investing in a financier, construction worker, lawyer, or teacher is an investment in people who will reach those you will never be able to reach. This is part of Jesus’ wise plan for reaching the world; don’t neglect it.
It’s also wise to know that some church members can reach other members more effectively than a pastor. For innumerable reasons, some immature sheep are hesitant to receive instruction from pastors, but are willing to listen to other members. As you equip “normal” brothers for ministry, you develop allies and advocates who can help hesitant sheep grow up into maturity.
3. They will help you be a better preacher.
Hanging out with aspiring pastors can be rewarding, but pastors need time with normal people. When we spend time with men who are dealing with unbelieving bosses, the stress of travel, the pressure to make sales profits, and so on, God educates us about needs of our flock that we might otherwise have overlooked. This shapes us and our preaching.
By spending time with men, visiting their work places, and eating meals in their homes, we gain insights into unique issues we must address in our preaching. Texts we preach yield fresh applications because we see how they apply to the men we meet with. By neglecting discipling relationships with non-pastoral men, we’re robbing the church of rich insights that benefit everyone who hears the sermon.
Pastors aren’t just message-givers, but also message-livers. We’re called to be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Therefore, being around the flock helps them see what our message looks like in real life. It also helps us avoid hypocrisy. By being among our members, we’ll remember our own sermon applications and ensure we’re applying them ourselves. Not a few times, I’ve had loving sheep say to me, “Now pastor, didn’t you say…” I love it when friends preach my sermons back to me! This helps me more faithfully live what I preach.
4. They will help you follow the Lord.
Pastors are sheep first, shepherds second. Always. We must remember that though we’re called to lead the Lord’s people, we’re also one of his people. One of our great temptations is to get so caught up in pastoring that we forget we’re sheep in need of care. Fellow church members help us remember this.
Just yesterday, I had coffee with a brother who faithfully serves in our church. We’re in similar life stages, face similar family challenges, and undergo similar work pressures. We both left our meeting refreshed and encouraged to keep trusting the Lord.
I’m encouraged by my fellow elders as well, but they aren’t the only ones I can learn from. Fellow church members allow me into their lives and from them I learn how to be a more faithful father, husband, financial steward, educator, citizen, and more. Pastors aren’t supposed to be experts on everything, and we can always learn from anyone who has the Holy Spirit.
5. They might end up being pastors.
I took a moment and wrote out a list of half dozen men that are serving as pastors today. What makes these men unique is that my relationship with each of these men began as a normal discipling relationship. One was an oil field worker, another was a physical therapist, another was a salesman, and so on. These were “normal” men with “normal” jobs who just wanted to grow in their relationship with Jesus.
But God used the time, attention, and focused Word ministry to mature them and make clear their calling as a pastor. One of the ways God trains up pastors is by taking men who never thought they’d be pastors and giving them this desire. We’ll remember that Samuel thought he knew who God’s anointed was, but the Lord told him, “Do not look on his appearance…for the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Be faithful with faithful brothers, and you just might be surprised by what the Lord does with some of them.