Why don’t pastors prepare new leaders? I batted this question around with two ministry colleagues. From those conversations, we developed a list of nine reasons pastors don’t prepare leaders. The reasons vary, but all result in a pastor who neglects a fundamental part of his role (2 Tim. 2:2).
Do you identify with any of these reasons?
- “I’m too busy pastoring the church”
Here the pastor states that the tasks of caring for the flock, church administration, and preparing preaching and teaching take up all their time. There’s no time left to pour into men who have leadership potential. Often, such a pastor lives under a “tyranny of the urgent,” always putting out fires and trying to satisfy people’s demands. He may even feel affirmed, feeding off the praise he receives from those he serves. The years go by without investment in a future generation of leaders.
- “I don’t have any qualified candidates”
This pastor has a high standard, likely based on the biblical qualifications for eldership in the letters of 1 Timothy and Titus. When he looks at his congregation, however, he doesn’t see anyone who fills out the requirements. The pastor takes this as an indication that it is not God’s timing to develop new leaders. Perhaps, he lacks the vision of what God could do in men (sometimes young and raw) through intentional spiritual investment over several years. He also needs to check whether personal or cultural expectations on what a pastor looks like may be overshadowing the biblical standards (Type-A personality, charismatic, quarterback of the football team, academic bent, etc.).
- “It’s not my job”
This reason is often based in one’s own experience. “No one prepared me. I felt the call. I went to seminary, and here I am.” Many imagine that the call to pastoral ministry is a deeply personal experience with God that shouldn’t be meddled with. He calls and gifts without necessarily involving more experienced pastors in the process. Add to that the popular notion that theological seminaries prepare ministers and there are ample justifications for pastors to think that the work of forming pastors is not their job.
- “I don’t know how”
This pastor does not feel prepared and is possibly a little intimidated by the task. He may think that there are skills or techniques necessary to prepare leaders which are beyond the purview of regular pastoral ministry. Perhaps, this pastor does not realize how much the task of preparing leaders aligns itself with the shepherding of the church. That is, you can prepare new leaders while you pastor the church, using the same set of skills and practices required for ministry.
- “I’m afraid the new pastor will betray me and steal the church”
Hardly anyone has the courage to admit this reason out loud, but it is very common. It may be that the pastor has had traumatic experiences with colleagues or seminarians trying to sow a coup in the church. Perhaps the pastor is simply insecure. Regardless, there is this fear of being out-shined or out-maneuvered. The risk that a new leader will be seen by the church as a better option is not worth running. Either this pastor will not develop leaders, or he may only invest in people with extremely subservient tendencies or evident deficiencies in their capacity for leadership.
- “It’s going to complicate my life”
This pastor has achieved a predictable ministry rhythm – at least as predictable as church ministry can be. Perhaps, he gained this relative stability over the course of years of hard work and relational stress. There is now peace; the well-oiled machine is humming. Why consider re-orienting the agenda, adding a new variable, dividing his focus, delegating tasks to a person who won’t do it as well as he does? It seems like this can only bring problems to a consolidated pastoral ministry. If the ministry is not broken, why fix it?
- “I will end up exposing my failures and weaknesses”
Here the pastor knows that if he starts developing new leaders, he will expose himself and must explain what he does and the rationale behind it. Maybe he doesn’t know why he does what he does in pastoral ministry. He’s going on autopilot or blindly following a popular church model. Perhaps, he engages in unethical practices such as plagiarizing sermons from the internet or fudging his work schedule. For now, no one from the church has noticed or complained. But sharing the ministry with other men will throw a spotlight on him. This pastor is not prepared for that level of accountability and so he walks alone.
- “No one ever approached me”
This pastor says he’d like to invest in new leaders. He longs to hear from the mouth of some mature man of the church of his desire for spiritual leadership of the church. He waits… and waits, but to this day no one has expressed the desire. For some reason this pastor understood that he should not take the initiative in identifying and developing mature believers.
- “My church won’t allow me”
There are church boards who understand that the pastor is not being paid to spend a significant portion of his time investing in future leadership, much less in making financial investments to promote relevant ministerial internships or courses of study. Without this support from the church, the pastor does not have the freedom to prioritize the formation of new pastors. If he does, it’s going to have to be on his own time and without the financial backing of the church.
Almost all the reasons listed here can trace their origin back to the lack of understanding on the part of the pastor or the church that preparing the next generation of pastors is a task that is fundamental to pastoral ministry and must be promoted in a proactive way. Fear and insecurity on the part of the pastor are other important factors. How can a pastor overcome these difficulties?
If the pastor has understood biblically that forming new pastors is an integral part of being a pastor, he needs to lead his church toward this understanding as well. He’s not wasting his time or taking his focus from pastoral ministry to invest in the next generation of leaders; he’s being a more faithful and complete pastor. Rather than falling into the easy-way of low-risk ministry or giving in to fear, the pastor can understand that embracing this responsibility with zeal should push him toward greater levels of personal growth. Even though it may seem like there is no one, he can start investing in some promising men more intentionally. Even if none becomes a pastor in the future, this focused attention will positively mark their lives forever.
For the pastor who wishes to prepare the next generation of pastors, there is always something that can be done today, a practical first step toward the goal.
– Jeremiah J. Davidson
I want to thank pastors Abmael Araújo Dias Filho and David John Merkh Jr of First Baptist Church of Atibaia for their important contributions to the content of this article.