Taking The Romance Out Of Pastoral Ministry: An Interview With Brian Croft

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and is the Founder and Ministry Development Director of Practical Shepherding, Inc. He’s also the author of numerous books, including his most recent, The Pastor’s Family. You can find out more about Brian on his website, Practical Shepherding.

You seem to have a particular burden to train up young men in the nitty gritty details of ministry, such as how to conduct a funeral, how to visit the sick, etc. Why do you desire to be so specific in your training?

Through my experience, these practical areas are largely neglected in seminary and are rarely learned through normal life experiences. The only way someone really learns to care for a sick person dying in a hospital is to go visit a real sick, dying person and minister to them. Funerals cannot be learned in a classroom, but must be taught at a real funeral with real grieving people mourning the loss of a real person. Because there is no short cut to learning these specific skills and these are essential areas of a pastor’s ministry, I find that is where much of my training time with young guys needs to be spent. A love for these areas of ministry also helps reveal whether a brother should be a pastor.

You describe your ministry (Practical Shepherding) as “Laboring with you in the trenches of ministry.” Why did you choose the imagery of trench warfare to describe pastoral ministry?

Two reasons. First, I believe pastors and missionaries are uniquely on the front lines of spiritual warfare. Any brother who has been a pastor for any length of time knows of this intense battle for his own soul as well as the souls in his care. The enemy cleverly and specifically targets us.

Second, most of a pastor’s ministry is not glamourous. I realize public preaching and leadership is the face of a pastor’s life to most, but the reality is most of a pastor’s life is spent in the quietness of his study battling with hard texts and fighting his own sins, doubts, and spiritual attacks. A pastor visits widows and no one knows. A pastor cares well for a dying saint in a hospital room and is the last person to see them alive. A pastor does tough marriage counseling and deals with the unrepentant sins of his people with a broken heart.

So much of a faithful pastor’s time is spent slugging away in the dirty, messy work that is the lives of the broken sinners we shepherd. Just like a courageous soldier loves the grunt work of being a soldier that most would despise, so too does a pastor love the emotionally and mentally taxing grind that most others could not handle. This is why being a pastor must be a call from God.

Do you think many aspiring pastors have an overly romanticized vision of what ministry is? If so, how do you help them see both the good and the bad when it comes to pastoral ministry?  

Yes, I find much of my ministry at Practical Shepherding is to help aspiring pastors understand what pastoral ministry really is and to affirm to young pastors already in the fires of ministry that what they are experiencing is normal. I do believe the celebrity pastor culture has done a number on many young guys and feeds their temptation to be honored and famous, instead of embracing the call to take up their cross in obscurity. There is a draw to the public side of pastoral ministry and more of a reluctance to the private, messier side of it.

To combat this temptation, I teach them what ministry really is, and then I show them. I push the young men in our church aspiring to pastoral ministry to consider the grunt work of this labor, reminding them that private grind is what enhances their public ministry. Then I take them with me and allow them to experience the good and bad of it firsthand. I take them with me to minister to a grateful widow, then take them with me to a widow frustrated with me. I allow them to sit in on a meeting with someone grateful for my ministry and another about to leave the church because they hate my preaching. I take them to a hospital to celebrate the birth of a baby then down the hall to say goodbye to a dying saint. A few of those kinds of visits usually destroys any romanticized vision of ministry and opens the door to fruitful, authentic conversations on whether the Lord is truly calling them to this work.

You seem to have established a rather robust training program for men interested in ministry. What are some simple things a pastor can do to start raising up other men for the task of pastoral ministry?  

Some of the best advice I ever received was to look for those men in your congregation who act and serve like a pastor, are fruitful like a pastor, love your people like a pastor, but do it all without the title and recognition. Look for those men. The other important thing a pastor can do to train and raise men up is to simply take them with him to do ministry. Take them to the hospital with you. Take them when you do a funeral. Take them to visit a widow. Let them sit in on your pastors meetings. Involve them in your sermon preparation. Teach by example and exposure.

I realize this takes a bit more time and planning, but it is worth it. Although we have spent almost ten years developing our training program at our church, how much our young guys learn is still largely dependent upon how much time I give them and allow them to accompany me. Every pastor can train future pastors. It takes a pastor to train a future pastor. All it requires is the time of an eager young brother and a pastor’s willingness to take time to bring him along in his daily grind to intentionally instruct.

In our increasingly screen-driven world, it’s easy for a pastor to somewhat distance himself from his people. He can think he’s in the trenches of ministry when he’s really sitting on the sidelines. How can a pastor fight against that temptation?

Face to face ministry is essential. A pastor must honestly evaluate how much time is spent communicating with his people through Facebook, Twitter, text and email, verses face to face in the hospital, their home and local coffee shops. This is especially a strong temptation for introverted pastors who get drained by being with people too much. Know yourself. Allow others in your life to hold you accountable to this. A lack of self-awareness for a pastor is a great danger in many respects, this being one of them.

When a guy comes to you and tells you he desires pastoral ministry, are there certain characteristics you look for in him?  

Scripture must first be our guide when evaluating a young man’s desire for pastoral ministry (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). Ask yourself: do you see at least some evidence of these qualities in him? This blueprint needs to then be evaluated by the young man’s desire for the work (internal calling), and then by the pastors and congregation of his local church (external calling). Although those Scripture qualities are helpful, they are not exhaustive. So, here are 10 other characteristics I look for that I feel are not necessarily deal breakers, but nonetheless very important and fall within the frame work of the fruit of the spirit in a Christian’s life:

  • A deep love and burden for people and souls
  • A clear, personal love for Jesus
  • A warmth in personality that people respond to well
  • A unique ability to understand and explain God’s Word
  • An ability to emotionally engage people both public and private
  • A clear communicator
  • An authentic, honest awareness of his heart and personal brokenness
  • A humble teachable spirit
  • A clear possession of wisdom and discernment into life and struggles
  • A strong ability to empathize to a hurting person

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