Coaching the next generation of pastors is critical for every generation that desires to see the continuation of healthy churches in the future. This coaching usually begins with young men in one’s congregation, usually college aged, who have displayed the character and gifting that would qualify them for pastoral ministry. It is essential to encourage these young men, yet there are also realties I have found that must be addressed as we equip them for the future and care for their souls.
Here are some current trends I am seeing among young men who desire to be pastors:
Due to the church planting craze Christian culture is currently witnessing, young men often do not have to go through the channels that past generations did. The idea of paying your dues is now a foreign concept which has 22-year-olds who are one month graduated from college believing they are ready to be a church planter and senior pastor. The increase of online seminary education exposes one more quickly to formal theological training without having any practical experience in church leadership. The desire to preach immediately rather than sit under a preacher has created an attitude of impatience, entitlement, and the belief that one knows better and can do better than the current leader of the local church.
The truth is, leading a local church at the top is much different than sitting around theorizing about how church should actually function. Preaching a sermon and hearing positive feedback from a proud and encouraging group of friends and family is much different than having to prepare a message every week, regardless of the other circumstances happening in one’s life. These young guys have never led a ministry in the church, yet believe they are ready to be in the first chair. This would be equivalent to the assistant JV football coach thinking he is ready to be the head coach of the New England Patriots. For some reason, the local church is the one place where people actually have the nerve to think they can already lead it at that highest level without experience.
How is one to coach a young man who believes he is ready to take on this level of responsibility and leadership before he has any other real life experience? I believe it begins by teaching the young men under your leadership to be careful listening to the whispers of others after they preach. Be encouraged, yes. However, an older person in a congregation will usually be very excited and positive towards any younger person given the opportunity to speak. That does not mean he is the next John Piper and ready to fill the pulpit on a weekly basis.
Let a younger leader follow you around as the pastor, seeing the things you do, the decisions you have to make, the people you have to meet with, and the hours you have to put in for effective ministry. It is much bigger than a podcast sermon or debating theology. Don’t be afraid to tell someone he needs to pump the brakes in his life, sit under your teaching for a season, and lead ministries in the church without being the first chair. It is also helpful to lay out a coaching plan for your younger leader, to show him the commitment you are going to make to his development.
2. Overexposure to the Christian Industry and Subculture
This can be problematic, because it allows one to become enamored with Christian celebrity. Younger guys often mimic the preachers they’re exposed to, and are more in touch with what is happening at a church five states away than they are the churches in their own town. This has become very complicated in the flat world where we now find ourselves due to instant online access.
A particular local church in another region of the country becomes some sort of utopia for church leaders because there’s no realization that the same struggles and conflicts one sees in his own church are also occurring in this more notable church. Ministry lust begins to happen and covetousness creeps in, developing into a lack of appreciation for one’s own local church. In the same way that someone can look at a friend’s Instagram and, seeing only the surface images, believe he wants the same life, a pastor wannabe who is overexposed to Christian culture can be a dangerous thing. These young men are very vulnerable to the “grass is greener” mentality, which often produces much shorter tenures of serving.
To coach through this reality, the pastor must be honest about real life. That famous church did not explode overnight. Sweat, tears, prayer, fasting, extremely hard work, and of chief importance, the work of the Lord, were poured into any church that has been built to the platform it now experiences. I inform our younger men that not one of their lost friends in our town has ever heard of their favorite podcast preacher. Not one of them cares what new book just got released, or who is speaking at the latest conference. I ask them more questions about the non-Christians they are spending time with than I do the latest book they are reading. I want to prepare them to be local missionaries more than I have a desire to see them become in tune with pop Christianity.
3. Unrealistic expectations
Once again, this flat world creates problems for future pastors as they wait their turns. Most church plants never experience growth of more than 100 people, but that in no way shape or form indicates that the church has or hasn’t been successful. Nobody wants to talk about how growth plays into many of the churches that are considered successful and receive the attention of many young men. Growing a church by reaching the lost in your city is a process. It may take a lifetime to even see a dent in the work. Maintaining a church full of broken people is even more difficult. I pity anyone who is naïve enough to think he’s going to start a church tomorrow and become the pastor of a mega church overnight, or ever.
In coaching, I believe we have to ask questions about hearts and motives on a regular basis, and be unapologetic in doing so, as expectations must be maintained without vision and ambition being discouraged. I want to see young guys excited and dreaming big dreams about the local church in their cities, but we set young men up for discouragement if we allow them to operate within false realities based on the successes of their favorite podcast preacher.
I am thrilled about the current movement to plant churches and the opportunities it gives to younger pastors, as I am an example of one who did not have to wait his turn or pay any dues. Looking back, I do not believe I was ready for that type of leadership responsibility or pressure, but I see God’s grace in my life and church despite my inexperience, inadequacies, and deficiencies. I hope that in the name of soul care and healthy church planting, we will coach the young and ambitious to prepare themselves for ministry rather than simply for a stage. We don’t need more celebrities, we need healthy churches.