By Mike Hess

The church is facing a crisis today. This crisis is not COVID-19, declining churches, scandals, or cultural pressures. The crisis we’re facing is an increasing number of churches with pastoral vacancies and few potential candidates. Since writing about this crisis a couple of years ago, I have observed that the more it lingers, the more harm is done to churches—especially to those that need a pastor.

The more that churches decline, the less we will see Biblically qualified men who have a God-given desire to proclaim the Word and lovingly shepherd the sheep. What is the answer to this dilemma? Many would argue that the problem lies within Bible colleges and seminaries. Or getting more teenagers to “give their life to full-time Christian service,” which in turn will populate our Bible colleges and seminaries. The thought goes like this: If we could just increase the enrollment at seminaries, we would have a larger pool of pastors to choose from. This seems to make sense, but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

Nor does it address the fact that churches should be identifying, discipling, and mentoring men who are already established in their careers and who could possibly serve in pastoral ministry. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. It is my firm conviction that with seminary education being more available and affordable than ever, more men should be taking advantage of sharpening their academic and ministerial skills. I cannot overstate how much seminary helped me as a pastor and follower of the Savior.

So churches should be identifying and preparing potential pastors. Believe it or not, your church plays an important role in helping other local churches. When you as a local church understand the significance of seeing leaders reproduced, you’re serving other local churches and ministries for the future. Have you ever considered that in your church’s youth group, children’s ministry, or nursery might be the next senior or associate pastor? Could the young man you’re having coffee with every week for the purpose of discipleship and encouragement be pastoring a thriving church in a few years?

Healthy churches reproduce growing, mature, Christlike, loving, and zealous leaders who eventually serve other churches. The next generation of pastors will come from the same place that pastors came from in the first century—thriving local churches.

Pastors do not come from seminaries or through search consultants, popularity contests, or the random casting of lots. A Biblical understanding of the pastoral office teaches us that pastors come from churches. Therefore, it’s imperative for churches to understand their responsibility to both recognize and reproduce leaders.

Let’s consider three ways we should think about how and where local churches find Biblically qualified pastors.

Pastors are raised up by God

Churches that consider their pastor a gift from the Lord typically go out of their way to pray for, honor, and bless their pastors. After all, Biblically, that’s what a pastor is to the church, a gift! Notice the wording Paul used to describe how God blesses churches with pastors: “And he [God] gave  . . . the shepherds” (Eph. 4:11, ESV). The word “shepherds” here is sometimes translated “pastors.” The idea that a church is led and served by a qualified man in the office of pastor originates with God.

Ponder for a moment how God raises up pastors:

  • God raises up a man to spiritual life through faith in Christ (Eph. 2:1–9).
  • God is the One Who gives a man a specific desire to shepherd God’s flock (1 Tim. 3:1).
  • God supernaturally gifts and equips a man to serve as a pastor (Acts 20:28).
  • God gives those who teach the Word a higher level of accountability (James 3:1).
  • God loves His church so much that He demands those who serve in the office of a pastor meet certain qualifications that have much more to do with character than they do giftedness (1 Tim. 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9).
  • God mandates that the church recognize a man’s giftedness and qualifications (1 Tim. 3).

A high view of God will translate into a high view of the pastorate, not because of the individual serving in that office, but because of God’s love, care, and infinitely wise design for the church.

Churches recognize pastors

The primary responsibility to recognize a man’s giftedness and character was given to churches. Within the normal rhythm of church life, believers are able to observe an individual’s faithfulness, growth in grace, knowledge of the Word, love for his spouse and family, love for others, generosity, and burden for souls. Paul did not write his pastoral qualifications to some corporate conglomerate trying to infiltrate the church with secular methodologies.

Instead, this list was written to a pastor of a church during the earliest days of the Church Age (1 Tim. 3:1–7). These qualifications require the kind of relationship that necessitates involvement in a local church. Observing someone from a distance would fail to confirm if he is “above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (vv. 2–3), along with whether he manages his own household well.

Churches have a mandate to make disciples (Matt. 28:19–20; Col. 1:28–29). Part of that mandate is for leaders to recognize other potential leaders and to mentor, encourage, and build them up in Christ.

Churches are the best training ground for pastors

I praise God that many seminaries are requiring a pastoral internship for their MDiv programs. This ensures that ministry is not some academic exercise reserved for the classroom. As important as proper academics are for the pastor, they cannot and must not replace the practical day-to-day aspect of ministry. And there’s no better place for training than living out Biblical principles in the life of the local church.

Your church helps other churches by providing ways for men to be trained in practical ways as a pastor. It makes sense that those who will serve in the church receive practical mentoring within the life of the church.

Think of some steps your church can take to become a training ground for future pastors. The good news is that this doesn’t have much to do with the church’s size or budget:

  1. Ask yourself this: Who am I mentoring right now in my church whom I could visualize serving as a pastor one day?
  2. Consider having an internship program that provides opportunities for prospective pastors to come and serve for six months to a year.
  3. Pray as a church that God would create a culture of reproducing and mentoring young leaders.
  4. Create opportunities for young men to teach and preach on a consistent basis.
  5. Challenge adult men who are established in their careers to consider going into pastoral ministry if you recognize in them a heart for shepherding.
  6. Provide financial assistance for those pursuing further education in Bible college or seminary.

Remember, pastors come from churches. From thriving churches. And thriving churches are those that are constantly reproducing and mentoring leaders to serve in other churches.

Mike Hess serves as national representative of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.