Although it was a bitterly cold Sunday in January, I was breaking out into a sweat. My pastor had invited me to share my salvation testimony during the evening service as part of our church’s Baptist Men’s Day activities. As a 26-year-old young man who had never spoken in church before, I was nervous, but also excited for the opportunity to share along with two other young men in our church. When my time came, I stood before the large crowd and shared simply but clearly how Jesus had saved me.
After the service was over, my pastor came up to me and made a simple statement that would change my life forever. He said, “You’re a gifted teacher, and I wouldn’t be surprised if God were to call you to preach.”
What my pastor didn’t know was that God had already been working in my heart. I had a growing desire to teach and preach the Word, and my pastor’s observation was an early confirmation of the calling that the Lord was placing on my life. All I needed was a little nudge, and my pastor provided it.
Over the course of the next few months, my pastor took me under his wing and began to prepare me for a lifetime of service as a gospel minister. He patiently answered all of my questions – and there were many questions! He drove me to the campus of Southern Seminary and helped my wife and I prepare for a seminary education. He provided opportunities for me to preach and offered helpful feedback for a young minister-in-training. While he didn’t use the term at the time, my pastor was mentoring me.
Mentoring is a Biblical Concept
Although the word “mentor” itself never appears in Scripture, the concept is found throughout its pages as those with more experience guide and teach those with less experience. Jethro mentored Moses. Eli mentored Samuel. Samuel mentored David. Elijah mentored Elisha. Jesus mentored His 12 disciples.
My pastor, Paul Badgett, mentored me. In doing so, he followed a long line of faithful men who have prepared the next generation of gospel ministers. In fact, this line goes all the way back to the earliest days of the church. As another Paul mentored his young protégé, Timothy, he issued this charge to pass on what he learned to others as well: “You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2).
In these verses, we find the biblical command to mentor the next generation of gospel ministers. In fact, we can identify at least four generations of gospel ministers mentioned in verse 2:
- 1st Generation: Paul
- 2nd Generation: Timothy
- 3rd Generation: Faithful men
- 4th Generation: Others
In other words, pastors have a biblical mandate to mentor the next generation, and that mandate still applies today.
The Urgency of the Hour
In addition to the biblical mandate, there are several other reasons why it’s imperative that pastors identify and mentor the next generation of ministers:
- Every pastor is an interim pastor. The word interim means “a temporary interval of time.” In that sense, every pastor is an interim pastor. Some tenures are longer than others, but every pastor will have a start date and end date. No pastor will live forever. Eventually, if the Lord tarries, a new pastor will be needed in every church.
- Pastors are getting older. According to a study by the Barna Group in 2017, pastors in America are getting older, with the median age increasing from 44 in 1992 to 54 in 2017. That is a significant increase, and one of the likely causes is that pastors are delaying retirement because there are not as many younger pastors ready and able to succeed them.
- Church membership is in decline. Most denominations in the United States are in decline, and it is no different in the Southern Baptist Convention. In fact, the total number of Southern Baptists has declined for thirteen straight years, and last year was the largest single year drop in membership in 100 years. This membership decline is undoubtedly influenced by the next reason.
- Younger generations are drifting further from God. According to the Pew Research Center, each successive generation is drifting further from God right now. For example, when asked if they believe in God, 70% of those age 65+ are absolutely certain that He exists. For each successive generation, the percentage goes down: 69% for those 50-64, 62% for those 30-49, and only 51% for those age 18-29. Similarly, the percentage of those who never attend religious services continues to rise with each successive generation: 26% of adults age 65+ never attend, 28% of those 50-64, 32% of those 30-49, and 35% of those 18-29. With fewer young people attending worship services, there are fewer potential pastors to lead the next generation of the church. Therefore, it’s incredibly important that pastors identify and mentor those who will need to do so.
- Some regions are already facing pastor shortages. This is especially true in rural areas similar to my place of service. When I began serving as an associational leader in 2013, every church in my association had a pastor. Part of the reason for this was that we had many long-tenured pastors; men who had served in their congregations for at least 15 years, and several had served for 25 or 30 years. However, most of those men have since retired from their churches, and many of these congregations are small, unable to support a full-time pastor. Without a significant pool of local candidates, these churches have struggled to find new pastors. In 2013, our association had zero pastor openings. Today, we usually have 6 or 7 openings at any given time, with as many as 8 during a brief time. Rural areas such as mine are already seeing a shortage of qualified and gifted pastors to lead these small congregations forward.
For these and other reasons, pastors need to proactively discover, develop, and deploy the next generation of gospel ministers. Read on to learn how.
How to Develop a Mentoring Process
Every church is different. Every pastor is unique. That means your mentoring process will likely be different than the church down the street or in the next town. So, please take these suggestions for what they are. They are meant to help you think through what works best in your context. With that being said, I do believe that your mentoring process should involve at least three components: (1) Discover, (2) Develop, and (3) Deploy.
Component #1: Discover
God has been calling out new pastors since the establishment of the church 2,000 years ago, and I’m confident that He will continue to do so until Jesus returns. That means there are men in our churches whom God is calling to serve as a pastor or missionary. If you’re a pastor, your first task will be to take intentional steps to call out the called in your congregation.
I would suggest that you and other leaders in your church approach this task in prayer. As Jesus stated in Luke 10:2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Jesus commanded His disciples to pray that the Lord would call out and send out laborers, and this call to prayer certainly still applies today. Therefore, spend significant time on your knees, begging the Lord to call out young men to serve as future pastors. Pray also for wisdom and discernment to identify those whom He has called.
After praying, the best place to start looking for potential next generation leaders is to look for the “faithful men” in your church as Paul refers to them in 2 Timothy 2:2. You’ll need to determine your definition of faithful in your context, but you can probably already think of a few men that match the description. Some of these men may not be called to pastoral ministry, but some of them likely will.
Component #2: Develop
As you discover a few “faithful men”, invite them into a mentoring relationship with you. You may choose to meet with a small group of 3-5 or you may choose to meet with them individually, whatever works best in your context. These meetings should take place no less than every other week, but weekly would be preferable. You can choose the topic of discussion in those meetings, but I would suggest systematically studying the Bible together and/or another book on church leadership.
In addition, allow these men to observe and assist you as you carry out the duties of a pastor. Take them with you on hospital visits. Invite them to observe your sermon preparation routine. Allow them to teach or preach on a Sunday evening or Wednesday evening prayer service. Whether you create a mentoring process or not, don’t do ministry alone.
As you develop these men, you will discover some are truly gifted to serve as pastors, while others are gifted to serve in other ways. For those who are not called as pastors, continue to mentor them to serve the church in the ways they are called. For those who sense a calling to pastoral ministry, continue to intentionally invest in them, knowing that someday they will follow your example as they identify faithful men who are able to teach others also.
Let me pause here and also suggest that you need to develop a process for evaluating the biblical qualifications, motivations, expectations, and spiritual gifts of those who express a desire for the work of a pastor. Keep in mind that not everyone who expresses a desire to serve as a pastor is biblically qualified or gifted to do so. Therefore, you need some way to evaluate those who express a call to ministry.
Component #3: Deploy
As you discover and develop future gospel ministers, you need to provide opportunities for them to serve. As I mentioned earlier, allow them to preach and teach on Sunday and Wednesday evenings. Assign them to lead a small group or Sunday school class. Encourage them to sign up for the pulpit supply list in their area so that they can preach in other churches when a pastor has to be absent. Consider appointing them as lay pastors or associate pastors on your church staff. While they may or may not receive a salary, they will gain valuable ministry experience and will help to lighten your load.
For some men, you may feel confident in recommending them to serve as an interim pastor of another church in the area. Eventually, you may send out some to serve as the “permanent” pastor of another church. (I use quotation marks to distinguish between permanent and interim pastors, recognizing the earlier point that all pastors are really interim pastors.)
Details are Negotiable, But the Need is Not
Just as a reminder, every church is different. Your mentoring process will be unique. You need to make it work for you and your church. However, the more important point is that regardless of what it looks like, you need to have some type of mentoring process to train up the next generation of pastors. As you develop or refine your process, please know that I’m praying for you as you discover, develop, and deploy future pastors!
If you have a mentoring process, I’d love to hear about it! Please comment below to share what the process looks like in your context!