Many aspiring pastors feel called to the ministry and start dreaming about what it can look like. Most picture themselves as a future Senior Pastor, preaching on a weekly basis and “leading the charge.” Others see themselves as Worship Pastors, Student Pastors, etc.
What I want to propose is that aspiring pastors typically think in the wrong direction when pursuing their call to the ministry. Aspiring pastors normally pursue their “ideal position” instead of the right kind of church.
When pursuing the ministry, it is more important for young pastors to find the right place: the right team, right philosophy of ministry, the right church.
You don’t know yourself as well as you think you do. Before I got into ministry I thought preaching was one of my strongest gifts (news flash, it isn’t). I’m also not wired to want to sit in my office 20 hours a week for sermon prep. On the flip side, I have gifts/qualities/skills that I had no idea that I had that serve me very well as an Executive Pastor of Ministries (a role I never aspired to, but love dearly). You simply don’t really learn about yourself as a pastor and leader until you actually start pastoring and leading.
You learn more on a great team. There is a learning curve that you simply can’t prepare for until you get into ministry. It is hard to get up to speed, but having a great team around you goes a long way. Things like culture, communication, and coaching are best picked up from a team instead of trying to teach yourself everything on your own. Seminary can only prepare you for so much of ministry, a great team can bring you along better than anything else.
Stepping into a healthy church in the wrong role is better than a terrible church in the right role. Even if you actually know your best role (I’d guess less than 5% actually know before gaining real ministry experience), it is healthier for young pastors to see, experience, and grow in a healthy church context. It is near impossible to know how to build something healthy when you have never been a part of leading something healthy first, even if it isn’t in the ideal role.
It is wise to submit yourself under other leaders and learn from them. Even two years ago I thought I was going to be a Lead Pastor and preach on a weekly basis. Thankfully, my two co-pastors sat me down and cast a different vision for me. They cast a vision that was born out of seeing me lead for 3 1/2 years and recognizing what I most bring to the table (and what I don’t). They had a better grasp of me than I did. Now, I am incredibly grateful they had that conversation with me as I am in a “sweet spot” despite never considering this role before they graciously asked me to consider it.
The right position in the wrong church is still the wrong position. God calling you to be a Senior Pastor? Even if he is, if you don’t have any leadership experience it is unwise to walk into a bad situation that demands significant leadership prowess. Having a “rookie pastor” walk into a really tough situation is like asking a back up quarterback to make his first start in the Super Bowl. Good luck. Learn how to lead in a healthy leadership context. Ministry is tough, even in healthy context. I bet if more pastors walked into the right churches instead of their believed best position early on more would last for the long haul.
It is unrealistic to expect to lead others well when you have never learned how to be led well yourself. Honestly, it is pretty terrifying to me to think of young pastors becoming Senior Pastors when they have never been under the authority and leadership of a Senior Pastor. While there are always exceptions, most people simply aren’t gifted enough as leaders to be able to lead really well on day one.
All in all, you learn good leadership by being under good leadership. It is better to be in the right church with the right leaders than to be in the right position.