Article by P.J. Tibayan – Pastor, Bellflower, California
If you are the only pastor-elder in your church, and don’t want to be the only pastor-elder in your church, I know your pain all too well.
I was a solo pastor of a church plant for six years, and then a solo pastor of a declining church for almost five (really long) years before we installed our second pastor (who was not on staff). When I started identifying and training men for ministry, it wasn’t only because I believe Scripture tells us to do so (it does!) — it was for survival. God doesn’t mean for men to lead a church alone. By God’s grace, a team of five pastors (two vocationally) now leads our church.
The New Testament presents a consistent pattern for a plurality of pastors in local churches. These leaders will give an account for their oversight of the members’ souls to “the great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:17–20). Many churches, however, have a shortage of pastors bearing the burden, which often causes the solo pastor to overextend himself in ministry. I’ve said to myself and my wife too many times, “This is just for a season.” That kind of season, of course, can easily turn into years.
“God doesn’t mean for men to lead a church alone.”
For our churches to become more healthy and fruitful, God calls us to identify and invest in faithful men who will, in turn, become teachers themselves (2 Timothy 2:2). So, pastor, who are the faithful men in your church? And if you can’t identify any now, what would have to happen for one or two able men to become faithful?
Lessons in Raising Pastors
I first saw this vision of a thriving church — identifying, training, and commissioning men to lead — up close as a member and short-term pastoral intern of a healthy church. The church had previously been declining for decades. I arrived fourteen years after the church began its reform, and the congregation was overflowing with fruit, including multiplying leaders who are now pastoring other congregations.
Our own church has been reforming for nearly seven years now and has yet to send out a man to pastor, plant, or revitalize elsewhere, as we are praying for. Nevertheless, God has given us a handful of men who pastor our church, and even more men who can faithfully preach Christ from the Scriptures in our pulpit. So, after more than a decade of identifying and developing leaders for the church (and with lots of room to learn and grow), here are some valuable lessons we’ve learned so far.
- God has already answered prayers.
The Lord Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 9:37–38). Christ instructs us to pray for God to raise up and send out laborers into the harvest. So, pray and look to God to answer that request even as he equips you to play your part.
To encourage you in this kind of prayer, remember that you are where you are, in part, because others before you prayed for God to send a laborer like you. Years ago, our church had two members regularly stop by our church building to pray after work for the future of the congregation. Our pastors today are part of God’s answer to prayers prayed years before we came. When we consider our own ministry from that perspective, how much more confident can we be as we join them in praying for more laborers?
- God intends the (slow) process for our joy.
We may erroneously think the primary joys in ministry are found in the church thriving and bearing obvious fruit. They’re not. Christ our God is our greatest joy — and not only in “good” times, but also in the difficult and lonely ones (Psalm 73:25–28). This Christ-centered, God-exalting joy will sustain patient ministry.
Furthermore, this joy is precisely what we want to reproduce in those who would disciple others. Enjoying Christ as both central and supreme stabilizes us so that we can pour ourselves out for the church, those we disciple, and our neighbors, without depending on any of them for our contentment and peace (Philippians 4:4, 11–13).
- People are our commendation.
In a day when we often look for validation from a social media following, website visits, podcast downloads, books written, academic degrees, or obvious fruit in our churches, Paul refreshes our vision for validation when he writes, “Do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all” (2 Corinthians 3:1–2).
We pour ourselves into the lives of ordinary, slow-growing saints because they are the certificate and diploma proving our credentials as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Every member matters. And together, they are our joy and crown (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19–20). Such is the God-centered, others-oriented validation behind the apostle John’s striking sentiment: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).
I, for one, can testify to a unique delight in watching men I have discipled serving, loving, leading, and investing in others in ways that spread a passion for Christ’s supremacy.
- Multiplying yourself requires sharing yourself.
Many schools operate today by setting up repetitive systems that don’t require as much teacher effort per student. In some ways that approach to education is fine, but the quest for efficiency often undercuts effectiveness. The apostolic pattern for discipling many and raising some to be leaders is “to share . . . not only the gospel of God but also our own selves” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Paul taught Christ not only publicly but from house to house, often through tears and trials, considering his life of no value in order that he might finish his course and ministry (Acts 20:18–24). If we’re going to help people grow and change, we have to share our whole lives with them, open our homes to them (Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2), and be willing to be regularly inconvenienced and vulnerable, confessing sin and modeling repentance (Psalm 51:12–13; Luke 22:31–32; James 5:16).
“Take some risks in letting men lead the gathering, lead a ministry initiative, or even preach publicly.”
Sharing yourself also means sharing your responsibilities in such a way that those you disciple feel the pressure to serve in situations where much is on the line. Leaders of ingrown ministries tend to wrongly keep the big-pressure responsibilities for themselves. Take some risks in letting men lead the gathering, lead a ministry initiative, or even preach publicly.