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If you ask ten Christians what a pastor is called to do, you are likely to get ten different answers. Yet with all that Christians expect of their pastors today, still very few of them expect that they train new pastors. In the nineteenth century, with the demands of westward expansion and the development of professional graduate schools, churches in America moved toward preparing future ministers in theological schools and away from the former apprenticeship model. Bible colleges and seminaries undoubtedly serve the church in countless ways, but many Christians now assume that the task of training the next generation of pastors is the responsibility solely of those institutions, apart from the local church.

In Scripture, however, training pastors for the future is assumed to be the responsibility of pastors today. There is an observable biblical pattern where ministers both teach God’s Word extensively to the many and also intensively train the few to minister the Word themselves. To take just one example from the Old Testament, Ezra publicly taught God’s Word to the entire assembly (Neh. 8:2–3, 8), and he schooled the heads of households, priests, and Levites in “the words of the Law” (Neh. 8:13). Of course, the ministry of our Lord Jesus was also marked by this dual focus, as He taught the gathered crowds and trained the twelve disciples who would later proclaim His word to the nations (e.g., Mark 4:1, 10).

Notably, Paul’s lengthy ministry in Ephesus reveals this same pattern. When he exhorted the Ephesian elders to remember his own example in Acts 20, Paul gave this summary in verse 20: “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house.”

Paul’s testimony here is widely understood as encapsulating the pastoral calling. Though he’s often interpreted as referring to preaching in public worship and counseling, or catechizing, in home visits. Notwithstanding the wisdom of regular pastoral visitation, this does not account for the record of Paul’s Ephesian ministry in Acts 19.

During his three years there, Paul was “reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9), which was most likely a lecture hall that he had rented to train the disciples. Luke also tells us that from this intensive Apostolic instruction “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10). In other words, Paul trained evangelists, church-planters, and pastors who took the gospel to the rest of Asia Minor. We know of a few of these men, such as Ephaphras, who was the first to bring the gospel east to Colossae (Col. 1:6–7; 4:12). Tychicus and Trophimus were also linked to the ministry in Ephesus and Asia (Acts 20:4; Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:12). On this fruitful period of training, Simon Kistemaker remarked, “In Ephesus, Paul opened a school of theology to train future leaders for the developing church in the province of Asia. . . . We assume that the students trained by Paul became pastors in developing congregations in western Asia Minor.”1

So, as Paul reminded the Ephesian elders of his example in Acts 20:20, he highlighted how they were trained by him “in public,” as well as how they heard him preach “from house to house” in the churches, which at that time met in homes (e.g., 1 Cor. 16:19; cf. Rom. 16:5; Col. 4:15; Philem. 2).2 In Paul’s ministry there was no disconnect between preaching the Word and training preachers of the Word. It was one ministry of the Word.

It is no surprise, then, to find that these are the very priorities that Paul gave Timothy in his final epistle. In 2 Timothy, Paul exhorted his faithful protégé to “guard the good deposit” that he had received from the Apostle (2 Tim. 1:13–14). Without question, this would require preaching it unwaveringly (2 Tim. 4:2), but it would also include passing it on faithfully to other preachers. What Timothy had been entrusted with by Paul, he was himself to “entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). By referring to men who are faithful and “able to teach,” Paul was alluding to his description of qualified overseers, or elders, in 1 Timothy 3:1–7. Just like Ezra, the Lord Jesus, and his father in the faith, Timothy’s ministry was to be marked by preaching the Word and training future pastors to do the same.

The scriptural vision for pastoral ministry encompasses training more pastors, so we cannot accept its neglect by pastors and churches today. Even the president of one of the world’s largest theological seminaries, Albert Mohler, has said: “We should be ashamed that churches fail miserably in their responsibility to train future pastors. Established pastors should be ashamed if they are not pouring themselves into the lives of young men whom God has called into the teaching and leadership ministry of the church.”3

Serving as a pastor and training future pastors coheres in the same biblical calling and ought to be evident in our churches. How can it be recovered?

Serving as a pastor and training future pastors coheres in the same biblical calling.

As with most pastoral duties, the form that training future pastors takes will be as varied as the context of each church and each pastor’s ministry. In larger, more established congregations, it may well involve structured pastoral internships and formal classes with syllabi and assignments. While in many other churches, training may be as informal as a pastor’s meeting regularly with a gifted brother to discuss sound books and giving him opportunities to minister, followed by feedback to encourage his growth in ministerial competence. Of course, such training does not mean that theological institutions have no place. Such pastoral mentoring can occur before, during, or after seminary studies, and preferably it would happen through all of the above. In whatever ways training takes place in our churches today, what we have to grasp from Scripture is that it must take place.4 Training pastors is a pastoral imperative.

Pastors must arrange their priorities, not to mention their calendars, with the conviction that God expects them to train new pastors, whatever anyone else may expect of them. Churches must reject the modern assumption that pastors are produced in grad schools like other professionals. The high attrition rate of seminary alumni from the pastoral office within a few years of their graduation should demonstrate as much. Faithful pastors who understand the rigors of ministry and have been adequately prepared for it will be encouraged, discipled, and trained in the real world “laboratory” of the local church. Congregations must return to the wisdom of earlier generations, who understood their responsibility to form future ministers. This was evident among the English Particular Baptists of the eighteenth century, such Soham Baptist Church, Andrew Fuller’s congregation, which stated in its Church Book, “As the Church of Christ is his nursery in which he trains up and sends forth ministers, we think every measure tending to discover and encourage such gifts ought to be taken.”5

When a church recognizes it’s a “nursery” for pastors, the members take up their responsibility to recognize and encourage those brothers among them whose zeal and giftedness suggest they ought to consider a pastoral vocation. It will also mean the congregation will encourage their pastors to invest a significant amount of time in a few so that the many in the communities around them and the generations to come will be faithfully shepherded.

In so many ways, a recommitment to training pastors in our churches would mean a revival of the Great Commission. In order to invest in what will be preached and who will preach it beyond them, both pastors and churches must necessarily become more oriented around being disciples who make disciples until the end of the age (Matt. 28:19–20). But perhaps the greatest motivation to recover pastoral training in our churches is that it’s expected of pastors in the Bible. Training pastors is simply part of the pastor’s job.

 

  1. Simon Kistemaker, Acts of the Apostles, NTC (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1991), 684–85; See also F.F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, rev. ed., NICNT (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1988), 408–9. ↩︎
  2. “From house to house” renders kat’ oikous (in homes), which is the plural of the phrase Paul uses in his letters to refer to the church “in the house” (kat’ oikon). See Kistemaker, Acts, 726; also the discussions in Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2002), 336ff; James Jeffers, The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1999), 81. ↩︎
  3. Al Mohler, cited in Brian Croft, Prepare Them to Shepherd (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2014), 14. ↩︎
  4. To compare models of how church-based training can relate to seminary education, see Phil Newton, The Mentoring Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2017). ↩︎
  5. “Principles of Church Order and Discipline,” Soham Church Book (1774), 40, cited in Keith Grant, Andrew Fuller and the Evangelical Renewal of Pastoral Theology (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2013), 58. ↩︎

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