Just Say You Want to be a Pastor

In recent years, I’ve personally interacted with hundreds of current and recently graduated seminary students, and not just at Southeastern Seminary. These brothers and sisters in Christ are committed to serving God in all kinds of ministry contexts. In the five years I’ve been teaching, I’ve observed an interesting trend, especially among students in their twenties and thirties. Simply put, it’s increasingly rare for me to hear a student say he feels called to be a pastor.

Now before you wonder what in the world we’re training students to do at Southeastern, rest assured a large majority of our students are preparing for pastoral ministry and other paid local church leadership. And that’s my point-most students want to be pastors, but they almost never explicitly say that. Instead, many say they want to be “church revitalizers” or they want to lead a church in biblical reformation or renewal or (insert the synonym of your choice here). When I hear this type of language, I’m often tempted to respond, “Great! I’m glad God’s given you a desire to be a pastor. I hope he confirms your gifts and opens doors for you to serve.”

Remember when it was okay to simply say you wanted to be a pastor? When I was a seminary student (less than a decade ago), most of us were wrestling with whether or not we thought God was calling us to be pastors. Of course we recognized there were different types of pastors-senior/lead pastors, associate pastors, student pastors, church planters, etc. But with the possible exception of those who wanted to be church planters, almost no one said, “I want to revitalize/reform/renew a church.” We simply said we wanted to be pastors of some kind or other.

I think I know why the language has changed. There are some very prominent ministries out there that talk a lot about “revitalizing” or “reforming” churches, much like an earlier generation made much of “reviving” churches. There are also some great and godly pastors who regularly testify as to how God has worked through them to “revitalize” or “reform” their churches. These ministries are often very helpful, and these pastors are frequently great role models, so it’s no surprise many students are picking up this terminology from these types of sources. But I’m still troubled by the language, or at least its pervasiveness among my generational peers.

To be clear, I think there are churches out there that are in need of biblical reformation, revitalization, renewal, revival, and any other “R” word you want to choose. And I’m thankful that God is giving young men a desire to pastor these churches. But that said-and I want to tread carefully here-I don’t think our pastoral agenda ought to be to reform or revitalize churches. That just sounds too arrogant-like we are professional diagnosticians and Calvary Baptist Church is our special project. I think our pastoral agenda is to be faithful shepherds who equip the church to love God and neighbor and do the work of the Great Commission. If we do this well, with the Lord’s help those churches will become healthier-whatever that might mean in any given context.

If you are reading this and you believe God may be calling you to pastor an existing church, even the type of church you would consider to be dysfunctional or unhealthy, I hope you will be cautious in the language you use to describe your ministry desires. The church is not a problem to be solved, but the Bride of Christ for whom he died. No church is perfect, and some have serious problems. But loving the Lord, loving his church, loving lost people, preaching the Word, and keeping close to the cross is always the right recipe for pastoral leadership, regardless of what state the church might be in when you begin your pastoral responsibilities. Don’t think of yourself as a revitalizer or a reformer-think of yourself as a shepherd, a servant of the Word whom the Lord will hopefully use to help accomplish his gospel purposes in his church for his glory. In other words, just say you want to be a pastor.

(Note: This article was cross-posted at Credo Magazine)

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  2. Brent Hobbs   •  

    When I was in college and seminary and people would ask me what I’d like to do, I’d tell them I wanted to be a pastor. The responses were sometimes pretty funny, usually following along one of two lines…

    “What kind of pastor?”
    “Don’t you want to be a youth pastor (or associate pastor, etc..) first?”

    Basically they couldn’t believe someone in their mid-twenties would want or be able to pastor a church. I’d just tell them I loved preaching and local church ministry and believed God had gifted me to do the work of pastoring.

  3. Jesse Duke   •  

    Thank you, Nathan, for your thoughtful words, and you Brent for your comment. I have struggled for a long time on whether God was “calling” me to be a pastor, or was it simply my desire to be a pastor because I love the Lord, the Bible, His people, and telling about Him. But I have always let the fear of the administration scare me off. Also, many years ago, when I first approached the subject, my wife said she did not want to be a pastor’s wife. So, I have had to find other ways to disciple others while in my day job. Now, I am getting too old to do my day job, and before I go finding another secular job, I am seeking the Lord again for His will. We are older and wiser now, and we may have only 20 good years left. I thought of Nathan’s shepherd comment. And I do not think that shepherds had age-barriers – young or old. If Jesus is the true shepherd, then all I could be is an assistant shepherd. Anyway, thanks for letting me ramble…

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  5. Titus Terrebonne   •  

    I really enjoyed this blog. As a young ministry student at the Baptist College of Florida I hear from other students all the time who like to speak generally about revitalize, renewing, and refreshing the church. Simply saying this all they are really saying is they want to be the shepherd of the church, the pastor. I love those last two statements “Don’t think of yourself as a revitalizer or a reformer-think of yourself as a shepherd, a servant of the Word whom the Lord will hopefully use to help accomplish his gospel purposes in his church for his glory. In other words, just say you want to be a pastor.” By the way everyone should go check out my blog titusterrebonne.blogspot.com.

  6. Brett Beasley   •  

    Brother Nathan,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. When I did go to seminary, I knew God called me to be a pastor. A few years down the road now, I know that means being a shepherd. Shepherding is a call to revitalize and reform, and the flock will never cease to need their shepherds, and men need to see the flock’s need and give them loving care from the Word. It is a worthy calling with no end to the work. It is the most exciting, sometimes frustrating work a man can be called to. Can’t imagine enduring the hard times if I didn’t see myself as a pastor. The revitalizer and reformer in me probably would have quit a long time ago. My call as pastor keeps me going. It is a call to oversee the spiritual well being of the Lord’s Church. I am realizing more and more these days that I need to consider my own need to be reformed and revitalized so I might care for this flock than I need to see myself as a reformer/revitalizer. I need to draw near my Shepherd, and trust Him to use me to be His undershepherd. Thank you for teaching and building into the lives of young men. May God continue to call men to be pastors.

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