To me, encouraging other pastors isn’t just a nice idea. It is a responsibility. And training and equipping young preachers is part of God’s calling on my life.
While much of my ministry in these areas is to the students and graduates of West Coast Baptist College, I endeavor to serve and help pastors in any way that I can, including through Spiritual Leadership Conference and personal means of encouragement.
But I feel a special responsibility to younger men in ministry to encourage and mentor them. It is a joy to me to see my own sons serving the Lord in ministry, many sons in the faith who were saved and discipled at Lancaster Baptist Church now serving the Lord, and over two thousand WCBC graduates serving in ministry across the globe.
In the past few years, I not only passed my fifty-fifth birthday, but I entered my fourth decade of ministry. I still consider myself young(!) but over these past few years in particular, I’ve talked much with other pastors and leaders regarding our responsibilities to younger men in ministry.
I think all of us know how to encourage those whose ministry is just like ours. That comes easy. But in this post, I’d like to share a few thoughts regarding encouraging younger preachers whose ministry philosophy may not be as settled or who may be using different methods than we would teach or encourage them to use.
As the president of West Coast Baptist College, I always have a sense of responsibility to keep our ministry on the same path of soulwinning, sanctified living, ecclesiastical separation, biblical preaching, conservative music, and emphasis on Baptist doctrine as we were when we started over twenty years ago. (I reiterated many of these positions in the graduation message I preached for our recent commencement exercises.)
But in a broader sense, how can those of us who have decades of ministry behind us encourage those who are younger, even if their ministry isn’t just like ours? Here are a few thoughts:
I don’t believe it helps anyone to pretend differences don’t exist. Be honest about where differences do exist, but also be honest enough to look at similarities and rejoice in what a younger preacher is doing that is right.
Many young preachers are doing much well. They are leading people to Christ, discipling young converts, keeping a right spirit, asking good questions, and desiring to please the Lord.
When I have conversations with young men I know, I am honest if I have concerns with their attitude or philosophy of ministry. I do not, however, look across the country for people unknown to me and seek to engage them in these discussions. If someone asks my opinion, I’m glad to give counsel. If they are getting out of the “biblical box” in their methods, I don’t want to push them further. My first hope is to see them restored to a biblical path. Yes, I may eventually separate if Scripture is violated, but the heart of God is restoration. Typically men who don’t want to identify as conservative, unaffiliated Baptists will separate from me (2 Timothy 1:8).
One of the greatest things I try to discern in a young preacher is his spirit. I really believe that, when it comes to differences in a young man’s methods and ministry philosophy, his spirit is the greatest indicator of his long-term direction.
Broadly speaking, I see three categories of young men raised in unaffiliated Baptist churches:
- Some follow nearly the exact ministry culture and identity in which they were raised.
- Some have the same heart for doctrine as their pastor or mentor, but choose different methodology. Their spirit remains respectful to their heritage, but they use more pragmatic methods of reaching the lost.
- Some tend toward a caustic, rebellious spirit toward their heritage. They have either rejected “fundamentalism” or are distancing themselves from it.
Some people argue that men in the second category will move to the third. I prefer to practice 1 Corinthians 13:7 and believe, bear, hope, and wait as an expression of love.
Sometimes those who make accusatory comments about young pastors actually have a spirit that displeases God as much as the alleged compromise they are trying to expose. Only God knows a person’s heart, but I do consider the fruit—of the Spirit and of souls—in the lives of those from whom I take counsel or receive input.
As I have discussed these issues with older pastors whose families are raised, most are less critical. Most men past fifty, have realized that not everyone’s children, nor every Bible college’s graduate, walk in the exact path in which they were trained. As you grow in grace, you learn to exercise humility; as you grow in humility, you learn to give grace.
For over thirty years, I’ve done my best to encourage compassion, disciple-making, servant leadership, and a spirit of striving together so that young pastors will be attracted to the spirit and vision of biblical ministry. I do my best to tell them that every group and fellowship has its issues with sin, jealously, etc. (because everyone is human). Still, the toxicity that sometimes exists can be unattractive to younger preachers.
We can be grateful for the contributions of Christian homes and institutions, or we can be suspicious. For example, if a young preacher leaves his heritage (or if we suspect he might), some blame his home church or alma mater. Personally, I wouldn’t question a pastor friend’s faithfulness to truth or the Word of God based on his children. I have too many friends who are rock solid men whose children are not living or serving exactly how they trained them. Neither would I question an institution based on a handful of graduates. I know of a fundamental school with an alumni group of gay students. They certainly did not learn that from their college.
Conversations about young men in ministry should include gratitude for the fact that they desire to serve the Lord. And we, as an older generation, should be careful to let them know that we appreciate the good they do for God.
It seems few independent Baptists really respect the independence of other independent Baptists. It is not my job to rebuke every pastor—young or old—whose methodology is different. I need to respect the autonomy of their church. I try to encourage those I know to remain steadfast as autonomous, biblical Baptist churches who are separated unto Christ and winning souls for Christ. I encourage a distinct ministry. After all, the church is a called out assembly. However, God has not made me responsible for any church other than the one I pastor. I have not preached against a soulwinning Baptist preacher or written against one in The Baptist Voice magazine.
Christ is the Head of the church. As a pastor, one of my jobs is to see that He has preeminence in the church of which I am an undershepherd. But as for other pastors and churches, how they give Christ preeminence remains between them and the Lord. They will give an account to Christ, not to me.
Yes, my heart has been grieved to see young pastors abandon the distinctions of their upbringing. But how do I help them or myself by having a hateful attitude toward them? As mentioned a moment ago from 1 Corinthians 13, godly love believes, bears, hopes, and endures.
I think that those of us who are a bit older should check our spirit to be sure we are practicing Christlike love in how we talk about younger men. If we truly care about younger pastors, we would simply pick up the phone and call the pastor with a heart to be a blessing. We would take them to lunch, buy them a book, or add them to our prayer list. I question the sincerity of those whose first move is to criticize.
Let’s not put people on a “slippery path” without talking to them, asking their motives and direction, and earnestly praying for them. If we aren’t willing to do this, it may be that our motive in criticism is something less than love.
Nearly every day, I pray for pastors. I have a list of pastors who I pray for by state. I am forming a new list of younger pastors. If you would like to be on that list, email me. I won’t pray you’ll be just like me. (My wife would tell you that one of me is enough.) I’ll pray you will be like Christ, reflect His holiness and grace, bear fruit that remains, and stay faithful to the cause of Christ.
True growth in grace over the years will result in increasing graciousness. I want to be more and more like Christ—full of grace and truth. So while I am committed to being firm in my stand, I also want to be gracious in my disposition. I do not want to become a crotchety, old preacher who shoots down every younger, zealous preacher, just because he has new ideas.
When I think of young men who grew up around the ministry and are now serving the Lord as pastors, I think one of the greatest ways we can encourage them is to extend the same grace to them that we wanted when we were young in ministry. Many of us older pastors can look back and see things we did in methodology in our earlier years that we have not repeated.
For those of us who are over fifty, it’s easy to rejoice with the ministries that look just like ours in every way. For those who are doing some things I’m uncomfortable with, I still want to be part of the discussion with them. I don’t want to ostracize them. If I have to separate from one, I’m not going to pound my chest and declare my philosophical superiority by condemning a twenty-something-year-old pastor who is doing what he feels is best for the Lord.
I’ve done my best, and have encouraged others in the same, to remain steadfast in biblical doctrine and philosophy of personal holiness and the ecclesiastical distinction of our Baptist heritage. Changing in your position doesn’t help a young preacher who is questioning or trying other ministry philosophies. Second Thessalonians 2:15 admonishes us, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”
But let’s remember that we need to practice both personal steadfastness and a loving, prayerful spirit.