I received this question the other day and thought my response might be helpful to you. If not, well, move along then….
Criner, Over the past several months I have really been feeling that my calling is to the pastorate. I was just curious if you had any advice on transitioning from the youth ministry into that role. I’m unsure of what the right next step would be. Whether it’s to continue gaining experience where I am now, while seeking out positions at smaller churches that might take a chance on someone like me, with less experience? Or if it’s to try and find another youth pastor, or associate position, at a larger place where I might could receive some more mentoring in that direction?*
First let me share that I felt the call to be a pastor when I was fairly young – in fact, many doubted my call saying I was “too young.” Alas, I did not pursue the “senior/lead” role until I had learned under a few good men. Soon after my time began at First Woodway, Mike Toby approached me about the possibility of formally training me to become “ready” (if you will) as a Senior Pastor. 2-3 years before I left, I had weekly meetings, discussions, “arguments” with him, but mostly just learned and asked questions. This truly was massive for me for I learned that I knew far less than I thought. That’s in a nutshell, my story.
But you! The call to pastorate huh? That’s awesome!
Do I have any advice of you?
I would say this – if you sense you’d find yourself enjoying a different role in the church, go do that instead! HA! Like I said, as a youth, I sensed the desire to be a pastor but I understood that being “so young” would be difficult for me personally and also within my marriage. It also, potentially, be difficult for the church I would serve at.
Seriously. I think God used my “associate pastor” experience as a catalyst to help my marriage strengthen because the emotional and spiritual drain that a pastor walks through is rigorous. It’s not for the faint of heart. I’m not trying to be overly dramatic, I’m just saying that since becoming a pastor, I’ve experienced more emotional/spiritual/mental stress than like the past 7 years combined.
So, if you’d rather be a “team guy” than the “lead guy” then stick with youth ministry. There are a 1,000 joys in youth ministry, that being said, there are 10,000 in pastoring. To see life change from babies to 80s, to being responsible for that large of a group dynamic, to building bridges with an older generation/gaining their trust/preaching week-in and week-out. It’s so awesome. But measure the cost. Your spouse / family needs to have a huge say in the matter. They’re as much “in this” as you will be… if not more!
This being the case, the route I took was to become an associate at a larger church to learn under a “seasoned pastor.” That’s the route I took, but it certainly isn’t the only one. I know fellows who jumped head-first into the pastorate and have benefited from it. On the other hand, I’ve had friends severely burned from doing it – mostly because they inherited a mess at their small church and didn’t really know where to turn to handle those pressures. What you choose really is up to you to some degree.
But how do you know if you’re “ready” for the senior pastor role?
Tim Keller has an excellent article that you can find HERE, but I’ll sum it up with three things from the article:
Affinity is the normal, existential/priestly way to discern call. What people needs do I vibrate to?
Ability is the normal, rational/prophetic way to discern call. What am I good at doing?
Opportunity is the normal, organizational/kingly way to discern call. What do the leaders/my friends believe is the most strategic kingdom need?
To discover the answers to this, you’ll probably want a mentor or two to evaluate you on these merits. For me personally, I would wake up constantly and found myself “dreaming” of moving forward to lead a church. It was affirmed by those around me and especially those in leadership “above” me to evaluate me and whether I had the gifting of preaching/leadership to pursue such a role. These HONEST comments were extremely helpful.
Then after counsel for my wife, I began praying for opportunities to serve and slowly they came. I absolutely would exhort you to walk slowly with your spouse for this decision affects her (and future children, if you have any). These is just as much stress and strain on them as on you.
Through it all, these three above statements helped me in what was happening in my head and heart – to today, where I serve the Lord with my hands in this role.
Now obviously, this isn’t everything that you need to consider, but it’s a start. This is certainly not something I would move into quickly, but to take slowly, considering/counting the cost. But in the end, trust the Lord. Trust Him to lead you to the place you need to be so that you may bring Him glory and honor.
Hope this helps!