I surrendered to preach on June 8, 1993, immediately after graduating High School; in September, I enrolled in a Bible Institute in Fort Worth, TX, graduating four years later. Since starting Lighthouse Baptist, I have finished a bachelor’s degree and two post-graduate degrees from two other colleges. All in all, I consider my Bible college experiences to have been a very important part of my life. I had the privilege of sitting under some truly great and godly men, including Dr. Bob Smith and Dr. Raymond Barber. These men had a profound influence in my life. I have sat through many a boring 7 am class, but I have also sat through some chapel services where the red-hot preaching was truly life-changing. And many of the good friends that I now have in the ministry I met in Bible college.
So, don’t think that I am criticizing Bible colleges, because I’m not. (And please don’t leave any anti-college comments because that’s not the point of this article). It was a great experience, especially since I was heavily involved in a great church. I am leery of colleges that take the place of the local church. A true preacher-training Bible college ought to be based on immersion in the ministry of a local, New Testament Church. (Also, I know that some good men did not go to college, and I am fine with that too).
I don’t expect a Bible college to teach EVERYTHING. However, there are some things that, looking back from my current perspective, that I wish would have either been taught, or taught more thoroughly. Or, perhaps, they were taught, but I was too young and inexperienced to absorb the truths they were trying to convey. In talking to other preachers near my own age, I have found that they have felt similarly. In other words, most of us have said at some point, “We didn’t cover THIS in Bible college.”
Perhaps some of these ideas could make it into a class or new classes, or perhaps mentoring pastors will take note and find some way to help their younger preachers with these subjects BEFORE they enter the ministry. Let me suggest four areas:
- HANDLING CONFLICT IN THE MINISTRY. I think that this is the most common issue raised when talking to younger preachers – especially when they are discouraged, having run into “Deacon Bigbucks” or “Sister Sourpuss” for the first time. Or, it could be 1000 different issues, problems, or concerns. I have found the book “Pastor Abusers” by Kent Crockett to be very helpful, but I wish there was a similar book written by an independent Baptist (I do believe, though, that carnal church members behave similarly no matter what their denomination). A year ago, I spoke with a retired pastor who gave me a few excellent tips on handling conflict. I said then that it ought to be in a book, and he said it ought to be a college class. The fact is that many younger preachers are broken in their early ministry because they are not mentally and spiritually prepared for the conflict they often face in the church from certain individuals. To me, this would be like sending soldiers into combat and not teaching them what to expect when the bullets start flying.
- PASTORING THE SMALLER (NORMAL) SIZED CHURCH. Statistics show that 90% of the churches in America have less than 200 members. 1% have over 1000. Many colleges are operated by churches in the 1%, and the students are trained to operate a 1% church – when 90% of them will pastor churches of less than 200. Probably without a secretary or staff member – maybe without even a salary or benefits. I am not criticizing, just observing. My bus route in college was larger than my church the first 3 years – and I had more bus workers than I had workers in the church. I admit that it was quite a shock to go from a church of 1000, to a church of 4, and begin to work towards that magical 100 mark for the first time. Perhaps I am not alone in this?
- CHURCH PLANTING – IN GREATER DETAIL. Church planting ought not be a segment of a class. It ought to be it’s own class – and for those who are planning to plant a church, maybe there should be a second class. Some church planting classes tell you how to do everything BUT actually plant a church. The whole course could be summarized as, “Go find a place to meet and start knocking on doors.” Well, that’s part of it – but a lot of graduates are asking guys like me what to do about incorporation, how to get tax-exemption, what to do during the first year, how and when to start a Sunday School, how to teach standards for leadership, etc. And if your attitude towards them is, “Sink or swim” (the general attitude I observed when I started out), you’re not really helping. Church planters need to know more than just how to prepare for the first service. They need to know what to do and expect in the first FIVE YEARS.
- MINISTRY AND FAMILY. We complain all the time about the failures of pastoral homes – but do we do enough to prepare husbands and wives for their lives together in the ministry? Also, are they prepared to raise their children in the ministry?
This post is not written because I think that I have the answers, but only to cause us to think a little bit about some important areas that perhaps we are missing. A pastor friend of mine spent several months going over things such as these with two men that are now in the ministry (one on deputation and one who started a church). Both had been faithful servants in their church, and had graduated from college, but he took the time to “fill in the gaps” in some areas that may have been lacking. Every pastor can and should mentor his young preachers in these areas.
Thank you for reading. God bless.