Most pastors have a right desire to train up future pastors. We realize that one day our ministry will end, and that we ought to be preparing the next generation to take the gospel to places we cannot go.
This focus, however, can lead us to overemphasize training future pastors at the expense of training—and learning from—“ordinary” congregants.
Here are five reasons we must devote some of our best time, energy, and resources to training up and learning from electricians, lawyers, teachers, and bankers.
1. They make up most of your flock.
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
God has called you to give attention to all the flock, not just some of it. The size of a congregation affects how much attention elders can give to each sheep, but each sheep must matter to us because, as Jesus made clear, each sheep matters to him (Matt. 18:12–14).
Each sheep must matter to us because, as Jesus made clear, each sheep matters to him.
If most of your time, energy, and effort is given to future pastors, you’ll neglect the majority of your flock. Such a focus could unintentionally stifle the growth of the majority of your members who need discipling, instruction, and pastoral counsel. It could also provoke members to bitterness, causing them to feel like “second-class sheep” compared to those who aspire to be pastors. Satan delights in cultivating distrust between sheep and shepherds, and this is an easy way to do it.
One possible solution to this tension is including aspiring pastors in the work of shepherding other sheep. Jesus and Paul are almost always found with disciples by their side. A wise way to care for all the flock, and raise up future pastors at the same time, is to bring these groups together as often as possible.
2. They can reach people whom pastors can’t.
Before going into full-time ministry, I loved working regular jobs. This is because I’m an evangelist at heart, and those jobs afforded me the opportunity to be around people who didn’t know Jesus. But when someone becomes a pastor, he’s in one sense making the decision to retreat from the front lines of evangelism to equip others who will take the gospel into the world.
As a pastor, I view discipling our members as the development of missionaries who will reach people I’ll never be able to reach. My job is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12). If we’re predominantly spending our time with hopeful pastors, we’ll neglect equipping members on the front lines of gospel work in the community.
Again, investing in a financier, construction worker, lawyer, or teacher is investing in someone who will reach those you’re not able to reach. This is part of Jesus’s wise plan for reaching the world; don’t neglect it.
It’s also wise to know that some members can reach other members more effectively than a pastor can. For innumerable reasons, some immature sheep hesitate to receive instruction from pastors, but are willing to listen to other members. As you equip “ordinary” congregants for ministry, you develop allies and advocates who can help hesitant sheep grow up into maturity.
3. They will help you be a better preacher.
Hanging out with aspiring pastors can be rewarding, but pastors need time with “normal people.” When we spend intentional time with members who are dealing with unbelieving bosses, the stress of travel, the pressure to make profits, and so on, God educates us about needs of our flock we might otherwise have overlooked. This shapes both us and also our preaching.
By spending time with our congregants, visiting their workplaces, asking humble questions, and eating meals in their homes, we gain insights into unique issues we must address in our preaching. Texts we preach yield fresh applications, because we see how they apply to various situations. Indeed, by neglecting discipling relationships with non-pastoral men and women, we rob the church of rich insights that benefit everyone who listens.
Pastors aren’t just message-givers, but also message-livers. We’re called to be “examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3). Being around the flock, therefore, helps them see what our message looks like in real life. It also helps us avoid hypocrisy. By being among our members, we’ll remember our own sermon applications and ensure we’re applying them ourselves. Not a few times I’ve had a loving sheep say to me, “Now pastor, didn’t you say. . . .” I love it when friends preach my sermons back to me! This helps me more faithfully live what I proclaim.
4. They will help you follow the Lord.
Pastors are sheep first, shepherds second. Always. We must remember that. Even though we’re called to lead the Lord’s people, we’re also one of his people. Yet one of our great temptations is to get so caught up in shepherding that we forget we’re sheep in need of care, too. Fellow church members help us remember this.
Just yesterday, I had coffee with a member of our church who works in commercial real estate. We’re good friends, in similar life stages, face similar family challenges, and undergo similar work pressures. We both left our meeting refreshed and encouraged to keep trusting the Lord.
Pastors aren’t supposed to be experts on everything.
I’m encouraged by my fellow elders, too, but they aren’t the only ones I can learn from. Fellow church members—men and women—allow me into their lives, and I learn from them how to be a more faithful father, husband, financial steward, educator, citizen, and more. Pastors aren’t supposed to be experts on everything, and we can always learn from anyone who has the Holy Spirit.
5. Some might end up being pastors.
I took a moment and wrote down half a dozen men serving as pastors today. What makes these men unique is that my relationship with each began as a normal discipling relationship. One was an oil field worker, another a physical therapist, another a salesman, and so on. These were “normal” men with “normal” jobs who just wanted to grow in their relationship with Jesus.
But God used the time, attention, and focused Word ministry to mature them and crystallize their calling as a pastor. One of the ways the Lord trains up pastors is by taking men who never thought they’d be pastors and giving them this desire. Remember that Samuel thought he knew who God’s anointed was, but God told him: “Do not look on his appearance . . . for the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
Love and be faithful to the sheep entrusted in your care, and you just might be surprised by what the Lord does through some of them—and through you.
Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at 9Marks.