The Detroit Red Wings just made the NHL playoffs for the 23rd year in a row. You would have to go back to the 1989-90 season for when the Red Wings last missed the playoffs. A few current Red Wings players weren’t even born yet. What is it that makes the Red Wings so consistently good over all these years? One of the keys to their success has been player development, the ability to identify, draft and develop young players into great professionals. While some successful teams only add players by outbidding others for established talent, the truly great teams are able to turn raw potential into a great player.
Many churches avoid rookies and will only bring on established pastors with loads of experience. It’s a common joke among pastors that churches are looking for a 30-year old pastor with 20 years’ experience. They like the youthfulness and vision, but are terrified of the inexperience factor.
Rookies make mistakes. But for the sake of the kingdom of God, churches need to put more into developing young talent into great pastors. They need to take risks on rookies and invest in the future.
My Rookie Season
My first pastoral gig was in a small farming community in Southern Manitoba. I was called to serve as the solo pastor in a church of maybe 100 people. I was 22 years old and newly married with no pastoral experience. I had grown up on Vancouver’s eastside, and attended a high school and church that each were three or four times larger than the town we moved to in Manitoba. There was culture shock to be sure.
The church was amazingly gracious to us. They were accepting and generous. We felt welcomed instantly. It was in this church that I experienced all my ministry firsts: my first 100 or so sermons, my first baptism, first wedding, first funeral, baby dedications, first time leading communion and much more. There was the new experience of the joy of ministry. And of the anguish and heartbreak that a pastor feels for his hurting people. I am so, so thankful for that church. I will never forget their patience and generosity to us. They sat through slowly improving sermons and youthful foolishness. They shaped me and taught me. They saw potential in me and were willing to endure inexperience for it. That church helped make me the pastor I am today.
Ask a pastor about his first pastoral experience and watch him beam as he recounts his experience in some small but amazing church that loved and welcomed him when his heart was bigger than his resume.
Pastors aren’t made in seminary, but in these types of churches.
When the New Testament outlines the requirements for a local church elder, age and experience don’t directly play into things. There is the requirement to not be a recent convert (I Tim 2:6) and the ability to manage his household well (I Tim 2:4). Some interpreters would take “husband of one wife” to mean an overseer must be married, but most would read it as a requirement of faithfulness whether married or single. Instead of age or experience, the New Testament requirements all focus on character. The only ability required is the ability to teach faithfully (I Tim 4:2; Titus 1:9). Shouldn’t our search committees follow suit?
When Paul does bring up age he says “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (I Tim 4:12). Paul urges young pastor Timothy to set an example for the church, to not let his age get in the way of being an example for believers to follow.
Hiring a Rookie Pastor
If experience isn’t all that important, what should a church look for in a potential pastor?
- Hire Character
When I say to hire a rookie pastor, please do not hear me say that churches should lower the bar on character. Look for a young man who meets the biblical qualifications for an elder/pastor. While experience isn’t critical, character is.
- Hire Potential
Are there raw gifts there? Is there passion and potential? For many young men they have all the tools necessary to be effective leaders, but need the opportunity to grow and sharpen their skills. Look for that gifting. Can he preach? Can he lead?
- Hire Doctrine
Does he have sound doctrine? Is he rooted in his faith? Paul says an elder/pastor “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). I’m always amazed how search committees seem to spend so little time on a potential pastor’s doctrine, when the New Testament seems to place so much emphasis on that very point.
Think Kingdom Impact
A church needs to make decisions with a long-term kingdom vision. Instead of being reactive and short-term, churches need to be proactive and long-term. Instead of always hiring the best established talent, we need churches that develop young pastors and elders. We need churches to train and develop leaders for the long haul. Sometimes those leaders will move on and have an impact elsewhere. It’s hard to watch them go, but if we value God’s kingdom over our own, we can celebrate the bigger impact.
So churches, don’t be afraid of inexperience. Look for young men with character and potential and sound doctrine and develop them into great pastors.
This post was originally published at Grounded in the Gospel.