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My Pastor Made Me Wait to Enter Ministry. I’m Grateful.

“Personally, I don’t see you in that role.” That statement from my pastor was a crushing blow.

The context was my desire to plant a church. My mentor’s words wounded, but it was the loving and intentional wound of a friend (Prov. 27:6). In retrospect, he was right, and both the church and I are better off for his courage to speak a hard word when I needed to hear it.

When it comes to appointing pastors and elders in the local church, Paul sets a standard of wisdom we’d do well to take to heart: “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Tim. 5:22). Pastors need character, competency, and to care for people. Paul’s words encourage us to recognize that would-be pastors usually need time to develop these traits before they enter ministry.


So much of the Christian life is waiting. Well-intentioned pastors may get excited about the potential in a young man. They may be tempted to run ahead of grace, dreaming about the young “diamond in the rough.” But character takes time to develop and test.

There’s certainly a balance between patiently letting love cover a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8) and intentionally pursuing the young men you’re developing by pointing out their shortcomings and blind spots. But seasoned pastors must take care not to neglect the latter. After all, once you’ve recognized a pastor, it’s not simple to “unrecognize” him.

Corporate America advises us to “hire slow and fire fast.” It’s more complicated in the church, where we’re family before we’re coworkers (Eph. 2:19). Hence the wisdom from Paul: better to hire slow and develop slow, to wait to lay on hands until after character is proven, to wait so you don’t regret your decision later.

The rabbinical tradition from which Paul hailed advised waiting until a man was 30 years old before confirming his calling. While that’s not a scriptural command, it’s wisdom we should seize. Thirty years is no insignificant amount of time to show a proven track record of character. The word “elder,” after all, sounds strange when applied to a guy fresh out of college.


It takes time and intentionality for the would-be pastor to grow in competency. John Piper reminded us that pastors aren’t professionals. But affirming that truth isn’t to say we don’t work with all our might (Col. 3:23). Pastors must develop a record of applying the balm of the gospel to sin-sick souls. Aspiring pastors should be pastoring long before they’re recognized with the title of pastor.

The pastors who shaped me in my local church affirmed the gifts God gave me while simultaneously expressing concern about undeveloped areas. When it comes to young leaders, there can be a combination of potential and problems. They can have great gifts and great flaws. They may appear to meet the character requirements laid out in 1 Timothy 3, but only time will tell if this remains true as they hone their skills.

The pastors who shaped me in my local church affirmed the gifts God gave me while simultaneously expressing concern about undeveloped areas.

Pray with open hands and enter into open conversations with would-be pastors over areas of growth. Those called will stick around even after hard conversations and constructive criticism. They’ll humbly seek to grow in their gifts and trust the Lord to shape them. Those who don’t stick around likely weren’t called in the first place. Men who walk away at the first signs of conflict can’t be expected to navigate the complex relational tensions that make up the bulk of pastoral ministry.


When I was told to wait, I was young, inexperienced, and impatient. I had a heart full of zeal and a head full of theology but no real-world experience in applying them. The Lord still needed to instill in me a love for people that would allow me to use those raw resources with pastoral art and skill. I had to learn to care for God’s sheep.

In time, the pastor who spoke the hard truth to me affirmed that his hesitations had dissolved. With age comes maturity and tested character (1 Tim. 3:10). He loved the church—and me—too much to be hasty in his affirmation.

I eventually did plant a church, but it first took five hard years of growing in my instincts to care for others. The Lord’s timing is better than mine. We’re now five years in as a church plant, and after much waiting and praying, we just confirmed our second pastor. It was never my desire to labor as a solo pastor, but it’s better to do ministry understaffed than wrongly staffed. Better to have a shortage of elders than to publicly call a shepherd who hasn’t shown tangible fruit in caring for the sheep.

It’s better to do ministry understaffed than wrongly staffed.

Willing to Say ‘Wait’

Pastors, it doesn’t matter whether you’re working with a seminarian applying for his first pastoral role, a guy who wants to be sent as a planter, a man who wants to be chosen as an elder, or someone who wants to head up a new program or ministry, you must be faithful to care for that diamond in the rough in front of you. Keep praying for God to develop in him the character, competency, and care required to shepherd the flock. It won’t happen overnight, but with time, “the tested genuineness of [his] faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7).

Jesus loves his church more than we do. We’d do well to wait on him as he raises up others to accompany us in the noble task of pastoring.


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