Our church is currently working its way through First Timothy. One of the major topics the Apostle Paul addresses is leadership, particularly qualifications (1 Tim 3:1-13). One of the questions I get from time to time is, "If I feel called to local church leadership, but know that I am not ready, what should I do in the meantime?" Over time I have put the following thoughts together. While I have potential pastors and deacons in view, as that is what the text addresses, clearly these could apply to any form of leadership at home and/or at the office. Wherever you may land, I have the following eight suggestions:
First, there is not a magic formula to become a pastor or enter vocational ministry. Bible college and seminary are helpful, and often recommended, but those alone don’t guarantee future church leadership or fruitful ministry. Jesus tends to have a customized plan for every individual leader and often the only commonality among those plans is the local church.
Second, spend this season of life getting to know Jesus really well through the Word and in prayer. Saturate this season in prayer, growing in sensitivity to the Lord’s leading. Grow accustomed to recognizing the Spirit’s voice and, then, obeying. The best time to hone this particular aspect of your relationship with Jesus is prior to taking a leadership role.
Third, start serving and be patiently faithful with whatever is before you. He/she who is faithful with little, will be faithful with much. Don’t begrudge the small things; be faithful with them. The best measure of whether a future leader will be faithful with larger responsibilities is determined by whether he’s being faithful with his current responsibilities.
Fourth, if you’re in college, pursue a vocational direction. While I understand the joy of desiring to major in Biblical Studies or Ministry, you will be better served by picking up a vocational skill of some kind. That could be anything, including teaching, business, engineering, design, programming, etc. It will make future employment easier and it will help you understand others – the majority of whom will spend their lives working a distinct vocation.
Fifth, share your desires with others and seek their counsel and evaluation. Invite others who know you, love you and have observed you leading to speak into your life. Do they affirm your desire? Do they see in you what you see in yourself? They’ll also be able to help you sort out your godly ambition from your selfish ambition.
Sixth, begin a plan of study. Created a personal plan of study. Talk with your pastor. Audit classes from Covenant or Reformed Theological Seminary for free online. The saying, “Leaders are readers” is true. Personally, I break my reading into 5 categories: theological, historical, sociological, biographical and classical. I try to be reading something in every category. That’s just me. Figure out what works for you. One helpful place to start is Lit: A Christian Guide to Reading Books, by Tony Reinke.
Seventh, consider what aspects of your character need grace-filled, spirit-led addressing. You probably don’t need long to determine what areas those are. Take some time to consider those areas and what it would look like for God to transform them. When/where will you start? What are the gospel-disconnects revealed by this particular area of life? What can you implement today? What does repentance look like? How will you walk that repentance out? Who do you need to talk to?
Eighth, get your house in order. Paul asks Timothy a haunting rhetorical question, “If someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” The answer is obviously, “he can’t”. The time to get your household in order is well before you take a leadership role. Assess your “house”. Pay off debt. Create a budget. Do you have a regular date night with your wife? Do you get regular time with each of your kids? Are you leading yourself? What are some practical next steps? Re-evaluate every season.
For further study and reflection, I also recommend reading Dave Harvey's, Am I Called? The Summons to Pastoral Ministry.