The online Bible teaching ministry of John Brand

An open letter to the leadership of churches training men for pastoral ministry

Dear fellow labourer in the work of the gospel.

I have been turning over the content of this letter for several weeks because I want to make sure I get the tone and wording as right as I possibly can, but this is a burden that has been weighing on my heart for some time and I need to share it with you.

I want to begin by saying that I thank God for you and for your passion for and commitment to equipping men for the pastoral ministry.   I share that passion and have been involved in this ministry, in different ways, for most of my ministry over the last 40 plus years.   Though brought up as the son and grandson of the Manse, I hugely benefitted from three years of training under the guidance of a remarkable Presbyterian Minister while I was doing my theological training at College.  That combination of classroom and hands-on training is, without doubt, the ideal.  A few days ago I read a quote from Al Mohler in which he said, “I want to assist churches and to assist pastors in training pastors. But, after fourteen years of service in this capacity, I am absolutely certain that the finest theological seminary on earth is absolutely incompetent at replicating the actual life of a Gospel congregation. I want to train a generation of pastors who will train pastors, and I want to help them in that task.”  Thank you for doing that and investing in these younger men.  I know some of you and I value your friendship and fellowship.

However, here is the burden on my heart.  In many cases these men are not being prepared for the real world of pastoral life and ministry.   That is not simply a perception on my part, it is what I have personally observed and have heard firsthand from churches who are looking for faithful pastors, as well as from some of the men themselves.

The danger of been trained in a church that is large enough to support and provide such training is that that situation, which is the exception in UK today, becomes the norm and the expectation.   You train and grow in a church environment where there are probably at least two or three full-time Pastors as well as several others on the church leadership team.   You are only expected to preach perhaps once a month, or twice at the most.  You don’t have to worry about the myriad of other responsibilities that Pastors shoulder because you are part of a sizeable team.

The problem is that the vast majority of evangelical churches in UK are not in any way like that.  Not only are you likely not to have any fellow full-time leaders, you are likely to be the only Pastor – Elder in the congregation and will largely bear the teaching and preaching responsibility yourself, not to mention 101 other tasks.  But that, in my experience, is not what many of these younger Ministry Apprentices are being prepared for or expecting.

I have lost count of the times someone has said to me, ‘I couldn’t sustain a preaching load of twice every Sunday, as well as a regular midweek meeting.   “I would burn out in 6 months” were the actual words of one such potential Pastor.  Others have told me, or the leaders of vacant churches looking for a Pastor, that they have been told by their trainers not to even consider a position where they would have to preach that frequently.

Something has gone seriously wrong here and it is causing great harm to smaller churches.   Having stood down from pastoral ministry last year, I am currently involved in a regular itinerant preaching ministry which includes preaching regularly in a local church in Ayrshire that has been vacant for about 6 years.  I give them two Sundays a month and also have the privilege of being something of a sounding board for the small team of Deacons.  This fellowship of 18 members and 10-15 other regulars love the solid preaching of the word twice every Sunday and once midweek.   They are offering a salary that is generous and higher than the national average of similar churches.  But they can’t find a Pastor willing to make the commitment and level of sacrifice they are looking for and, I believe, should be expecting.

That church is, in some ways, very similar to my first charge in the inner city of London.   I was 27 when I went there, married and with a 16 month old son.  The church had 15 members at the time and my wife and I were the youngest members when we joined them.   I preached twice every Sunday, led a midweek Bible study and was actively responsible for almost everything else that happened there for the first three years.   I vividly remember the first evening when I looked out of the Manse kitchen window, saw lights on in the church building and rejoiced that finally something was happening that I didn’t need to be there for!  But it took 3 years to get to even that stage; three years of three preaching / teaching sessions a week plus everything else I was doing. 

If they had told me we only want you to preach once a week or a few times every month, I would have been offended and would probably have looked elsewhere.  I am not sharing that with you to boast, but to say that was what I wanted and expected to be doing in pastoral  life and what I was equipped and trained for.

Here’s my fear, my brothers.  For every one of the large churches you have the privilege of leading that is helping to train and prepare men for ministry, there are probably 50 wanting a good, solid preaching and pastoral ministry and who are prepared to support it sacrificially to the best of their ability but they simply cannot find such men and so are depending on the less than ideal model of different speakers every Sunday and no meaningful pastoral oversight.  As a result, in my experience, they are not growing as a church or being able to reach their community.  The potential in so many of these churches is great, but without the right committed and sacrificial leadership many of these faithful local witnesses will simply die out, and there’s no need for them to do so.

Please prepare and equip the men God has entrusted to you for the real world of pastoral ministry, not the somewhat rarified environment of your own situation.  Please remind them of the inevitable cost of committed pastoral ministry as well as the immense joys and blessings.

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