12 Jul Advice for Young Pastors
Published July 13, 2021
By Les Lofquist, DD
In my ministry, I am constantly counseling pastors of all ages. It is a great honor to have these servants of God seek my advice regarding the issues they face in their churches and ministries. Often I get to share with young pastors in their first pastorate, or even with Bible college students or seminarians who are yet preparing for their first church.
Below are a number of questions posed to me by a seminarian for a class project, followed by my responses. And several years ago, I had a Bible college student ask me similar questions and I also responded. For this article I have compiled both sets of questions and answers and present them here as my advice for young pastors. These do not represent the kinds of questions usually addressed in more formal academic settings, the kinds of settings where the students are taught Hebrew and Greek and how to study and teach and preach a passage of Scripture. My answers below assume that the foundation for a good pastor is his ability in handling the Word of God. But I have addressed the other kinds of questions young pastors ask regarding how they should think and act and lead . . . the kind of questions I handle in my pastoral theology classes at Shepherds Theological Seminary.
How do you define leadership and the important aspects of good leadership?
A leader is someone with clearly defined objectives who is able to persuade others to help him achieve those objectives. A good leader has noble and worthy objectives. A godly leader has Christ-honoring and biblical objectives. He also uses his godly character to do the ultimate persuading.
What kind of leader are you?
I seek to be a good and godly leader as described above, one who charts out a course with Christ-honoring objectives and inspires people to follow by godly character. The ultimate test of my leadership comes not in this life but will come when I stand before my Lord at the Bēma Seat of Christ (1 Cor 4:1-5).
What are your spiritual gifts?
Exhortation, teaching, and administration. However, I did not seek to discover what my spiritual gifts were before I got involved in serving in the local church. It was only after I got busy in the work of the ministry that I discerned my spiritual gifts, as identified by other older and more mature Christians who observed my life and counseled me on how I could best serve. After coming to Christ, I did everything I could in church and through experience and counsel, I came to understand how God had gifted me. All I could be was willing to serve . . . others had to confirm my suitability for service.
What are your “irrefutable laws of leadership” and why?
This is an interesting question I first considered years ago with one of the leaders in our church in Indiana. At the time, I was teaching a course on leadership at Grace Theological Seminary and this subject came up. We determined five such principles of leadership.
The Principle of Character: The leader sets the standard for everything that happens in the organization he leads. Your character, given enough time, will permeate the entire institution (church, family, ministry, vocation, organization). The organization will never rise higher than the character of the leader. For the Christian leader, this character is described in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. This principle is non-negotiable.
The Principle of Servanthood: The people you are leading must believe that you are leading them for God’s glory, their benefit, and the good of the whole, and not for your own benefit or glory. Therefore, the greatest leader is the greatest servant (Matt 20:28).
The Principle of Vision: Leadership is seeing a worthy goal more clearly than others and inspiring others to pursue the goal with you. The leader must be able to see farther and more clearly than those he leads.
The Principle of Inspiration: You must be able to inspire others to pursue the goal with you. You must help them see the goal. You must help them believe it is a worthy goal. You must help them believe the goal can be reached. Your own personal confidence is a key in accomplishing this, and your confidence is rooted in how clearly you see the goal.
The Principle of Giftedness: The leader must possess giftedness in relationship to those he would lead. Someone who is modestly gifted will have difficulty leading those around him who are especially gifted. If you try to lead those who are generally more gifted than you, it will be difficult to maintain their respect as a leader. You must know your own limitations and your own potential. You must try to lead from your strengths.
As a leader of a church or Christian organization, what do you think needs to be done to develop Christian ethics among your congregation or staff?
You must model godliness, respect, and integrity at all times. Especially during the times of crisis and great stress, your congregation or staff will see your ethical behavior and be inspired to the same. I think ethical behavior is more “caught” than “taught” within an organization.
Can you name a few books other than Scripture that have influenced you on leadership and ethics?
The most profound book in my understanding of spiritual leadership was written by J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership. Other helpful books have been Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership and John MacArthur’s The Master’s Design for the Church and The Book on Leadership. However, quite frankly, I have been more profoundly influenced by the Scriptures than any of the leadership books and Bible leaders like Moses, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Paul have had a deep impact upon my understanding of leadership.
How do you determine the reality of leadership integrity?
You must always determine the integrity of a leader by comparison to essential principles found in the Word of God. The most basic, yet profound, passage that always challenges me toward personal holiness and integrity is 1 Timothy 3.
What lessons have you learned about following? Please describe the characteristics of a good follower and how that affects his leadership?
To be a good leader you must first be a good follower. To be a great leader you must be great at following great leaders, first and foremost Jesus Christ. A great follower is great at: discerning who to follow and who to ignore, asking important questions and carefully processing the answers by careful listening, humbly submitting to the wisdom of the one you are following, and faithfully doing what you commit to do. I have never known a great leader who was not first a great follower.
What is your personal ethical worldview? How important is it to you to address social and moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality? Should your church or organization take a position on those issues?
I seek in everything to be directed by Romans 11:36: “From Him, through Him, and to Him is everything.” Therefore, every circumstance and situation confronting me in this world must be conformed to the standard of Jesus Christ and His Word. You cannot ignore social and moral issues as a leader of a church or organization and still be true to Romans 11:36. You must address those issues in the course of your ministry, as they arise. And the way to address those issues is through appealing to the Word of God.
What is your decision-making process? What lessons have you learned from previous experience in that process?
I begin with a worldview directed by Romans 11:36. I attempt to interpret everything I see, say, think, and do by the standard of Jesus Christ and His Word. I also listen carefully to godly people with greater wisdom and experience than I who also share this worldview. I have learned that God’s Word is never wrong, my feeble attempts at understanding frequently fall short of my aspirations, and the people around me are weak like me. So, I carefully listen to the Bible and to godly, wise people.
As you and your wife both serve in the leadership positions of the same organization, what are some sensitive issues that have come up relating to ethics and leadership effectiveness, and how have you handled them?
Recognizing the weakness of the flesh, I have very carefully “guarded the gate” of leadership in the organizations that I have led. Because of that principle, I have had fewer ethical problems to deal with since the men usually surrounding me have been 1 Timothy 3 kind of men. We have sought to serve in accordance with the Word of God. When issues of discipline arose within our organization, we sought to follow the truth of Matthew 18:15-17. It is amazing how confusing, “sensitive issues” become clearer when you simply seek to follow the Word of God as leaders. Also, I am extremely discreet in what I communicate regarding “sensitive issues,” even what I communicate to my wife. Many pastors and spiritual leaders are blabber-mouths about way too much!
What do you think are the biggest temptations or moral compromises church leaders face?
I think it is most simply put this way. The greatest temptations church leaders face surround sex, money and power. Interestingly, you find the same warning to Israel regarding their kings in Deuteronomy 17:16-17. And even though I frequently hear warnings about those three temptations, I also hear frequent tales of men who have fallen into sin related to sexual immorality, money, and/or power. No one of us is immune to the weakness of the flesh!
How do your strengths and weaknesses affect your ministry?
Whenever I am asked a question like this one, I am unsure how to answer. I usually respond in this way. My job as a leader is to maximize my personal strengths and the strengths of the people surrounding me, and then make my weaknesses and the weaknesses of the people surrounding me irrelevant.
What do you see as the problems of ethics in leadership in this country, and how do you think that your church (organization) is going to make a difference?
The problem of ethics in leadership is as old a problem as humanity. The only answer is through a redeemed heart brought into conformity to the will of Jesus Christ. The only difference I can personally make is to perform my God-ordained daily tasks in a manner consistent with Scripture, faithfully teaching and modeling God’s Word.
What should be done to prepare the leadership today so that they stand up against the tide of the world?
They need to see reflected in me strength of character and courage of conviction. I need to constantly challenge the leaders around me to the higher calling of God’s Word and His holy standards. I need to remind all of us that we as Christians are strangers and aliens in this world and our ultimate assessment will come not in this life but at the Bēma Seat.
What are your views on absolutes?
When it comes to ethics, I am a moral absolutist. The only knowledge and ethic that we have is that which is revealed by God in His Word. And we must always obey God’s Word at all times, at all costs.
List three of the biggest problems you face as a pastor and how do you handle them?
Biggest Problem #1: Development of Godly Leaders in the Church
According to Ephesians 4:11-16, the key ministry of a pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry, so that everyone in the church will build up one another in the faith. I always remember that followers cannot train leaders. Leadership training is the one responsibility that I as a leader cannot delegate away.
One key to success in your pastoral ministry is in making leadership development, especially of men, your top priority. Every church desperately needs more godly leaders and that has always been my biggest priority. Yet it has been my biggest problem because not every man wants to be a spiritual leader. Many men don’t even care. So, I must find ways to motivate men to care, desire to grow, and take spiritual leadership. That’s what I prayed for, preached about, privately encouraged, mentored, and sought to model before the men of my church.
If you want things to happen in your church, follow the pattern in Ephesians 4:11-16 where we see:
v. 11 Gifted, trained leaders causing things to happen in a church, which include . . . v. 12 saints who are trained v. 12 saints who are serving v. 12 the body being built up v. 13 the body being unified v. 13 saints who experientially, intimately know Christ v. 13 saints who are mature v. 14 saints who know doctrine and are discerning v. 15 saints who are “truthing in love” (meaning of that participle) v. 16 synergy where “every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love”
This concern for leadership development also fuels me when I think about the church at large. I am constantly recruiting boys and young men to consider serving Christ with all their lives, even as a pastor. If we as pastors don’t call a new generation to lifelong Christian service, who will? Of course, I also seek to inspire girls and young women. But I place my priority on male spiritual development and then teach the men to lovingly lead their wives and daughters. However, I am not always successful in leadership development. That leads to Biggest Problem #2.
Biggest Problem #2: Overcoming Discouragement
Satan is always trying to fight against the work of God. He is a murderer (John 8:44) so he would just outright kill me if he could. If he can’t kill me, he will try to confuse me with lies (John 8:44) and false teaching from outsiders (Matt 7:15; Acts 20:29) and false teachers from insiders within the church (Acts 20:30; Jude 3-4). And if he can’t kill me or get me confused with heresy, then he tries to tempt me to fall into sexual immorality (“lewdness” in Jude 4).
But if he can’t get me by killing me or confusing me or tempting me to sexual sins, then he tries to overwhelm me with criticism and discouragement like he did in Ezra’s day (Ezra 4:4, 24) and Nehemiah’s day (Neh 6:5-9) and with Paul (2 Cor 1:8; 7:5-6; 11:28). And this is where the man of God finds himself to be extremely vulnerable because discouragement can cause the pastor to give up.
Thankfully, Satan hasn’t killed me yet nor have I fallen into immorality or heresy. But I surely understand how debilitating discouragement can be. And thankfully, even in that, Satan has not yet had the victory, although the betrayal of church friends and hurtful words in ministry contexts surely have wounded me deeply at times!
Criticism is one terrible source of discouragement. It is such a severe problem, that this is the most frequent topic of private discussion I have had with young pastors. I remind them that they WILL face criticism and I counsel them regarding how they should deal with criticism and discouragement. This is a big problem young pastors must learn to address.
Biggest Problem #3: Being a Godly Leader Others Want to Follow
The leader’s number one problem will be HIMSELF – the cravings of his own flesh, his own sinful desires, the temptations and sins which he faces over and over. I have stated above several times that Satan wants to tempt me into sexual immorality. But sexual sins aren’t the only ones I have to defend against. The sins of pride and anger and greed and laziness and gossip and gluttony and unforgiveness and a lack of Spirit-controlled self discipline and jealousy. The list goes on and on. Fighting my own sinful temptations is my biggest problem in the ministry!
If I fail at holiness, my wife knows it. My children know it. My church can at least sense it, if not know all about it. And God removes His blessing from my life, even opposes me in my ministry (Jas 4:6a). As a result my family and my church won’t follow me as a leader. Which points back to Biggest Problem #1 and that will lead to Biggest Problem #2.
So, I daily struggle to follow Paul’s commandment to Timothy: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things” (1 Timothy 4:16). Like Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
What is a hard lesson you have learned along the way?
The hardest lesson that I have learned as a leader is that I must follow Jesus Christ and Him alone because people are weak, prone to wander, and susceptible to sin. And that includes me. One of the most helpful books I read on leadership in my early years as a pastor was Ordering Your Private World. It was written to challenge leaders to discipline their inner life. It was a call to order yourself internally so that you can affect the world around you for Christ. That book had a real impact on my life. A year or so later, after reading the book and putting its principles into practice, I learned a tragic reality. Just months after that book was first published, the author was committing adultery in an ongoing relationship. When this sin was exposed, it was a hard reminder for me: many of us can say and write great things, but none of us can live them out unless we are quietly following the Savior every day under the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s a lesson I never want to forget.
Ultimately, leadership involves personal character and good judgment. But spiritual leadership involves even more; it involves godly character and wise judgment. May God help all of us, whether young pastor or older pastor, to be godly, wise, and brave men of conviction.
Dr. Les Lofquist is Assistant Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Church Relations at Shepherds Theological Seminary. He also serves on the pastoral staff of The Shepherd’s Church and is Editor of Poimenas. Previously he served as Executive Director of IFCA International, a position he held for twenty years.