4 Realities to Help Discern a Vocational Call to Ministry

give me strength

Discerning a call to vocational ministry can be a tiring and trying experience.

I’ve had the privilege of speaking with numerous young people and couples who are possibly experiencing a call to full-time, vocational missions or ministry. They don’t always know what they are supposed to do — usually not — but they know their vocation is to be a part of the mission of Christ.

Talking with people at this stage of life is one of my favorite things to do. It fuels me in ministry to help others process their call.

Having also wrestled through this issue years ago with two teenage sons makes this something very personal to me. Obviously I have my own experience in this area of wrestling through a call to vocational ministry. My wrestling was a 10 year process.

The counsel I gave my boys came to me suddenly one day. I’m not pretending it was inspired, but it certainly is a product of my personal experience and time spent with God struggling through this issue. I’ve used this teaching many times since then.

Basically I like to help people understand that the “call”, in my understanding, is not a call to a group of people or a geographic location as much as it is to a person; the person of Jesus Christ.

That’s important, because a lot of times someone begins to sense a calling after a mission trip to a certain area and feel as if that is the place they must go to serve God. That may be the place God wants to use them, but it could be that God just wants their availability, right where they are or elsewhere and God used the specific place to stir their heart towards serving vocationally.

I’m not saying He doesn’t send people to specific places or groups of people, but I do believe He reserves the right to change that at any time, because ultimately a person is called into a relationship with God first and a location second. In fact, I’ve several times in my call sensed God was even giving me freedom to choose where I served

After establishing that the ultimate call is to the person of Christ, I share a few principles. These are actually realities — based on my experience — of the vocational call. These won’t make the decision for the person. I can’t do that. They are intended to help someone think through their calling. The person who is sensing a call can often begin to discern that this IS the call based on the way they respond to these four words.

Four realities of call of God on a person’s life is:


You can’t refuse this kind of call and still live at peace with God. He will still love you. You may even be successful in what you are doing, but something will always eat at you until you surrender to this type of call. (Think of Jonah on the boat, attempting to run from God — even before the storm came.) That was the case in my situation. As much as I wanted success in business — and I had some — none of that brought me peace until I surrendered to God’s will for my life.


Nothing else will satisfy a person like this call. Nothing will fill that void — that emptiness. If God’s greatest desire for a person’s life on whom He places the “call”. I found no real joy in my work, until I was serving in the career choice God wanted me to serve.


God doesn’t take this call away from a person once He has placed it on their life. At times, especially when things are stressful in ministry, I have glanced at other opportunities, but I know I cannot go backwards from this call God has placed on my life. I may serve Him in a number of capacities and places over the years — I believe that could even be in business if He chose that. It doesn’t necessarily have to be as a pastor or in a local church — but I know one decision in my vocational career is solved — I work for Him. My end “product” of my life is advancing His mission — not mine.


The call of God on a person’s life begins at the moment of the call. Often people want to get the right degree or start drawing a paycheck before they live out the call God has placed on their life. I don’t believe that’s the call. The call is to “Go” and the time is NOW. (Jesus taught this reality in Matthew 8.) That doesn’t mean the person shouldn’t gain education, experience, or even a paycheck, but if a person has received a call from God on their life the time to get started doing something towards that call is now! When I realized a vocational call to ministry was being placed on my life, I started immediately; with no promise of income or position. I simply started serving people. Opportunities and specific assignments quickly followed.

Are you feeling those four words heavy on your heart? Perhaps God is trying to get your attention.

For a Biblical example of this type calling which includes each of these four points, read Jonah’s story again.

Have you wrestled or are you wrestling through a vocational call to ministry? What was your experience?

10 Secrets of Many Senior Pastors


I get to hang out and know many senior pastors. I have a great heart for them and understand, firsthand, some of the pressures, frustrations and joys, which are unique to the role of a senior pastor. In my recent blog survey, over half my readers are in ministry and half that number are senior leaders.

When I first shared the points in this post a few years ago it was at a conference for executive pastors. I was asked to give my perspective as a senior pastor, since each of them reported to one.  Specifically, the request was to share some things about senior pastors they may not know. I honestly didn’t realize what I was sharing would be so revealing for some of them. They didn’t know some of these about their senior leader.

And, granted, I can’t speak for every senior pastor in every church. I can only speak in generalities from what I know and personally experience — in my life and among the senior pastors I know. Thankfully, this blog platform and my personal ministry has afforded me access to hundreds of senior pastors.

I share this post simply for the purpose of understanding. I know and have felt the extreme love most of the church has for it’s senior pastor. I’m grateful for that in my own life. Hopefully this helps you love and understand your pastor even more.

Here are 10 “secrets” about many senior pastors:

  • Leading from this position is overwhelming at times. We know Christ is ultimately in charge, but we also know it often seems everyone is looking to us to have all the answers. And, we know we don’t always have them. (Granted, some senior pastors are more honest about this than others.)
  • People tell the senior pastor all kinds of things about what is happening in their life or in the lives of others — many we would rather not know sometimes. And, frankly, some things we don’t need to know — such as gossip, rumors, and information they don’t have permission to share. Many times it’s in the form of a “prayer request”. We don’t always know what to do with this information. (And, again, in total frankness, some senior pastors have abused this information and hurt people in their church.)
  • Most pastors walk with a degree of uncertainty about our abilities to do the work we feel called to do. We intellectually know this is designed by God. It keeps us in prayer and walking by faith. But, we are human and the demands upon us and our insecurities in them can also make us question at times whether we have what it takes to do the work before us.
  • Many senior pastors fear the possibility of failing in their role, so they thrive on the encouragement and prayers of others — almost to a fault. They can become very insecure. If they aren’t hearing constant positive feedback they can begin irrational questioning how people feel about them.
  • A senior pastor’s insecurities can cause them to become overprotective of their reputation and position. At extremes it may even cause them to react with poor leadership, such as playing politics with leaders in the church or using information as power.
  • Senior pastors face the same temptations and occasional spiritual dryness as everyone else. This means we need accountability, but are often afraid to seek it.
  • The pastor’s spouse is sometimes the loneliest person in the church and often feels extreme pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations. Pastor’s children also feel the weight of expectations from the church. Many have told me they feel everyone is “watching” them.
  • The pastor too can experience loneliness — sometimes severely. The encounters through this blog with some senior pastors has revealed that some pastors have no true friends either inside the church or outside.
  • Pastors seldom know who we can trust, which is why we become guarded and may appear harder to get to know. Most senior pastors have been burned by someone they once trusted. Many senior pastors have seasons where it feels the staff, church leaders and congregation are talking about us behind our back. I’ve been asked more than once how to respond when they walk in a room and conversations suddenly stop.
  • Many senior pastors never really feel off from their work. They struggle — without discipline — to enjoy a Sabbath. Sunday keeps coming and there always seems to be one more person to contact. They feel the expectation to be everywhere they are invited and have a hard time saying no, even when it interferes with their family time.

Granted, not every pastor faces each of these, (that’s why the title says “many”). These type things often come in seasons. And, of course, some churches are harder to pastor than others. When these “secrets” are at an extreme it explains why depression and burnout is common for many senior pastors. And, if you need a Biblical example  of this happening in leadership see 1 Kings 19.

I came into ministry later in life and so I know how it feels to be a senior pastor, but also to be a leader in the secular world and a non-vocational church leader. I believe that experience has protected me against some of these. But even still, some of these are real for me at times too.

Other pastors, for reasons on this post, will not want you assuming these things about them. In talking with dozens of senior pastors each year, however, I know this is a representative list for “many”.

Senior pastors find joy in our work and, thankfully, most of us know we are in the center of God’s will vocationally. I don’t intend to take anything away from that in this post. We serve in a called position, so we are doing what we have been asked of God to do.

When I share any post like this I have come to expect three things. First, someone will email to ask me if I’m okay. I am. Thank you. This is a good season in ministry and I’m serving in a healthy church. Second, I’ll receive a lecture on the need to depend on Christ for these issues, which only further demonstrates my points. Third, there will be someone who will say that these “secrets” are no different from any other person in the church. That may be true, but I can’t speak for everyone else.

Senior pastors are to fully rely on Christ’s strength, as is every other believer. This is just a reminder that we happen to also be like Elijah — ”a man just like us”. (James 5:17)

Pastors, anyone honest enough to agree? 

Please know I’m praying for you as I post this.

How a Young Leader Develops as a Leader


This is a guest post by Tyler Crosson. Tyler is student pastor where I serve. He’s an excellent communicator and has a passionate heart for Jesus and for ministry. He knows God is preparing him to a more lead role in a church and it’s been fun to watch him in this journey. Part of our development time together led to me asking Tyler to write this post.

I am a young leader. The kind that desires to not only improve my own leadership capacity, but one day grow into a great leader in a great position. I recognize that I have a long way to go in developing my own leadership skills, and I recognize that I have plenty to learn about leadership in general. There are many excellent resources out on the topic of leadership, and I definitely try to be the kind of leader that is a reader. There are books, articles and blogs, the one you’re reading is the best (Ron is my boss, so I figure a little plug for him serves us both :) ). If you’re anything like me, the vastness of it all seems a little overwhelming and a little impersonal.

One day, through a discussion about leadership with Ron, I stumbled into what has served as a gold mine of wisdom and has changed the way I pursue learning about leadership. I wish I could call it a secret, but I’m willing to guess that this method is also staring you in the face. Want to know what the “secret” is? Here it is: leaders. Yep, leaders. All over my city, and I’m guessing leaders are all over your area, too. Good leaders. Some are even great leaders!

I decided to tap into this gold mine of leadership wisdom that is in action right here in my community. People that are busy making the community I’m invested in better every day. Here’s what I did: I asked if I could meet with some of these leaders. Earth shattering, huh? Yeah, not really. I just began to seek out people that I (and others I trusted) appreciated as leaders, and I asked for an hour of their valuable time. I let them know that I respected their leadership and I simply wanted an opportunity to ask them a few questions about their leadership in an effort to learn for myself.

I take 7 questions into the meeting (which seems fitting, since Ron is a 7 points kind of guy), and I have yet to struggle to quickly fill an hour of time in discussion.

Here are my questions:

1. What are some of the biggest learning curves you have had as a leader?
2. If you were me, planning for a lead role one day, what words of caution would you give me?
3. What are some words of challenge or encouragement you would give to a young leader?
4. What’s the biggest stress you deal with as a leader?
5. How do you navigate change?
6. How do you handle criticism?
7. Who do you think I should meet with next? (this one keeps the gold mine available)

I ask those in no particular order. Rarely do I even get through all the questions, and I have yet to find someone that wasn’t willing to share. In fact, what I’ve found so far, is that the leaders I’ve spoken with genuinely want to see young leaders in their community succeed, too. And remember how reading books seemed impersonal? Well it would hard for these meetings to be less personal. They are face to face! I get to hear their successes and their failures. I’m grateful they are willing to allow me to grow with them, even through their mistakes. I’ve learned to not fear failure because of how much you can grow from it. Every one of them has reminded me of the priority of leading my family first. Many encourage me to network well, which is awesome because that is taking place at every meeting! I’ve been reminded of the importance of listening, developing trust and relationships in order to move people along a vision. They have taught me the importance of being a lifelong learner and seeker, and are helpful in providing more resources or leaders to seek.

I honor them by communicating my appreciation for their time, their work and effort in our community and their wisdom. In turn, they seem to genuinely want to invest in me. And invest in me they do (some even bought my lunch…bonus!). The wisdom they share is valuable. If I’m being honest, this is a strategy I will probably try to use the rest of my life. Wherever I end up, there will be leaders. I’m guessing there are leaders where you are, too!

That’s my secret. I hope it serves your journey in leadership, too.

What question would you ask a leader if you sat down with them? Or what piece of leadership advice would you offer to a young leader?

4 Reasons Every Pastor Needs a Good Pastor Friend

men sitting on sofa at home and talking

Every pastor needs at least one good pastor friend.

I’m thankful to serve and have served in churches with a good number of staff members I consider not only co-laborers, but friends. It’s a blessing to do ministry with people you actually enjoy being with each week. But, I also have several good friends who are pastors in other churches. And, it’s like gold in my pocket for me.

Just like only a police officer can fully understand the work of another police officer; or only a nurse can fully understand the work of another nurse — only a pastor can fully understand the work of another pastor.

That’s not to say a pastor shouldn’t have friends who aren’t pastors. Absolutely. I have many.

But, every pastor needs at least one pastor friend.

A part of my online presence affords me the tremendous opportunity to interact with dozens of pastors every month. One thing I’ve observed in recent years is that many of the pastors I encounter aren’t really looking for advice on how to lead a church. They are looking for a friend.

Sadly, many pastors don’t have any friends — not the kind who know them well enough to speak into their life. Perhaps even sadder is that some don’t seem to want one until they really need one.

And, I don’t know all the reasons pastors avoid close friendships. (I know some and maybe that’s the subject of another post.) But, so many pastors — in large churches and small churches — feel isolated in ministry.

I know some large church pastors who don’t even socialize or know their church staff. I know some smaller church pastors who don’t have anyone else serving with them during the week and haven’t made friendships with other pastors.

It simply isn’t healthy. And, it’s probably not sustainable. Isolation almost always leads to something undesirable, whether ineffectiveness or total destruction.

Here are 7 reasons every pastor needs a good pastor friend:

Accountability – Here’s the fact. Many pastors could hide if we wanted. We have flexible schedules. And, that’s just one example of where we need accountability. We need people in our life — who know our life and the demands of ministry — and can hold us accountable to our calling and work and speak into the deepest places of our life and work. The pastor is usually not absent of people who can offer criticism, but every pastor needs a friend who can correct them in a healthy way when needed. “The wounds of a friend are trustworthy.” (Proverbs 27:6)

Protection – I did some professional counseling for a few years. (I wasn’t very good at it.) But, one helpful thing in counseling was the ability to glean from one another in, for example, potentially perceived ethical situations. Pastors encounter issues routinely that don’t need to be handled alone. (The push back of my zealot friends will be that we have prayer — Holy Spirit guidance. And, I say true, but even Jesus asked the disciples to pray with Him.) “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)

Companionship – Shall I quote the same verse again? “Two are better than one.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9) Let me be clear that my wife is my closest companion. She should be. But, I need pastor friends who can just be my friend. They understand the uniqueness of my role. They laugh at the same things I laugh at — and some days all you can do is laugh, right? They understand the unique burden of being a pastor. And, on days when I simply don’t feel like being anyone’s pastor — they understand that too and are not offended by me saying it. I’m not trying to be cute with words — but I need a buddy in ministry. (And, I’m thankful I have several.)

Iron sharpening. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) Biblical insight. Idea critiques. Brainstorming. Best practice sharing. Those and so many more. We can learn best from those who are attempting to do what we are attempting to do.

Pastor, you need a pastor friend. And, as much as I love connecting via Internet, certainly I am limited in my ability to “friend” everyone I encounter. You need one, two or three friends who you can get in a car or jump on a plane and actually spend some time with frequently.

And, to find one, for many pastors, it will take an intentional effort. It won’t happen just because you want it to happen. To make a friend you’ll have to be a friend. Take some positive steps. Ask a pastor to join you with coffee. Go through several pastors if you have to until you find the right one.

And, certainly, here’s a great place for prayer, ask God to guide you, help you discern, and give you the encouragement to seek out a friendship with another pastor.

I’m pulling from you.

7 Suggestions for Pastors and Pastor Spouses to Find True Friends

couples golfing

People talk. People gossip. People love to share what they hear.

That’s true about what they hear from a pastor too.

If the pastor talks about his personal life, shares a concern — heaven forbid shares a sin or weakness — people talk.

I’ve personally been burned several times by trusting the wrong people with information. It’s wonderful to think that a pastor can be totally transparent with everyone, but honestly, especially in some churches, complete transparency will cause you to lose your ministry.

Every pastor knows this well. So, most pastors don’t talk.

And, the sadder fact, because of this dynamic, many pastors have very few true friends.

Frankly, it’s made many in the ministry among the most lonely of people I have ever known. I was in the business community for many years and I didn’t know business leaders as “closed” to people getting to know them as some pastors seem to be. I wish it weren’t true, but it is.

Of course, Jesus is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. And, that’s true. But, we would never tell our congregation they don’t need human friends. Most of our churches are built around a reality that everyone needs community.

Hopefully our spouse is our best friend. That should be our goal. But the truth is pastors need more.

We need other — same sex — friends who can walk with us through life. I need men in my life that understand the unique struggles and temptations of being a man. Pastors need community too, just as we would encourage our church to live life together with others.

I’m happy to report that I have some of those type friends in my life. I have some friends with whom I can share the hard stuff and they still love me. I have some friends with whom I can be myself. I’m thankful for friends that build into me as much as I build into them.

Every pastor needs them.

And, here’s the other side — so does the pastor’s spouse. They need friends just as much, but have the equal concerns and struggles to find them. Over the years, my wife has realized the hard way that some people were only her friend because of her position as my wife. They wanted information and access — more than they wanted friendship.

And, some who are not in ministry will read this post and think I’m over-reacting. They’ll say everyone deals with this at some level. They may be right. (Not about the over-reacting, but about the fact that everyone deals with it.) But, I know having been on both sides — in ministry and out of ministry — this issue is more real to me now than previously.

So, the hope of this post is to encourage those who don’t have any true friends and give you a few suggestions for finding some.

Here are 7 suggestions for a pastor or pastor’s spouse to find true friends:

Be willing to go outside the church – There may not be someone you can truly trust, who is willing to keep confidences, and willing to always be in your corner, inside the church. Much of this may depend on the size or even the structure of your church. I have a few of these friends in our church, and did in our last church, but both were fairly large. I found this harder when I was in a smaller church with a handful of strong families within the church. Some of my truest and best friends, however, then and now, are outside the church. This is also healthy because it means if we are called to leave the church we still have a close group of friends. My best friends have been friends through several church transitions.

Consider bonding with another pastor – I guarantee you — not too far from you is a pastor just as lonely or in need of a friend as you are feeling. (And, even if you’re not feeling it — you need it.) One of the great benefits of the online world — though it can equally be used for harm — is that you can make connections with other pastors. I have found that if I follow the Tweets, blog posts, Facebook updates, or check out the church website of another pastor that I can find out a lot about our similarities. I’m not talking about stalking. I’m talking about being intentional to build a relationship. Then I take a chance and reach out to another pastor. I actually have a few vital relationships that have begun this way. In fact, it has been valuable enough to Cheryl and me that we’ve been willing to invest in traveling to visit with friends who live in other cities that I first met through social media. Chances are good, however, for most pastors they won’t have to travel that far. Prior to moving where I am now, I had friends an hour away from me. That was a good half-day investment every couple months to stay in touch. I’m beginning to develop this where I am now.

Build the relationship slowly – I’ve seen too many times where a person wants an intimate, accountable, life-giving relationship that begins instantly. I’m sure that happens occasionally, but I don’t think it’s the normal way. Take some time to invest in the friendship. My guess is you’re looking for a longer-term relationship, so be willing to build it over a long-term. And, I usually have multiple meetings with several different guys before I find one where we connect enough to move to a deeper friendship. Again, it’s worth the investment of time.

Find common ground – Do you enjoy fishing, dining, travel, golf, or Nascar? Who are some people, whether pastors or laypeople who have similar interests to you? Take an afternoon to play a round of golf with them. Ask them to lunch. Hang out with them. I have one of my closest friends that I met this way. We simply started having lunch together. We’ve since traveled together as couples, but it started with a lunch invitation to a guy I saw who seemed to enjoy the subject of leadership as much as I did.

Look for someone healthy – This is critical. You won’t find someone perfect, but you need someone who is not looking for you to always be the minister. Those people do exist. There are people with healthy home lives and healthy personal lives who are striving to grow personally, professionally, and spiritually just like you are striving. Most of the time as pastors our attention is focused more on the one who need our attention because of a crisis or immediate need in their life. And, that’s what we do. But, who are some people around you who don’t need much from you right now? You’ll need this healthy relationship to nourish you when you don’t feel as healthy.

Be intentional – You don’t often find a friend unless you go looking for one. First you have to recognize the value in true friends, make it a matter of prayer and a goal for your life, but then you must begin to look for one. I’ve found I’m more likely to hit a target I am specifically aiming to hit. There is such a value in true friendship — even for pastors — that it is worth the investment.

Take a risk – You’ll eventually have to make yourself vulnerable and risk being hurt — perhaps again — to find true friends. I realize that is scary, especially if you’ve been hurt before, but finding true friendships is worth the risk. Be careful building these type friendships, but don’t allow fear to keep you from having them. Pastor, you know what I’m advocating is true. So, take another risk.

Pastor, be honest, do you have someone in your life you could call when you’re at your lowest point in ministry? Do you have someone investing in you on a regular basis? Are you lonely? If you were drowning or facing burnout, have you allowed other people — besides your spouse — into your closest, most protected world so they can recognize where you are currently and speak into the dark places of your life?

More importantly, is it worth the risk and investment to have true friends?

For those who have these types of relationships, what tips do you have for other pastors?

Let me close with a personal note to the lonely pastor. I understand your pain. I’ve been there. I’m praying for you as I write this post. Don’t struggle alone too long without reaching out to someone.

Dr. Martin Luther King Wasn’t Perfect — And That Should Be Encouraging


Dr. Martin Luther King wasn’t perfect.

And that should be encouraging to all of us.

I’m reminded of the great prophet Elijah from the Bible. God used him once to hold back the rain. He was fed by ravens. He kept a widow and her son alive — miraculously.

Yet, one of the most encouraging Bible verses about Elijah to me is James 5:17: Elijah was a person just like us.

And, I’m reminded of that when I think of Dr. King.

Dr. King was a person — just like us.

If we aren’t careful, because he accomplished so much, we can make Dr. King something he wasn’t.

He wasn’t perfect.

Wait, don’t throw things. I’m a fan. I’ve studied him beyond his most famous speech.

Was he great? Of course.

Was he extraordinaire? Absolutely.

Did he do great things? Without a doubt.

These lines from his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” alone are grand enough for celebration:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope.

As a pastor, knowing these words were obviously inspired by Dr. King’s knowledge of Scripture, I’m impressed. So inspiring. I wish I could do it that well.

But, was Dr. King perfect?

I don’t think so.

I doubt, based on what I know of his faith as a Gospel preacher that he would even claim perfection apart from Christ. Only Jesus is perfect. Dr. King surely believed this.

We honor his birth because of his impact on our world.

In fact, he’s one of the best examples of leaving a legacy that we have in modern history. His work keeps encouraging, inspiring, and making us better.

We honor him because he was fighting for a perfect dream.

We honor him because he was willingly to sacrificially give everything to achieve his dream.

Yet, sadly, his dream yet to be fully realized. His work is not finished.

This year alone should teach us we haven’t reached the dream Dr. King fought for with his very life. Ferguson. New York. Your city.

Every hill and mountain has not been made low. The rough places are not yet plain. There are still crooked places. The glory of our Lord hasn’t been fully revealed.

Peace has not been achieved.

And, here’s why it matters so much, in my opinion, that Dr. King — the man — wasn’t perfect.

If we see him as perfect, then, those of us who know we are not, (people like you and me) may feel we can never measure up to his standard. That we could never attain greatness, because we don’t have the charisma of Dr. King. Or, the courage. Or, the oratory ability.

In fact, we may not even try. We may not give ourselves the chance for God to use us for His glory.

So, we will dismiss any dream we have as unattainable. Even our efforts to continue the dream Dr. King had will cease because we falsely believe that such acts of greatness were reserved for the one man — Dr. King. Or, maybe a few like him.

But, that’s not true, is it?

Dr. King was great, but only His Savior Jesus is perfect.

The best way to honor Dr. King is to strive for impact.

Strive for a perfect dream. Strive for an end to racism, an end to the fighting, a reality of peace — where all God’s children are able to sing, “Free at last. Praise God Almighty we are free at last.”

Have a dream. A big, hairy audacious dream.

That kind of living honors the legacy.

The fact is that all of us are capable of greatness. If we have big dreams — ones that honor others and make the world a better place — and we do everything in our power to realize them, we can be used of God to accomplish great things.

There will never be another Dr. King. Just like there never was another Elijah.

But, there will never be another you either.

And, we need your dream.

We need your work.

We need your energy and your vision and your passionate attempt to make things better in our world. We need your contribution to the peace and prosperity of our land.

So start honoring Dr. King!

Be brave. Be bold. Dream big. Live strong. Do good things!

7 Recommendations for Those Studying to be a Pastor

senior pastor

I have the opportunity to talk with young pastors each week. I also interact regularly with those who are preparing for the pastorate. I love investing in the next generation of leaders and am thankful for those who invested in me.

One of those pastors in training recently asked me, “If you were my age (about 22) and were studying to be a pastor, what would you do?

Great question!

If I were studying to be a pastor today, based on my experience as a pastor now, which is still most important, there are some things I would make certain I accomplished prior to assuming the role.

7 suggestions as you prepare to be a pastor:

Take some business and/or leadership courses

You’ll find more available, especially in the area of leadership these days at seminaries and Bible colleges, but you may have to take some courses online or at another school. Every pastor needs to know some general business and leadership principles to manage the complexities of a church. That’s true in church planting or in an established church.

Build connections with pastors

Just as in the secular world, having the right connections makes the difference in church positions also. It may be to help secure a job or to learn from other churches, but pastors should build a healthy network of peers. It’ll also keep you from having to lead alone. You’ll always be able to “phone a friend” who has been there and done that.

Volunteer in the church

Just volunteer. Its amazing to me to see seminary students who attend church, but don’t find a place to serve. They are training to be a pastor — one who will need lots of people to volunteer in their church some day — yet they aren’t volunteering. Some day you’ll want to understand the sacrifice of those who serve the church without a vocational commitment.

Work a secular job

Even if only part-time, at some point in your studies, work among people in the secular world. You’ll learn valuable principles about life, work and people. You’ll also be better able to identify with the people to whom you are called to minister. (Plus, it will be harder for that person who always thinks “well pastor, in the real world…” to discount your teaching.)

Take a people-helping or counseling course

Let’s face it! Regardless of the size church, a pastor is going to encounter hurting people. Understanding some basic questioning, summary and counseling skills is critical to pastoring and will make your teaching even stronger.

Find a mentoring pastor

Early in ministry, or even before beginning, I would strongly encourage a young pastor to find a mentor. Ask a pastor who is older and with more experience to be available to help you through situations you find yourself in where you need wisdom you don’t have. You’ll be glad you’ve recruited this person in advance.

Embrace accountability

Develop a close relationship with a few other same-sex friends and invite them to hold you accountable to God, your family, your church and yourself. These do not have to be pastors, but should understand the pressures and demands of ministry.

Bonus Suggestion BE A PASTOR

If you are confident God has called you to be a pastor, then don’t wait to get all the training. Keep receiving training, follow these suggestions, but more importantly, get some on-the-job training by finding ways to be a pastor today! Maybe to your own family, or through nursing home or prison visits. You may have to be creative, but there are lots of opportunities to shepherd people if you look — even without a paycheck.

Of course, the most important thing to do is to prepare your heart and mind spiritually, but these are practical ways you can prepare.

What would you add to my list?

10 Realities Every Young Leader Needs to Hear


I work with young leaders everyday. I have two incredible young leaders as sons. (Here’s my picture with them a few years ago — taken the day we moved to Kentucky.)

Occasionally, when I am talking to a young leader something becomes apparent. They often think what they are experiencing is unique. And, more surprising than that, they think perhaps their struggle is no longer mine — like somehow I’ve outgrown them.

That’s what prompted this post. I’ve included a few tips for young leaders I’ve learned along the way.

Here are 10 realities every young leader needs to know:

At times you will feel overwhelmed. You know that feeling, right? Like you can’t get it all done and you’re not sure you know where to start. Those feelings don’t ever leave you completely as a leader. There will be seasons where they are stronger than others, but if you’re doing anything of value you will occasionally feel overwhelmed. They are a part of life. Something you’ll never outgrow.

You’ll not always know what to do. You don’t ever get to a point in life where you’ve learned everything. You get better at some things. Okay — lots of things. Wisdom and experience has its benefits obviously. But, regardless of your age — if you’re doing anything productive — you’ll learn something knew everyday.

Seldom will you be 100% certain. You’ll always have an element of risk in your life. You will be forced to move forward by faith. That is a good thing. It keeps you grounded and on your knees before God.

Sometimes it’s just for the learning experience. And that’s huge. If you put all your effort into something and it doesn’t work — or its not as good as you thought it would be — it’s easy to get frustrated. But, the process will teach you something. And, the value of the learning experience is huge. Never miss the life principles intended for you.

You’ll many times feel under-appreciated. There will be lots of things you do that no one will notice. Great things. Trophy-deserving things — and people will act — it will seem at times — like no one noticed and no one cares. And, that may not be true. They may simply be living a full life like you are — overwhelmed like you are — and it just passed by them. But, it leaves you feeling under-appreciated. And, like all leaders, eventually we have to find our reward in the knowledge and personal satisfaction of our work well done as much, if not more, than the public recognition of that work.

People are watching. If you position yourself to lead in any way, you become a target of spectators. What you do. What you say. And, what you post on social media. Some will agree. Some will not. Some will agree just to get on your good side. Disappoint them and they will leave. Some will not agree because they are jealous of a leader with an opportunity. All that said, don’t shy away from people. That’s never the right response. Just be aware. Be gentle as a dove and wise as a serpent.

Learn the words of successful leadership early. As with the previous one, the words of a leader carry great weight. Don’t make it “my” team or your leadership won’t be very successful and no one will buy-in to the team except you. A leader’s words should always be inclusive rather than exclusive. Become a fan of words like “we”, “us” and “ours”. The more you include people, the more they’ll feel included (see how simple this is) and they’ll be more likely to suffer with you for the win.

Sometimes, if we believe in something strong enough, we have to stand alone. That’s a hard reality in a world that tries to force sameness, but if you do anything of value — or believe anything strongly enough — sometimes you have to stand single until others catch on or until you find supporters. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to advisers. You should. You should have mentors and be open to constructive criticism. I never make major decisions without the input from others. But, don’t give up what you know to be right — especially those things you sense God is calling you to do — because it isn’t popular.

Great things start with humble beginnings. Don’t be afraid of starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. That’s still a viable option — and the reward feels greater when you built it the hard way. And, never underestimate the power of a moment.

You have to discipline yourself to decompress. It’s not usually built-in to the system. During the busy seasons of life — when there’s plenty of work to do and time is of the essence — which is most of our life if we set out to be leaders, you’ll have to discipline yourself. To rest. Re-calibrate. Refocus. Rediscover the passion that once fueled you. Re-connect, if needed, to a deep intimacy with God. You have to discipline for that. You’ll seldom have a leader or a system that forces that upon you. And, it’s life-essential. Don’t neglect your soul.

These are obviously random — but in my life they’ve become realities. For some of these, if you don’t understand them, you may think something is abnormal about you. Although, I guess another reality I have learned, is that there something abnormal about all of us.

The Tension Between Staying in a Learning Position and Jumping into the Lead Position

2-Circle Venn Diagram  - Plain

There is a fine line of when to jump into the leading position.

I work with lots of young leaders. And, they ask the question a lot of whether I think they are ready to be in a lead position. And, I want to be helpful.

Don’t misunderstand — most of these people are leaders now — they are usually leading some area of ministry, but they aren’t in the “leading position”. They aren’t yet the senior leader — but they believe they want to be someday.

I frequently get asked when is the right time to make the jump.

I wish I knew the magical answer. I don’t. I do believe you can jump too soon. I also believer you can wait too long.

You can jump before you’re ready. I’ve seen some leaders make the switch to senior leader only to find out they wish they had prepared a little longer. Some then go back under another senior leader. And, sadly, I’ve seen some completely crash and burn — and take years to recover. Some never go back to the lead position.

I’ve seen others wait long after they were ready. They missed opportunities in leadership and, in the process, they frustrated everyone, including themselves, because they didn’t make the move. Staying anywhere too long can cause frustration to a team.

It’s a fine line — or a quadrant of the circle — as the case may be in our diagram.

So, my advice, for the leader wondering when to make the jump to senior leadership — when you’ve lived in the tension for too long — it’s time to jump.

What’s the tension? Well, I believe you’ll know it when you’re living it, but let me give some symptoms.

Here are a 7 ways to tell the tension has gone long enough:

When the urge to try is greater than the fear of jumping.

When you’ve maxed out where you currently are in growth opportunities. And, that frustrates you  nearly everyday.

When you find yourself questioning senior leadership — all senior leadership — good or bad leadership — because you think you could do it better.

When you think more about what could be — if you were in the leading position — than what could be — if you stay in the learning position.

When you believe in your heart you’ve been called to lead at the senior level.

When those who know you best think you’re ready. Don’t be afraid to ask.

When senior leadership positions continue to make themselves available or come to your attention. (Is someone trying to tell you something?)

This post is intended to help process a question I’m frequently asked. Please understand, these are just my thoughts.

We should always learn all we can, but, the fact is, you may not know until you try. Most of what you learn will come when you are actually doing the job. When you are finally ready, and you make the jump to senior leadership, that’s when the learning really begins to take place. On-the-job training is the best kind.

But, preparing for that jump is critically important also. Don’t rush the next step because of impatience. Just as you can’t go back to high school or that first attempt at college — it will never be quite the same after you make the jump.

That’s why it’s a fine line — hence the tension.

7 Reasons People Are Not Leading Who Could Be

Funny scared man

We need leaders. When Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few…” — I’m convinced — some of those workers should be leaders of other workers. Throughout the Scriptures God used men and women to lead others to accomplish great things — all to His glory.

But, I’m equally convinced, that just as their are not enough people working who should be working — some of the workers who should be leading are not leading.


Here are 7 reasons people are not leading who could be:

They weren’t ever willing to face their fears. Fear failure, fear of rejection, and the fear of the unknown are very real fears. But, fear is an emotion — not necessarily based on truth. Faith is a substance based on a certain — though unseen — reality.

They never had the self-confidence to allow people to follow. I know so many people who sit on the sidelines — even though people believe in them — but they just don’t believe in themselves.

They felt it was self-serving to step into the role of leadership. One of my new favorite sayings (I wrote about it recently) is “Don’t trip over your own humility by refusing to do the right thing.” Yes, leaders can be in the center of attention, and some people are too “humble” to step into that role, but in the meantime, we are missing your leadership.

They waited for someone else to do it. They had a call — or, at least, they knew what needed to be done, and they could have taken the initiative and made it work — but they never did — hoping, waiting for someone else to make the move.

They tried once — it didn’t work — and they gave up too soon. Failure is a part of leadership. Certainly its a part of maturing as a leader. If you give up after the first try you miss out on the best of leadership.

They couldn’t find their place — and didn’t make one. Find something to lead! The world is full of problems. Choose one you are passionate about and start leading. We need you!

They thought they didn’t know how to lead. I’ve been a student of leadership for over 20 years — in leadership positions for over 30 years — and you know my answer to that one? Who does know how to lead? Sure, there are skills to be acquired, leadership is an art to be shaped, but leadership is new every morning, because there world is ever changing. Leadership involves people. When we can completely figure them out — we can completely figure out leadership. Until then – Watch, listen, read, learn, ask questions. Leaders are all around you. You can learn some skills of leadership if you are teachable. The best leaders are still learning how to lead.

Are any of these the reason you’re not currently leading — but you know you should be?

What are you going to do about it?