I’m finishing up a study on the career expectations of SBC associate pastors for a journal article and to present at a professional society. I wanted to see what the next generation of senior leadership in the SBC looked like by analyzing where they were currently serving, how they understand their current calling, their tenure and their age. After surveying 463 people in 37 states, the largest response to the question “What are you and your lead pastor doing to help get you ready for that position?” was “Nothing.”
Nothing is being done to help prepare the next generation of leaders in the perfect laboratory to cultivate their calling, skills, and preparation. Nothing is being done by a generation of pastors who who have an established relationship with a young man who God may call into a pastorate.
The great news is that in the study I found a lot of younger associate pastors who were being developed by their lead pastor, who were studying under his leadership, who were functioning as an apprentice, who were excited about the relationship they had with their lead pastor. For those I am so thankful and encouraged.
But I can’t escape the fact that of the 109 surveyed who said they wanted to be a lead pastor, 44 of them said their lead pastor was doing nothing. What did nothing look like? One said “he’s more focused on his publishing,” another “I find it difficult to confide in him,” “he would be very supportive, but right now we’re too focused on our current tasks,” “he scheduled guest speakers when he would be out after finding out I wanted to be a lead pastor,” “she doesn’t know,” “go to school for that,” “he does teach me, but it’s unintentional.”
I want to propose four reasons why I think nothing happens.
Nothing has long term consequences, though. Nothing produces a leadership culture that focuses on the immediate at the expense of the long-term, a culture that sees people as cogs and not integral parts, projects more than prospects, and primarily sees church culture as a product to be consumed. In my doctoral work, I used the idea of discipleship to describe the development of associate pastors rather than mentoring or growth.
Discipleship takes time, it’s messy, it’s very frustrating, but the end result is a young leader who will one day move on from your church into another congregation as a trained, competent, prepared, and effective minister. The end result isn’t so that a leader can have a great “family tree” of proteges who have come under his discipling, but so that the Bride of Christ can be made more pure before Her Husband. Discipling your associate pastors, especially those who want to be in your shoes one day, is a benefit to the Body of Christ.
Reject the culture of nothing, embrace a culture of replication. If you train one associate pastor who leaves to pastor, and then he does the same thing. In 3 “generations” there will be a legacy of 8 fully trained pastors, and it exponentially multiplies from there. Imagine a city full of competent, prepared, and effective pastors - what could be done there? That’s God’s desire, not nothing.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.