One of my favorite books is John Piper’s, “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.” It was one of the most impactful books I read in early ministry development and helped shape my understanding of pastoral ministry. Whether you’re in ministry, pursuing ministry, or simply want to see what pastoral ministry should look like, the book is fantastic.
Since I’ve read and reread and re-re-read the book, I’ve always thought it would be a welcome addition to have a chapter entitled, “Brothers, Ministry is Not a Stepping Stone.” So, inspired by this book, I have written this. Brother Piper, if you somehow read this and feel inclined to add this chapter to a revised edition of your book, I will gladly pull this post down and buy the revised copy!
All too often young pastors view different roles of ministry as a career path: full of upward positional growth, raises, and retirement. But is that really a good intention of being in pastoral ministry? Should a Christian elder/pastor even possess such a mindset? None of these aspects are inherently evil, but what we are dealing with is an issue concerning the motivation of the heart. One of the qualifications of the elder/pastor is not being “greedy for gain” (Titus 1:7). If one enters pastoral ministry simply because of good pay, career path, earthly retirement, promotions, or raises, then that is a disqualifying red flag. That is not why you become an elder of a church!
Avoiding the professionalization of ministry is difficult in the U.S. Business culture, philosophies, and personal career growth seeps into the logistics and culture of churches and often becomes the driving force behind the structure and operations. It should not be a surprise then when aspiring pastors and elders take the viewpoint of the American business and business world and create a “hierarchy” of the local church.
You will be hard-pressed to find terms like associate pastor, interim pastor, senior pastor, worship pastor, youth pastor, etc. anywhere in Scripture. These are all terms that we have created and added to apply specific roles of oversight to those who shepherd the flock of God. In their proper contexts and with proper motivations they are helpful. A senior pastor, for example, ought to imply, as Alexander Strauch portrays in Biblical Eldership, “the chief among equals.” The professionalization occurs when people view the idea of “senior pastor” as the pinnacle of pastoral ministry and everything supposedly below that is simply a Christian corporate ladder to the top. Children or Youth ministry, though not exclusively, is often seen to be that first step to the higher “pastoral” offices due to churches offering a low bar of entry.
Ministry is not a stepping stone! We all need to avoid viewing God-given positions in the local church as “resume-builders” or “experience generators.” Anyone viewing souls entrusted to their care as nothing more than the first step to their “true” calling is manifesting faithlessness and lovelessness in the heart. Egregious views towards souls are proof that the leader should not be in a position of leadership.
There is no doubt that the areas of oversight for a pastor or emphasis can change. There are too many variables to even attempt and cover in this article. The goal is not seeking a higher position for self but is instead faithfulness in the current stage of the calling. Utilizing pastoral ministry jobs as a way to build experience and advance to a “higher” pastoral office later shows a worldly approach to the Lord and to souls. Biblically speaking, a pastor/elder, whatever his area of oversight and emphasis, is a pastor. There is no greater or lesser elder based on position, for each man is called to pastor the local church together.
Every person who has been made an overseer/elder/pastor must meet the same requirements as set in Scripture. Every elder will have different skills and talents and specific areas of oversight and they should utilize them accordingly. Anyone who has been affirmed by the local church to serve in the calling as given by God has to be able to serve anyone within the flock, not exclusively their area of oversight. Acts 20:28 reads, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” Every man called to be a pastor is called to faithfully shepherd and minister to the whole flock as entrusted to them by God. The great responsibilities of this urgent call to shepherd should instill in the heart of the man to toil for the sake of souls, not for spiritual stepping stones.