Caring for the Anxious Pastor-in-Waiting
“What do I do while I wait?” It’s a question I’ve heard dozens of times.
Trained men, ready to rumble for the gospel, can sometimes find they lack immediate opportunity to fulfill their ministry dream. It feels to them like the big game has started, and they’ve been benched by God, even as a parade of friends, classmates, and seemingly less gifted players sprint on to the field.
They want to be happy for others, but deep down they feel frustrated and confused. Would a better grade in Systematic Theology have made me an earlier pick in God’s ministry draft? Insight and patience are rarely companions when a disappointed shepherd-to-be is riding the pine.
How can you help him?
Start by listening.
Really. It’s too easy to grab his frustration and hastily slap a Sovereignty sticker on it. God’s loving labor to make all things good is a truth best served once people know we love and understand them (James 1:19).
Try to remember the last time you had an unrealized dream even though you thought it was ripe for picking. How did it feel? What were you tempted to think about God? A potential pastor stands vulnerable, and he needs to know he is not alone. If he feels like you can empathize with his trials, he will open his heart to your truth.
Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” When it seems that the dream of ministry is being deferred, the heart is vulnerable. If you’re going to serve him effectively, you need to listen before you start dispensing advice.
Tell him he’s not on the bench.
God has no bench. The bench is a feeling, not a reality. God puts all believers in the game every day. He’s just not in the position he wanted. For now. But real ministry doesn’t start with a title, a salary, or a blog. Real ministry begins the moment a man is born again. This is why it says in Ephesians 2:10, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
A man enters ministry not when he is ordained, but when he is converted. Fixing his identity there could be the beginning of a long and fruitful ministry — through the many roles he may fill.
Tell him waiting means training.
I was heartsick. Sitting in my security vehicle, I realized another anniversary had just passed in my vaunted role as a security guard. My dream to preach seemed as achievable as navigating a spaceship to Mars or discovering the cure for talk-radio. Yet in a little over a year from that very moment, through a series of providential events, I moved to the Philadelphia area and landed in a ministry role. From the view behind the wheel of my security vehicle, those years were wasted. But as I waded into the complexities of pastoral work, I consistently drew from lessons learned in my crime-curbing job.
To me, security work was a fast road to nowhere. For God, the waiting was all part of his preparation and a way to express his goodness (Lamentations 3:25). It happens often. It happened to Moses, Abraham, Joseph, David, and Paul. Tell him that.
As the years have passed, I’ve become convinced of something every anxious pastor-in-waiting must learn: When it comes to shaping men for ministry, God knows what he’s doing. Trust him. It will be worth it.