Not a Novice

I Timothy 3:6

by Dr. Earl D. Jessup

One of the most alarming statistics in church planting is that almost fifty percent of church-planting projects fail.  Why is this true and what can be done about it?  If we begin to examine church planting we find that young men just getting out of college and desiring to do something for the Lord undertake many of the church planting projects.  Their zeal and drive is to be commended but could many of them be heading for a ministry filled with problems because they get into a ministry of their own too soon?

Paul in writing to Timothy gives us the qualifications for one who desires to be a pastor of a church.  In I Timothy 3:6, Paul tells us that the pastor of a church should not be a novice.  We have often taught in our churches that a pastor should be one that is not a novice but what does this really mean?  We understand that a novice is one who is not a recent convert and also one who has some spiritual maturity.  We also expect our pastors to be men that have some experience but this is undefined and we have no guidelines as to what this really means.

Nearly every profession has guidelines as to when one can begin to make decisions of leadership in the particular field.  For the electrician, there are four years of training and then three to five years of apprenticeship before being a master electrician.  For the plumber, there is at least five years of apprenticeship before getting a master plumber certificate.  This is true for carpenters and other tradesmen in the industry.  We all know the medical profession requires many years of training and an internship of many more years before one can begin his or her practice in medicine. This is true of lawyers and other white-collar professionals.  It seems only in the profession of the clergy can one finish a four-year degree and immediately go into the pastorate or to the mission field without a long-term apprenticeship.

Every pastor knows of young men who started a church in their early twenties.  Some have succeeded and others have failed.  Various reasons have been given for the failure but could it be they failed to understand what it means to be a novice?  We know there are exceptions to every rule but how do we know who they are?  How can we be sure that a church planter will succeed when he launches out into a ministry of his own?  This writer has seen many church planting projects fail and flounder because the new pastor is a novice.  They leave Bible colleges with a good grasp of the intellectual doctrines of the Scripture but very little understanding of the “people problems” they will face in the ministry.  The only place they can learn those are under the careful guidance of a senior pastor who is willing to apprentice them in the ministry.  Sadly, few pastors today really apprentice young men for future ministry.

What does the Scripture say about this?  If we consider the life of the Apostle Paul, we can see that this great church-planting missionary spent many years in an apprenticeship role before ever beginning a leadership role.  Paul’s conversion is recorded Acts 9:6 on the Damascus road.  He immediately goes to Damascus and in verse 18, he is baptized.  In verse 22, Paul begins his discipleship in the church at Damascus.  In verse 23, Paul spends three years in the Arabian desert as he gives testimony about this time in Galatians 1:17.  It is at this time that we believe the Lord taught him the great doctrines he

gives us in his epistles to the churches.  He then returned to Damascus and after some time, travels to the church in Jerusalem.  He tries to join the church in Jerusalem, Acts 9:26-29, and only after the urging of Barnabas is he allowed to become a member of the church.  While there he is only a member of the church and not at all in a leadership position.  Following his active role in the church in Jerusalem, he is taken by the disciples to the church in Tarsus, Acts 9:30, where he is active in that church.  At no time is he considered the leader of the church.  In Acts 11:22, Barnabas is installed as the pastor of the church at Antioch by the Jerusalem church and after he gets there, he goes to Tarsus and brings Paul to the church in Antioch to be an assistant pastor.  This lasts at least one year and likely much more than that, Acts 11:26, until God tells the church that He is calling Barnabas and Paul for the first missionary journey, Acts 13:1-5.  Even at this time Paul is not the leader of this team but still the assistant to Barnabas.  Barnabas is considered the leader well into this journey and maybe for the entire journey.  We learn this from Acts 14:12, where Barnabas as the leader of this team is referred to as

Jupiter, which was the national god of the Greeks and Paul was referred to as Mercurius which was a lesser god of the Greeks.  Even in the letter written to the Antioch church in Acts 15:23-27; Barnabas is listed first and Paul second.  We can be sure that Paul took the leadership on his second missionary journey after he and Barnabas had the contention over John Mark, Acts 15:36-40.

Just how long was it before Paul became the spiritual leader after his “Bible college education?”  We have a pretty good idea when we find out that, according to Gal. 2:1, it was fourteen years between Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem and his visit in Acts15.  Paul had already completed his Arabian experience with the Lord prior to going to Jerusalem and it is at least ten to twelve years before he takes any leadership and his name is changed to Paul in Acts 13:9.

What does this tell us?  First of all, we can conclude that Paul spent a great deal of time working in the ministry prior to God placing him in a place of leadership.  Paul did not seek a call to go and plant a church so he could be the leader.  He left that decision to God and God brought it to him by telling the church of his calling..  Secondly, we can conclude that God works differently than we.  He allowed this “personally trained” worker to labor for many years before gaining a place of leadership.  Thirdly, it tells us that preparation for leadership takes longer than we think it does.  Bible College may prepare a man for doctrinal answers but it does not prepare him for the “people problems” they will face in local churches.  One can only learn these by closely working with seasoned pastors who are willing to apprentice these young men.  We should not be placing our young men in new churches and in leadership positions quite so quickly.  It would be wise for pastors to refuse to “place the mantle” on these zealots who want to get ahead of God’s timing.

What are the implications of this Biblical truth?  First of all, we need to understand that the failures of young men sent out from our churches is the fault of pastors not being completely honest with these young men.  Pastors have tried to shield themselves from the failures of men in their ministry.  We excuse ourselves by saying that these men would have left anyway and started a church.  We try to say that if God is in it then it will succeed and when it fails try to console ourselves by saying that God must not have been in it.  What we fail to understand is that we will give an account to God for allowing our support or even our silence as these young men go out prematurely.  Secondly, we are losing good men in the ministry. Once a man fails in a church-planting project or in pastoring a church, it is difficult for him to get back on track.  Many leave the ministry all together.  Others take years before ever healing from their failure. Still others struggle with a failed ministry and never see the full potential of what God could do with them.

How can we change this?  A wise pastor will establish some stringent guidelines for young men working in an apprenticeship role.  First of all, he will only allow men under his authority that are willing to submit to his pastoral leadership.  Secondly, he will set up a format that allows the young apprentice the ability to learn the “people problems” of the ministry.  This will take work on the part of the pastor but the success of future churches rests on this learning experience.  Thirdly, he will not allow himself to be trapped by an apprentice into sending him out too early into the ministry.  Pastors need to understand that God tells them when someone is ready not the apprentice, Acts 13:1-2.  If they are not fully at peace with someone going to a new ministry, then the apprentice needs to wait for the Lord to lead his pastor.  Fourthly, the apprentice needs to get out and work a job while preparing in the local church.  Willing sacrifice should be demonstrated on this level while one is under the umbrella of a good pastor to help him and his family through their problems.

How will this help us?  If we refuse to send out these novices into the ministry, it will allow churches to be established that are far more successful and churches reaching maturity far more quickly.  This writer has been involved in over sixty church planting projects spanning the past thirty years.  The churches that became self- supporting, spiritually mature, and successful were the ones where men were God called, pastor trained, and willing to follow their pastor’s advice regardless of what it included.  The churches that either failed or have struggled with major problems have been those where a novice wanted the prestige, power, and place of leadership in the church.  Most of these churches should never have been planted and hundreds of young Christians have been destroyed by the failure of these pastors.

It is time we begin to take the admonition of Paul in I Timothy 3:6 seriously.  He said, ‘not a novice,” and by that he meant someone who is not ready to pastor a church.  His personal example demonstrates the truth of this statement.  Do we really believe that our young men are of greater strength than the Apostle Paul?  Should we continue to send out these young men with our feeble excuses?  The answer is obviously no.  We must change our philosophy of ministry and how we handle theseyoung men.  Let us establish Biblical guidelines and hold fast.  These men are too important, the churches being planted are too important, and the many souls saved under their ministries are too important.  Let’s send out men ready for the challenge of pastoring our new churches.