Pastors and Rookie Mistakes

Recently, State Senator Tim Solobay of Pennsylvania introduced a bill (Senate Bill 391) for consideration that would make expungement possible for individuals who have committed crimes other than misdemeanors.  The proposal would “allow some individuals who have been convicted of misdemeanors of the 2nd and 3rd degree to apply to have the records expunged if they have not been arrested or convicted for 7 to 10 years (depending on the offense) prior to requesting the expungement.”  Some have referred to this as the “young and dumb” exception.  The bill was recently referred (October 2013) to the House Judiciary Committee.

Leaving expungement (and the particular issues of Senate Bill 391) aside, I’m intrigued by the prospect of a “young and dumb” exception in ministry.  To be sure, expectations of pastors and staff are unique to each context and individual.  Indeed, the subjectivity of the Pastoral expectations is often the elephant in every church meeting room.  But ministers new in ministry often face an unusual catch-22.  One cannot obtain experience until they have experience.

Too often, churches with good intentions, place unrealistically high expectations on staff whom they hire with the pre-existing condition of youth and inexperience.  We accept that rookies in baseball or football will make mistakes.  It is a natural part of their development.  Can we not show that same measure of understanding for those new in ministry?

Now, I am certainly not advocating for lowering our standards below the Biblical mandate outlined for ministers. On the other hand, I would like to appeal for a measure of grace for a particular demographic of church leaders — new and young ministers.  I submit to you that if a church calls a young man to serve in the role of Pastor, you do not have the right to expect that he has the maturity of a seasoned minister.

You can’t have it both ways.  If you want someone with experience and maturity, then you should adjust your search accordingly.  However, if you want someone with youth and freshness, or dare I say, someone easier to afford, please remember that experience only comes through experiences.  Obviously, if he is still doing those same immature things ten years from now, he can no longer claim to be young and dumb, because he will no longer be young.

I doubt very seriously that young pastors make mistakes intentionally.  If they are, that may say as much about your search process as it does about the candidate you have chosen.  I have the privilege of working with young ministers, and all of them I know want to lead with discernment and live up to the expectations of Scripture and of the church.  They have a passion for the Lord and His Word and the conviction to reach the lost.  What they need is an understanding environment to allow them and even help them to mature.

I certainly don’t mean to suggest that younger ministers will necessarily make dumb decisions, nor do I mean to dissuade churches from considering them.  However, young ministers cannot be expected to know by experience that which they have not experienced.

May I suggest to every search committee and church considering candidates who are new in ministry:

  1. If you are considering a younger minister to serve on your church staff, recognize that his youthfulness is both an asset and a challenge in his ministry and yours.  Don’t expect him to have the maturity of your favorite Pastor who recently retired.
  2. If you are considering a younger minister to serve on your church staff, allow him the grace and the space to lead, even if it means making a few mistakes along the way.  When the mistakes come, forgive him, love him, and encourage him.  If you create an environment afraid of mistakes, you’ll foster leaders who are afraid to lead.
  3. If you are considering a younger minister to serve on your church staff, don’t allow strong personalities in the church overwhelm him with unrealistic expectations.  Give him time to learn and grow.  He doesn’t necessarily have to be like your favorite former pastor.
  4. If you are considering a younger minister to serve on your church staff, budget expenses in his package (not out of his salary) for training and development.  Help him build a library of good resources.  A leader is a reader.  If you drop by his office and find him engrossed in a good book, remember that might be the most spiritual thing he could be doing at that moment.  A growing pastor may be your church’s best asset.
  5. If you are considering a younger minister to serve on your church staff, remember that with youth in ministry comes young families.  You should also allow him the same grace to be a young husband and father.  A strong pastor’s home is vital for maturing pastors.

When a church calls a younger pastor you necessarily accept the preexisting condition that he is young.  There really isn’t anything that he can do about that.  That is a condition only cured by the advancing of time.  Patience displayed is his “not yet” years, may reap untold blessings through a maturing leader loved by those whom he serves.  Show him the grace that his position affords and his age demands.  You might find extended grace leads to extended pastoral tenures.

Deron Biles

Deron Biles

Dean of Extension Education, Associate Dean for the Doctor of Ministry Program, Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Biles serves as Dean of Extension Education and teaches in the School of Theology. He is married to Jaye and has four boys.
Twitter: @deronjbiles
Deron Biles

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