As I talk to pastors and missionaries in many contexts, there is a topic that seems to be a repeated refrain that I hear often. It has to do with the shortage of men to take the place of retiring pastors, teachers, missionaries, and ministry leadership roles. It has been clear for many years that there is a growing need for Christian leaders serving in ministry. Today, the swelling need for leaders has grown into a tsunami of massive proportions.
So, whose responsibility is to to provide these new leaders? Does the responsibility lay upon the denominational leaders, seminaries, Bible colleges, and missions agencies? Although there are many who believe this, the biblical answer is a resounding “No.” Leaders for the church may be trained and equipped for the church and mission field within these parachurch organizations, but the duty of identification, discipleship, mentoring, and at least initial training is the responsibility of the local church itself.
The fact that the local church is supposed to be identifying, discipline, mentoring, and training up the next generations of leaders and in many places have failed to do so is the reason that we are in a leadership crisis in the church today. My purpose isn’t to pass the buck, but to put the responsibility firmly where it belongs.
In Acts 13:2-3, Luke records, “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” The sending of these first two missionaries was done through the local church in Antioch and not through a missions agency. Agencies have their place in aiding the church, but it is the Spirit that calls apart missionaries, and it is the church that sends them.
In Ephesians 4:11-12, we see that the Spirit has given pastors and teachers, among others, to the church for the edification and training of the church. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”
This work of preparation by these gifted leaders was done in house, and would have led to the identification of young leaders that would be mentored within the church. An important example of this would be Paul’s identification of Timothy and the church’s agreement in Timothy’s calling: “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you” (1 Timothy 4:14).
And when Timothy is instructed about his own duties as a pastor in the church, he was strongly reminded by Paul, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
There can be no denying that the New Testament clearly teaches that leaders within the church are to be produced by the local church. So, why isn’t this happening? There are probably many reasons that would be given by some pastors who fail to do this—no time, feeling of inadequacy, fear of being replaced by their disciples, fear of discouraging disciples from ministry, and not knowing where to start. But none of these are valid in disobeying the clear admonition of Scripture.
Where do we go from here? That brings me to the title of this post, “The Long Term Benefit of Planting Acorns Today.” The mighty oak tree is moderate in the speed at which it grows, growing about 12-18 inches per year (30-46 cm) to a height of about 60 feet tall (18.28 meters). Compare this to pine, which can grow to 2 feet (61 cm) in a year.
Sometimes we fail to plan for the distant future, only looking up from our labors as our time of departure draws near. And what happens when we have not discipled men whom we can entrust the gospel, who will be able to teach others also? We will find that we have endangered our local church because the resource it so desperately needs in a leader cannot be easily found. Focused labor is admirable, but discipline leaders for the future is to be a part of our labors.
Growing accords into mighty oaks takes time. The future of many local churches has been jeopardized by short-sited pastors who figured they would simply call the local seminary and order a shiny new pastor to take their place when they retire. But many of these pipelines are empty or the hands-off approach of local churches have produced a generation of young pastors who have little or no loyalty to the local church. What do we do?
The answer from Scripture is the same. We plant the acorns. We may not live to see them fully develop, but we must plant the seeds from which the future church will benefit. If we do not, we will not only be unfaithful to the Scriptures in fulfilling our duty, but we will leave the church poorer than when it was handed to us.