As a first-generation Pakistani immigrant in the US, I knew I would need more than the usual qualifications and experience necessary if I was to pursue a Baptist senior pastorate, especially during a global pandemic. What I needed was a miracle—the hand of God in action.
I had served at Calvary Baptist Church (CBC) as Pastor of Missions and Outreach for eight years when I began seeking guidance for what was next.
Now, three years later, I have indeed witnessed God’s faithfulness as this past May I accepted the Senior Pastor position at First Baptist Church of Metuchen (FBCM) in New Jersey. As a testament to God, I would like to share some of what I learned during this three-year process, in particular, how to know if you are ready for a senior pastorate.
Determining the Will of God
The first step in the process was to determine the will of God for me. This was also true for FBCM. All of us in ministry know one of the most commonly asked questions is, “how do I know the will of God for me?” This subject has employed many books and many verses to discerning how to decipher the will of God for relationships, careers, health, or wealth. Yet one author in particular has helped me immensely in determining God’s will when making decisions. Billy Graham, in his book The Journey, outlines six steps to deciphering God’s path for you, as follows:
- Commit your decision to God.
- Read the Scriptures.
- Understand your circumstances.
- Seek godly advice.
- Trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
- Trust God for the outcome.
I will elaborate on how each of these six steps led me through the three-year process of finding a senior pastor position.
I was born and raised in Pakistan, and my dad is a well-known Pentecostal pastor in Lahore. Both of my brothers are also pastors. In the midst of intense persecution, prayer has always been the fuel to keep my family going. So, I knew the need for and the importance of prayer. I committed my desire to be a senior pastor to prayer. I diligently sought out a series of questions: “Am I called to be a senior pastor?” “Am I ready to be a senior pastor?” and finally, “How ready do I need to be to pursue a senior pastor position?”
I searched the Scriptures and found that God has been preparing me for the role of a senior pastor for some time. In the New Testament, three terms–elder, overseer, and shepherd–are interchangeably used for the pastoral office (1 Peter 5:1-3; Acts 20:17-35). Therefore, my role as a pastor is meant to be threefold: as an elder I need the spirituality to lead, as an overseer I need the competency to lead, and as a shepherd I need the heart to lead.
First, spiritually, God has been maturing me since I was very young. I came to the Lord during an intense wave of persecution in Pakistan, so in and through persecution God remained my one and only source of hope. My spiritual formation and maturation can be accredited to the many trials and testing that God subjected me to. Second, regarding the competency to lead as an overseer, I testify that by His grace, I have been growing as a leader experientially and academically since I was eighteen. I hold three degrees in leadership, but the life lessons that led me to start a school in Pakistan at the age of 18, a non-profit organization for marginalized communities in Pakistan at the age of 20, a church plant in Greece at the age of 23, and numerous pastoral roles since then. Finally, God has been faithful throughout this process of growing as a leader and His Spirit has transformed my heart to care for His flock.
Early on my wife joined me in this discovery process. We begin to pray together, study the Scriptures, and to carefully begin to examine everything around us as we sought answers for the decision to seek a new job. Two questions that brought clarity were: “Am I too comfortable in my current position?” and “Am I utilizing my spiritual gifts, talents, experience, and qualifications to their full potential?”
We noticed through our circumstances both at home and at church that my role as the missions and outreach pastor had reached its limit. Unbeknownst to us, around the same time FBCM had begun their own process to discover who God had for them as their next senior pastor.
A Multitude of Counsel
I am a rare case, an individual that God has showered with a multitude of godly counsel. I have many mentors with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Some of them are missionaries, some are pastors, and others are academics, but all of them are seasoned leaders with exceptional witnesses. Soon after my wife and I began this process, I reached out to my mentors and started sharing my desire for the next chapter in my family and ministry life. They affirmed my calling to be a senior pastor. One piece of advice that stuck with me was, “When God calls you out of something, He also calls you to something.” From then it was clear to me to start looking for a senior pastorate, though I could not have known it would take about three years to come to fruition.
The Holy Spirit
As we began to look around for a senior pastor position, we also considered the possibility of planting a church in our Queens neighborhood. We were blessed with subsidized housing there, but suddenly the owner of the building unnecessarily and unreasonably began to cause problems. It became clear to us that our housing situation had become unhospitable for our family. However, unsubsidized housing in our neighborhood would have been unaffordable for us.
The FBCM search committee was very thorough for several reasons. First, for forty-five years the church did not have to call a search committee as the same senior pastor had faithfully served there (and was planning to remain on staff as an associate pastor). Second, the pandemic added a layer of difficulty to process. Finally, as a congregational church, the FBCM search committee and the elders had a long list of items that needed to be checked off, including a personal and ministry philosophy, doctrinal and theological compatibility, preaching and leadership style, and church polity and ecclesiastical approach. The search committee had countless Zoom meetings, some over three hours long. They wanted to give the congregation as many opportunities as possible to ask questions and make an informed decision. After months and months, when the search committee presented my name to the elders, they accepted me unanimously. When the candidating weekend at long last arrived, we completely rested in God’s confidence. Our prayer was simple: Lord let your will be known to the congregation as well. Given the thoroughness and faithfulness of the search committee, we would have been happy with any outcome because we knew we had followed all the steps that we possibly could as human. Now, after the congregation’s approval, we simply thank the Lord.
Evaluating Every Step We Take
Evaluating each step taken is critical to move from one step to the next. It ensures two things: first, that we are not stuck but moving forward, and second, that we are not detaching the preceding steps from one another, but rather each step is building upon the previous. I have learned in my 23 years in ministry (I started pretty early, I am forty now) that often when it comes to making difficult decisions, long-time believers tend to default to spiritual excuses, such as “Let’s seek the Lord” “Let’s wait on the Lord,” or “Let’s pray.” Of course, all of that is good and should be part of the decision-making process, but often these godly disciplines become a crutch or an excuse for not walking in faith. Procrastination is not a spiritual discipline. If anything, it shows a lack of trust in the Lord and a lack of determination, which in the end creates more problems and generates the need for a reactive, panicked decision-making approach. Unfortunately, in my experience, the church in North America by and large is a reactive church as opposed to a proactive one, especially when it comes to change. Anyhow, I have created a list of questions for each step mentioned above to help us to remain proactive and not get stuck in limbo for an extended time:
- Have I prayed enough?
- When should I move beyond just praying?
- Have I searched the Scriptures for an answer?
- What does Scripture say or not say?
- How applicable it is for my current situation?
- Are my circumstances calling me to this decision?
- Are my circumstances under the sovereignty of God?
- Have I sought the counsel of many?
- Have I sought out enough counsel?
- Am I led by the Holy Spirit or my own desires?
- How should I prepare myself for the outcome?
- Can I rejoice in God regardless of the outcome?
More could be said about the practical steps one should take to discerning God’s will for your next assignment in ministry, but in this closing paragraph I want to provide a few verses to encourage those who specifically are wondering about a possible future role as a senior pastor. First, I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit is already guiding you through your circumstances in your ministry and family life. The very fact that you are searching and reading articles on how to know if you are ready for a senior pastorate shows that the Holy Spirit is stirring a desire in you. Second, you desire to pursue a Senior Pastor role is a godly and a noble thing (1 Tim 3:1). When it comes to godly and noble desires, God is willing to give us our desires when we commit them to Him in prayer and action (Psalm 37:4-5). Whatever you might perceive to be lacking in your preparation to pursue your calling to be a senior pastor, pray that God may remove all your fears (Psalm 34:4). Ask yourself: do I love God? do I love God’s people? do I love preaching? and do I love caring and leading? If the answer to all the questions is yes, do not make concessions to accommodate procrastination in the process. Third, once you have prayed over and sought out wisdom from the Lord and counsel from godly, experienced believers, set clear goals and strive to achieve them. Specific plans help. Proverbs 16:9 lays out plainly that we plan our course, but God establishes our steps, and Proverbs 16:3 says that when we commit to the Lord whatever we do, God will establish our plans. Above all, we must remember that whether our calculations about His will are correct or not, in the end, the Lord’s purpose will prevail anyway (Proverbs 19:21).
Photo credit: Akira Hojo/Unsplash