First Baptist Church in West Monroe (First West) is a great church that has served North Louisiana well for a long time. A year ago they asked their student pastor, Michael Wood, to serve as their senior pastor. Not only were the people convinced of his character, as they watched his life for several years, but Michael is a great teacher and a strong leader with a passion for the Lord and people (full disclosure: My niece served on his team in the student ministry and still serves on staff there. She and others rave about his leadership in both contexts). Michael is just one example of a student pastor transitioning to a senior pastor.
When leaders or search teams have asked me if a student ministry pastor can transition to a senior pastor role, I always respond with, “Absolutely.”
My response is predicated on the understanding that the person is already a qualified pastor (1 Timothy 3) and that pastoring in student ministry is not a mere stepping stone to being a “real pastor.” Student pastors are real pastors. My response is not to diminish the challenges of the transition or to lower the expectations of the senior pastor role but to highlight the transferrable parts of being an effective student pastor with being an effective senior pastor. And a lot transfers. Much carries over.
Student pastors are already in a regular rhythm of communication, of preparing messages, and of teaching and preaching the Scripture. They not only organize the student ministry, but they regularly stand in front of teenagers to preach and teach. Some of our generation’s most effective preachers began their ministries preaching to teenagers. Practically, if you can hold the attention of a teenager, you can hold anyone’s attention, so student ministry makes you a better communicator. The teaching rhythm of a senior pastor is relentless. Sundays keep coming at a steady pace. And student ministry leaders have experience in that rhythm.
Student ministry is highly relational. Student ministry forces leaders to learn how students think, the challenges they are facing, and their fears and struggles. Effective student ministry leaders love students, step into their world, and think missionally about how to engage surrounding campuses with the gospel. Effective student pastors learn about and love students, and the discipline of accessing the culture and loving people in it is highly transferrable to the senior pastor role. A senior pastor who was once a student pastor is likely a relationally driven senior pastor, someone who loves people well.
By administration, I don’t mean being excellent in details or overly operational. I am referring to leading a ministry through other people. Effective student pastors don’t attempt to shepherd all the students alone; they build a community of adult leaders who shepherd students. They view their leaders as a volunteer army to serve the students. In other words, because student ministry requires an army of leaders, student pastors learn leadership. Thus, an effective student ministry pastor is a proven leader of leaders, and this transfers immediately to being a senior pastor.
So can this person, who is currently a student pastor, really be an option for our senior pastor position? Absolutely.