I got something off my bucket list. One of my “Timothy’s” finally got to the place where his call to ministry was officially recognized in his church having been previously examined by a council of his peers. I had been prodding for this event for years because there was never a doubt in my mind that God has his hand on this man in a special way.
However, that is not what I want to write about today. The preacher yesterday was a very long time friend and associate who said something in his message that got my attention. As he has moved among many churches for a long time now he has heard the question many times, “Where are the preachers?” The focus here in the question is new preachers or in secular terms, rising stars.
But I would rather have a good answer and delve into the solution of solving the problem rather than just noting it.
So let’s work on that together today.
Perhaps the existing preachers don’t brag enough on what a privilege and joy it is to get to be a preacher. It seems to me that the time to drill the well is before you are thirsty. Well drilling in this case is to go after young teenagers and get them to think about the potential for their own life. Perhaps more preachers should talk to more teens with potential and make a statement. “I would like you to think about becoming a preacher.” That is far stronger than saying, “Have you ever thought of becoming a preacher?” because of course they haven’t, in most cases. Start more conversations. Drill a well.
Let the preachers preach. Most young preachers get to preach once a month at best. You don’t get good at anything doing it once a month. For example, someone who golfs once a month will always be a duffer. Once a month preachers will always be — well you get the idea. So find ways to book the new kid to preach more often. And start long before it is time to go to seminary. Brainstorm that one. Find and invent preaching points.
About 75% of the people in vocational ministry are in associate positions and only get to preach once a month at best. Therefore, it follows that the once-a-month associates will never get their stroke down. I find that most people don\’t know that this is where the potential preachers are hiding out. Then when someone wants a preacher they want to know about the ten years preaching experience that didn’t happen. Back in the day many of us started preaching at rescue missions. Whether or not anyone was listening doesn’t matter nearly as much now as the fact we were speaking. Somewhere.
Fix those three factors and more preachers are likely to emerge. Starting to learn to preach when you are 40 years old having been out of seminary for a decade is a really bad idea in my opinion.
An issue is never fixed by simply describing the problem. Agitating the problem is a good idea because it drives toward a solution. So yesterday my friend opened a can of worms and I just stirred it up!
The real question is always, “What do we do now?” There are many potential solutions. Some seminaries are starting to get more creative. Just-in-time learning is a common force today, so why don’t we get some people started and train them as they go? It is commonly cited that Americans average seven careers in a lifetime. That might just be an urban myth. Nobody knows for sure. But we can all agree that mid-course career change is common. Therefore, we need to think about more pathways to a career in ministry. Probably this means we must look at the historically attested bi-vocational route as being one of the high roads.
I am thinking today about the change from so-called secular employment to so-called ministry careers. I say “so-called” because Paul is clear in this subject. “Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. … Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.” (1 Corinthians 7:17-20) So the motivation to move towards ministry vocation must never be the illusion that life will get easier or more spiritual or something like that. But most people get that part.
Why should someone go into ministry?
Real quick. Right off the top of my mind.
- We need more workers. There is never a problem with the harvest — a subject for another day — there is an ongoing problem with workers or could I suggest worker hours. (Matthew 9:37) So guys, if you want to do it, get it done now. Time is a-wasting!
- People with life experience are worth at least double what naive rookies are worth in the investment of hours. More experience people get things done faster. That isn’t a knock on the young guys. It just takes longer until you get the repetitions in.
- When a person has life experience and then moves over to ministry, some people take them more seriously. That is particularly true if (scratch that) when they take a serious pay cut.
I’m thinking I could go on but my mind is jumping to the hesitations.
I am in discussion right now with several men who have a yearning to get into ministry but they won’t do it. Yet. Why? Again, top of mind stuff.
- They don’t want to give up the pay cheque or diminish their pension. As one who has nothing but a government pension, that one irks me. You don\’t do this job for the retirement plan.
- Their wives are scared about how they would live with reduced pay. I get that. My answer is simple, and I answer it with a question. What do you think Jesus meant when he said, “Do not worry about your life?” I think he meant do not worry about your life. Study that one from your heart. Matthew 6:25-34. And don\’t give in to the, “Yah buts.” Seek first his kingdom.
- They don’t want to put in the years of education. Well, again that is for another day but the reality is you can study and work at the same time. The theological education is good enough but it doesn’t really prepare you much for the day to day grind of ministry.
I am particularly saddened by men who should be stepping it up and taking a stronger leadership role in their church (or another church) as a pastor. There are many churches — in fact, I’m thinking all churches — that could use more leadership juice from the top. Some existing pastors won’t take on a new guy because of the threat. Oh well. Another day on that one too. But most churches would be thrilled to call another pastor to their team. Why hesitate?
Sometimes it requires a family move to take on another church. So just do it. We expect missionaries to do that when they also take on new cultures and new roles. Some churches are simply going to shut down if someone doesn’t take up the challenge to lead them. You can’t expect a young guy to take on a lethargic church of maybe 30-50 people can you? They can’t pay enough for that young family to live and the young pastor probably can’t make enough up to cover it with a second vocation.
It’s time. It’s time for a wave of new pastors and missionaries to flow from the ranks of those who have experience in a wide range of vocations. It\’s time for some of those to slash their lifestyle and put their furniture in a smaller house.
That is easy for me to say to those who must take on the change. But if you have it in your heart as a desire to serve as a bishop don’t cover that with a credit card payment you need to make. Get on with it! The joy in serving vocationally is great but I think there are better reasons to think of as well.