This past spring I was invited to give the baccalaureate address for a large Christian high school. There were 172 graduates. The school’s facilities and faculty were impressive. The same was true for its academic, artistic, and athletic achievements. The school administrators and board of trustees have made a concerted effort to remain true to its original mission to exalt Christ and teach a Christian worldview.
But as I glanced through the list of graduating seniors, one thing concerned me. Not one of the 172 graduates was heading for a Christian church sponsored Bible college or university. Several had been accepted by church-sponsored liberal arts colleges but the vast majority of graduates listed state universities as their preferred choice.
Of course, not everyone is supposed to go to a church-related school to train for ministry. The graduates of that Christian school are well-equipped to be great ambassadors for Christ at their chosen secular university. But I can’t get over the fact that zero students from one of our finest Christian schools had enrolled in a Bible college.
This much is obvious: If we don’t find a way to reverse this nationwide trend, the Restoration Movement is going to experience a severe shortage of ministers and church leaders in the near future.
A 2017 Barna study concluded that there are now more full-time senior pastors who are over the age 65 than under the age of 40. The researcher who evaluated the study concluded, “It is urgent that denominations, networks and independent churches determine how to best motivate, mobilize, resource and deploy more younger pastors.”
The Christian church has been one of the very few denominations/movements that have experienced some growth over the past 30 years. The Restoration Movement has grown more megachurches and planted more new churches per capita than any other group. However, unless we find a way to reverse the current direction we will soon be facing a shortage of qualified leaders and it’s doubtful our growth and influence will continue.
What can we do to reverse this trend?
Preachers, place a high priority on recruiting youth to ministry and mission work.
Early in my ministry I had an idea I regret never implementing. I considered meeting monthly with teenage boys who had leadership and spiritual potential. By spending one hour a month with them, discussing ministry, visiting a Bible college, showing them behind the scenes of sermon preparation and pastoral work, I think I could have recruited a lot more preachers than I did.
Preachers, look for ways to reconnect with the youth in your church and motivate them to consider the preaching ministry. At the very least hold preaching in high regard and encourage young people to consider it as a calling.
Church leaders, hold in esteem those who have gone into ministry.
In nearly every sports arena there is a prominent Hall of Fame wall that contains pictures of the great players of the past. I’ve seen a few churches where there are pictures and a brief biography of those who have gone out from that church to serve as preachers and missionaries. That “Hall of Faith” wall communicates to the youth, “We esteem these people. This is what we hope you will aspire to be. We’re proud of these heroes who have gone out to fulfill the great commission of Christ.”
Parents and grandparents, play a key role in recruiting preachers.
When I was a preschooler, my mother used to whisper in my ear, “You’d make a good preacher someday.” Indications are that very few Christian parents intentionally plant that idea in the mind of their children today primarily because they don’t want them to aspire for ministry. They don’t want their child to be treated the way they’ve seen some preachers treated. They want to be able to brag to their peers about their child studying to be a doctor, engineer, or professor. In fact, in their minds they think, “My child is too sharp for ministry.”
Since when do we give God the leftovers? He deserves the firstfruits, the best we have to offer. We used to sing a hymn that challenged us to give of our sons and daughters and give of our wealth to speed them on their way. That’s hard to do! But so necessary.
Our influence for ministry begins with our attitude toward our preacher on the way home from church. Do they hear us holding the preacher in high esteem or cutting him down? They need to see in us that there is something more important than being wealthy or famous and that is to make a difference in eternal matters.
Even if we aren’t called to be a paid minister, all of us need to be mining for ministers. If you have extra resources, consider encouraging a gifted student by offering to help with tuition. If you’re a school teacher or a counselor, be on the lookout for gifted young men and women God can use and encourage them. I’m a big fan of Christian grade schools and high schools but frankly, I’m disappointed when I see so few graduates headed for Bible college. That should be a gold mine for international harvesters.
Most importantly pray for workers for the harvest field. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’” (Matthew 9:36-38).
Bob Russell is the retired senior minister of Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky. Copyright 2018 by Bob Russell. Permission to copy this column may be obtained by writing Emily Engelhardt at firstname.lastname@example.org or Southeast Christian Church, 920 Blankenship Pkwy, Louisville, KY 40243. Find Bob’s books and writings online (www.livingWord.org).