We’ve heard about it for a while: we’re facing a shortage of pastors.
According to Lifeway Research, the average pastor today is 57, compared to 50 in 2000. Seminary enrollment is in decline. “The labor shortage within the clergy, which parallels shortages in other industries, is reshaping worship in some parts of the country as more congregations search for ways to operate without a pastor,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
I’ve noticed this myself. Last year I phoned the person in our fellowship of churches to look for candidates for a position. I learned that there are more opportunities than applicants.
While it’s hard to predict trends, I’m concerned.
Reasons to be Encouraged
From 2015 until last year, I helped to train church planters. Signing up to start a new church is risky. It involves lots of hard work and sacrifice.
One of the reasons I stayed in the role is that I found it so encouraging. I kept meeting young church planters who love God and are ready to sacrifice for his kingdom.
One of them joined our church as an apprentice for a couple of years. He was 22 years old. As I heard him preach, I thought of of the sermons I preached when I was his age and gave thanks that he’s so far ahead of where I was.
If these church planters represent the future, I’m encouraged. God cares for his church, and one of the ways he provides for her is in raising up godly leaders who love him and love his church. God is raising up capable pastors all around us.
Reasons to be Concerned
But we should also be concerned. While the quality of young pastors and planters may be high, we need more.
The place to begin is with prayer (Matthew 9:37-38). The shortage of workers is not a new phenomenon, and Jesus prescribed one way to address it. One of our constant prayers should be for more labourers: more pastors, more missionaries, more gospel workers in general. Speaking of this verse, Charles Spurgeon said, “This text is laid on my heart; it lies more on my heart than any other in the Bible; it is one that haunts me perpetually, and has done for many years.” It should probably haunt us too.
We must pray, but we must also take action. “It is a Gospel priority for pastors to train men for the ministry and that every pastor must, in some capacity, be involved in training the next generation of pastors,” writes Paul Martin, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto. “How much heartache in our churches could be avoided if our pastors were actively mentoring their replacements!”
We can’t rely on seminaries to raise up pastors; they play a role alongside pastors who tap potential pastors on the shoulder and ask them if they have considered pastoral ministry. We have the privilege of walking alongside them and preparing future generations of pastors.
We’re facing a shortage of pastors. I’m encouraged by the quality of people God is raising, but we need more. So pray and mentor, trusting God to provide for the church as he always has.