Preach for America

Preach for America

Written by Aaron M. Renn |
Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Why can’t churches be working to identify people whom they believe would be highly effective pastors – using whatever criteria they think is most Biblical and appropriate – and encouraging those people to go into ministry? There’s a lot of opportunity in local churches to do a stealth vetting of these folks before tapping them on the shoulder, such as by asking them to volunteer in more purely service roles, giving them leadership opportunities, etc. and seeing how they perform. Rather than waiting for people to decide they want to go into ministry, instead encourage high potential people to strongly consider doing so.

I had always assumed that there was a surplus of people pursuing careers in ministry. There are many seminaries, each with an incentive to attract students. And people seemed to have to go through a sort of waiting room process in college ministry or as a youth pastor before getting an actual pastor or associate pastor position.

But what I’m hearing from widely divergent sources is that there’s actually a big talent shortage in this area.

This first came on my radar a decade ago when Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church started talking about the looming succession crisis in megachurches like his. There were hardly any megachurches in 1975, but there are a huge number today, often still run by their founding pastor. Replacing all these soon to be retiring folks with someone who could successfully operate at that level would be a challenge. Of course, Hybels’ own carefully crafted succession plan blew up.

Today even churches that can afford to pay a solid salary are finding it difficult to recruit pastors. Many seminaries have seen significant enrollment declines. For example, Gordon-Conwell saw its enrollment fall by half between 2012 and 2021, and it is selling off its gorgeous campus north of Boston. I increasingly hear people talking about this talent shortage issue. I just watched a video of one pastor noting that new church startups will be increasingly difficult to pull off in today’s climate because there’s no pipeline of talent to launch them.

There appears to be a similar problem in the Roman Catholic Church, which has an aging cadre of priests and far fewer young people electing to pursue a priestly vocation.

At the same time, vast numbers of churches in the US seem poised to close. There are simply too many small, non-viable congregations, and it’s unlikely that more than a few of them will be successfully revitalized. Christianity’s decline in America also augurs for a decreased demand for ministers. So while there appears to be a pastoral shortage, the demand level is also highly uncertain. It’s easy to see how this sort of uncertainty would discourage people from going into ministry.

But given that there does seem to be a talent shortage today, that presents an opportunity to rethink the pastoral recruitment and training process.

Entry into the pastoral career track seems to rely almost entirely on self-selection. That is, someone has a desire or senses a call to ministry, then goes to seminary, etc.

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