Where Will the Next Generation of Pastors Come From?
There is a general rule, quoted among church staff, that twenty percent of the people do eighty percent of the work. Ask ministry leaders the hardest part of their job and many of them will reply with one word; recruitment.
If they’re feeling extra spiritual that day, they might even quote Matthew 9:37 to you. That’s where you can find Jesus’ proclamation that the harvest is great, but the workers are few.
But there just might be two important details around this verse that we’re missing.
The first detail is the encouragement Jesus gave as part of the solution. Matthew 9:38 records Jesus’ encouragement to his disciples. “Pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” Oh, recruitment is difficult, but we were never intended to do this in our own power. That’s good to remember.
Yet it is the next detail that should scare us when we consider the implications. Just one verse earlier we’re told Jesus had compassion on the crowds “because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” 1 Is it possible we have been worried about finding volunteers when we should have been concerned with finding leaders?
Jesus understood the importance of leadership.
There are many forms of leadership, but in the church, one big part of leadership is the role of pastor. The person serving as pastor is certainly not the only part of the body of Christ. But the pastor is also not like an appendix, as if they are a mysterious and unnecessary part of our physical body.
The Barna Group conducts an annual study called The State of Pastors. In their 2017 study, they found that the average pastor today is 54 years old. That’s ten years older than the average in 1991, according to the same study.2
There are numerous reasons why the average age has increased so dramatically. Often cited are men and women who are staying longer. Healthy lifestyles, even if not always practiced by pastors, are lengthening our lives in general. Couple longer lifespans with a budgetary need to push off retirement, and you start to see the picture.
But not the entire picture.
It might not appear that we have a problem. After all, if the current pastors are healthy and able to serve longer, then we don’t have a need to fill these roles. Over 50% of current pastors responding to the same Barna study admit to being unhealthy and discouraged. Many denominations are reporting that, while they do not currently have a shortage of pastors, they do not see a source of supply coming that will be able to replace the aging demographic.
They have what they are calling an Empty Pulpit Crisis. When we see this Boomer population of pastors inevitably enter into retirement, will there be enough young men and women to replace all the positions they leave? Will the next generation of harvest fields even have leaders available to recruit the few willing volunteers?
While there is no one solution to repair what is broken in the Church in America, Grace College is doing its part to assist. One of the alarming stats from the Barna study reveals that 57% of pastors report being unable to pay their bills. Like many college students entering any field of social services, being able to pay back student loans is a concern. This is especially true when potential income is not high.
Part of the solution is Grace College’s Blended Program. This program enables students to receive their Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s of Divinity in just five years. Given that many Master’s of Divinity programs take three to four years on their own, the Blended Program is a difference maker. But don’t assume that the focus is all on speed.
The heart of the program is on training pastors to be able to lead. We want this to happen in ways that generate health, for the church and the pastor. While making it affordable and available for everyone, the first two years of this program are challenging academically. This serves as a litmus test for students, to determine if they can handle the coursework. This is an important aspect of the program, given the important subject matter pastors are tasked with teaching.
If you are interested in finding out more about Grace College and our Blended Program, give us a call today. Your story of a healthy and vibrant ministry does not have to wait any longer.