What is the pastoral shortage? The more profound question is why and what does it mean. The deficit was recently figured out several months ago by Lifeway when they saw that the average age of pastors raised from 50 to 57 in the last 20 years. That means not enough young men are entering into the pastorate. By that, we mean the senior or lead pastorate. There is enough in the second and third chairs, but they are not going into the first. There are a lot of factors that are due to this. Speaking as a revitalization guy, I think that when we look at several stats in church life today.


First, revitalization sees 4000 churches close a year. The thought scares younger pastors into not wanting to go where they are needed. They also hear the stories of struggles, fights, and other issues that must be dealt with in revitalization, and they would instead plant a church and mold it in the way they see a church should be. The next is church planting. More young pastors are planting churches today than ever. However, since 2000, statistics show that only around 50% of these churches stay open. They are showing why 95% of mergers between a revitalization and a church plant are successful because the stronger points of each cancel the failing factors in both. Again, several factors are to blame, including that most church plants have been mobile for up to 10 years, and the struggle to find a permanent home is brutal.


Then there’s schooling. The cost of seminaries is a considerable burden for all pastors. The churches looking to hire the younger men graduating insult them with their offers. A couple of pastor friends, one 42 and the other 74, pointed out similar scenarios when we look at what churches say on their jobs. “Looking for a pastor 25-50 must have Ph.D., but will consider M.Div. 6 years minimum experience in a large church. Must find housing. $30,000 a year.” Many churches regret selling their parsonages. The housing market is so rough right now that 95% of the country has no inventory of homes or apartments. I have read and heard of Pastors buying what are called Park Model RVs, the original Tiny Homes, to move into temporarily on church properties until they can find a place. These “classic” trailers you saw in TV and movies in the 60s and 70s bought veterans who wanted to be alone and became famous in shows like The Rockford Files. Also, many cities and towns in larger population states, seeing this in New England, are capping building limits to only a dozen or fewer homes a year.


When you factor in that pastors have between $60-$100 thousand in student debt, it becomes harder for churches but it also turns off potential pastors. Many churches also have a mindset that they need a seminary graduate. Bible Colleges have made their four-year degrees a slight, a sliver, downgrade from a seminary degree. When I attended Eastern Nazarene College in the 2000s, they saw this trend beginning in many of the traditional Wesleyan denominations. My class was the test class, and the group right after was the first class allowed full ordination as Nazarene and other Wesleyan pastors. There was a stronger emphasis on different portions, from theology to languages. They are making it so that Seminary is a choice if wanted. So many want the seminary degree, but fewer choose this pathway, so churches must change their viewpoint.


Another point is that as Church Answers recently figured out, more people are going to larger churches of 300+, so many of these churches are hiring pastors. So these men, regardless of age, are secured in a paying ministry position. The issue means there is less willingness to go into or even go back in the field or that many churches are unwilling to release men into ministry. They hear the horror stories of established churches and churches in need of revitalization, reluctant to follow the pastor’s suggestions, and they think, “Why should I go there?” they have heard the stories of abuse that pastors and their families have endured. Many of them do not return to ministry or even to a second or third chair position when they leave. For those reading and wondering what a second and third chair spot is, it is an associate pastoral position with a lot of responsibility.


In the six years, I have been in the first seat, moving up from a third seat, I have seen at least two dozen pastors leave my state in desperate need of a Gospel message. Of those men, I can say about ¼ are pastors, first seat, in another church. Less than ¼ are second or third-seat pastors. The rest? They have either left ministry entirely or gone on to para-church ministry. Meanwhile, I pray that the recent church planting meeting of my denomination in the state will send planters to the area I and three other churches are in as we struggle to minister to 600,000 people.


One of those men merged his church with a church plant. He then moved to another state to plant a church, having gotten tired of the politics of a dying established church. He soon discovered that several churches in his area desperately needed pastors. He had moved into a fast-growing area and was offered an exciting situation. Plant his church and start it as a plant, in a hybrid of a replant. I will be interviewing him for my podcast in the future to discuss this. I cannot do the idea justice.


Pastoring isn’t always fun. I find it fulfilling, and I know I am called to it. I have had about a dozen pastors recently confirm that call. But it is challenging, heartbreaking, and may not be what we thought it would be or end up all the time, but in the end, I know that God will exalt me for what I have done—the good, fun, challenging, bad, and hard stuff.


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