The Lack of Two Things is Part of the Pastoral Shortage: Discipleship and Evangelism

                As this gains traction and is noticed by many denominations and church networks, one thing that will happen is that people will put their thoughts as facts. Many people presuppose why fewer go to seminary to get into ministry based on what they think is happening, but the truth is, the reasons are not what they think. However, many reasons are linked in a chain that must change. If we are honest, the shortage has been going on for some time. A decade ago, another church approached my former church because they had a pastor who wanted to retire. They went to the regional leaders in their denomination to find out that they had no leads as not many were going to their seminaries, and they had no idea what to do about that. Over the years since, I have come to read, see, hear, and even experience some things that have led to the shortage. Here are some of the facts.

  • 1.       90% of churches are 50 or under. That is a significant number. Of the remaining 10% of churches, 8% are 50-250, and any over 250 comprise the remaining percentage. That means a few things for us to look at. First, that means most Christians are in large churches to mega-churches in the US. Many of those churches train from within for their leaders and pastors. The majority of churches are under 50 in attendance/members. Second,, this has led to increased bi-vocational and co-vocational pastors in the US. Why? Most 50 and under churches cannot pay a pastor full-time. The current lack also shows that some churches have given up looking for a pastor to fill their pulpit. Consolidation would be an option, but since many churches are autonomous, several factors will keep churches like these from merging.
  • 2.       The Debt of Seminary Education. Most churches want a seminary-trained pastor. I can understand that as Bible college and Seminary changed, many of the things I was originally told were facts. It teaches you what was taught from 33AD - about 200 years before some "new doctrines" permeated the church. It also helps you with a good defense against many of the false teachings of today, things like the Jesus Seminar and other things that make people think Jesus is fake. However, seminary and Bible college are expensive, and many will have to take out loans to make up the cost they cannot afford by taking the pulpit of a small church. This has made many for over a decade not want to take on the excessive debt, coupled with churches wanting an educated pastor. You can see how this is happening. A church of 50 or less can pay a pastor, but only a part-time or stipend wage. Sadly, many of these churches will close, partially because they can only see into the past and not what is happening in the present, which will be the future.
  • 3.       Older pastors "dying in the pulpit." Many pastors will get older and die in the pulpit. We are seeing the age of pastors move up. The average ages are 48 in 2000, 53 in 2010, and 57 today. Pastors are already wondering what will happen. Many denominations and networks are rushing to train laypeople for the smaller churches and have the trained men go to larger ones. Not everyone is aboard with this. One pastor I was talking to went to in on a church that recently hired one of these laymen. From what he told me, things were not going well with a doctrine that did not match the Bible. Remember, this guy is getting training from his denomination/network. This has led to a decline in attendance at the church as many are not feeling fed, seeing the lack of exercise, and falling for the "grass is greener" syndrome; people think going to a new church is for the better. This has also meant that there are fewer pastors to fill a pulpit while the church is looking for a new pastor.
  • 4.       Lack of discipleship and evangelism. Because pastors are working, the time they could be using to disciple is getting eaten up working or making up for time lost with family. A pastor recently told me that he left the ministry because of the current crisis's damage to his family. He said that if he had stayed, he knew his kids would be the pastor's kids who grew up hating the church. Another pastor told me he left our area because while trying to rebuild the church with discipleship and evangelism, he had four kids and had to consider caring for them. He moved to a cheaper state and took an associate pastor role. 90% of churches are small because they fall into the "Come and See" trap of evangelism, being to just invite someone to church. This is because of a lack of discipleship and training. Most people will say that Jesus won over everyone he witnessed. Really? What about the Rich Young Ruler for one and Judas for the another? Let's not forget the many in John 6 who walked away from Jesus. In my evangelism class, the professor said that when we look at the numbers, Jesus only won about 22% to him. Many churches no longer know how to train for evangelism because they bought into a 30-40-year-old tradition of inviting people to church. Two generations of pastors do not know or have little knowledge of evangelizing because they either skipped that class, the class wasn't given, or their church never trained them. This is what I call a symbiosis issue.
  • 5.       Churches Need a New Mindset. Many churches need to renew their minds. You will come across people who do not want their churches to get past a specific size because they want coziness and a family feel. Others think getting past 50 and being at 100 is a gateway to becoming a mega church. This is another factor too that leads to a lack of evangelism and is driven by a lack of discipleship. It is one thing for a pastor to preach it from the pulpit, but when the flock does not see the need and urgency of it from the scriptures, there is a failure to connect these things. Pastors may offer discipleship, but not everyone will take up the opportunity. The old saying lies true: you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. It reminds me of what former Southern Baptist President JD Greear said: all churches should be mandated to go door to door or, at the very least, in the public green to share the Good News of Jesus.

Now we know that despite this, the Church will go on. Last year at the Baptist Churches of New England annual meeting, Neil Cole pointed out that the exciting thing we see is that the current two church generations, Millennials and Gen Z, are looking for authenticity; they have a fresh boldness because of what they are up against. They seek smaller churches to help lead changes and get trained in other ideas. These are things that they do not see in larger ones. These two generations want a community to help them with their marriages and families, but they also want to reach the lost and do missional work. He said this shows him a new organic church like never before and that my generation, Gen Z, needs the patience to see it through. As he said, it is a paradigm shift from what he and others in his camp thought was the way the Church was leaning towards. Having the patience is vital. Even in evangelism, it is a reminder that it takes time. Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 3:6: "I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth." As Greg Koukl points out, when we realize we are just like the sower throwing the gospel around and not knowing who will listen, we will see a revolution and awakening once more to evangelism through discipleship. 


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