Why Is There A Lack Of Gospel Ministers Being Sent To Poor Communities From Our Bible Colleges & Seminaries?

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T Howard's picture

I'm thankful for programs like Project Jerusalem out of Baptist Bible Seminary (soon to be Summit University), Clarks Summit. Dr. Ken Davis is doing a great job with equipping, encouraging, and supporting BBS graduates to start churches in the NE United States.

That being said, one of the issues people will need to address going into poor urban communities is credibility, particularly as America seems to be more polarized across socio-economic and racial factors.

Mark_Smith's picture

this posting is confusing. It is from a ministry in Scotland but talking about American seminary students applying to them. It seems unlikely to me anyway that very many American seminary graduates are wanting to serve the poor in Scotland... did I miss something?

The piece itself is full of hyperbole, which is OK, but it really is over the top.

That being said, why is the result surprising? You take a person, insist they earn a 90 hour graduate degree where they learn Hebrew and Greek and many other things, then act like they aren't "professionals" who want a retirement and medical? Depending upon where they are graduating from, they probably have debt as well. If the church wants free serving, self-denying seminary trained missionaries, those people really need to have had a free graduate education IMHO.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Perhaps the author should stop seeking out and recruiting U.S. seminary grads and look to a network of churches from his own country for workers and leaders? Then he wouldn't have this kind of problem. Stop looking for Seminary grads. Start looking for Bible College and Institute workers from . . . Scotland and England.

I also don't think it's proper to castigate a man for worrying about health care for his family in a foreign country. I also don't think it's right to criticize a man for thinking ahead and worrying about retirement prospects. A missionary my church supports just returned from the field after 37 years. He has no retirement, and very little savings. Make fun of that kind of concern all you want, but Pastors often have no safety net for their golden years.

A Pastor ought to worry about that kind of thing, for his family's sake. That's why I plan to go into the Navy Reserve as a Chaplain to finish my last 10 years, and get a retirement. I don't know how that will work out with my church schedule, but you know what? Tough. My church and I will make it work somehow. I get paid very little, and they can afford to give a little in a few years when we go ahead with it. My family needs a safety net for our golden years. 

The author asked this:

I’m not sure what is going on in theologically conservative, evangelical seminaries and Bible Colleges in the western world when it comes to training people for the mission field, particularly scheme and council estate ministry in the UK.

Seem unable to share the gospel but more than ready to pontificate on the problem of 16th Century debates around the ingrowing toenails of angels vs the hairstyles of cherubs. Or something equally as meaningless.

Let me suggest that there is something wrong with the men he spoke of. It's a really simple problem. They're immature and inexperienced. Imagine that! Maybe . . . they need to get some experience so they can couple their theory with practical application!? That's the way things go, isn't it? A guy comes from school full of idealism, with visions of election, the hypostatic union and supralapsarianism dancing in his head, and needs to learn how to apply all this in real life. Maybe they need to be taught what they can't get in a classroom? Maybe the author could help them with that . . . 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

I am no great Biblical scholar or seminary graduate, but I've had a few experiences ministering to the poor.  First was two summers in LA, and my church reached out to a mixed black/hispanic church in Compton.  Lots of enthusiasm, but the problems they were dealing with were big--drugs, kids out of wedlock, crime, the like.   Plus, there is a different rhythm of conversation there--where I like to think things through, many there wanted their Biblically informed answer NOW and would move on to the next person if you didn't have it.  I admit I had trouble picking up on this.

More recently, I was the youth leader at a church that for whatever reason attracted poor Hispanic families, often from the local mobile home park.  Great times, we had a fair amount of fruit, but again, you've got big issues with poverty, drugs.....great people, by the way, who would take in relatives into their trailer homes when things got rough--you'd get six or seven people or more in a double wide.  

Tough, but a blessing--many poor people are simply more honest as well because they simply can't hide it.  If you're blessed to find such an opportunity, I highly recommend it--you won't fill the collection plates quickly (but you'll be surprised what they do do for you), but it's great ministry.  And if you're not in an area with a clearly defined "wrong side of the tracks" or "poor area", don't worry--if you are preaching God's Word and have even a lick of compassion, they will find you.  At least I was surprised to be so found.  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Brian Dempsey's picture

I was afraid that the comments to this article would be comprised of the piling-on variety. Thank you all for a little balance and perspective. As a young pastor (34) with small children (5, 2, and one within the next month), I feel a strong biblical burden to provide for my family. I love the passion of missionaries and pastors who are going into the hardest places on earth to minister. As someone who grew up near Washington, DC, I have a heart for that. But can't we do it with sanctified common sense in place? Yeah, charge into the unreached people groups of Asia or the drug-riddled streets of the city...just make sure you are taking care of all of your responsibilities. I had a missions professor (adjunct, NOT on full time faculty) who made it sound like if you left the field to get yourselves decent medical care that you were abandoning the work. What are we, scientologists?
    Thanks again for some balance to what seemed to be a little over the top article.

Brian Dempsey
Pastor, WBC
I Cor. 10:31

 

Greg Linscott's picture

I understand the article is somewhat hyperbolic. That said, I think there is sometimes a lack of desire to step into ministry situations that involve personal risk, whether it is in unfamiliar settings like this man speaks of, or in situations where it will require sacrifice and uncertainty. Most situations I am aware of require at the very least a degree of financial resourcefulness. Many of my pastor friends around me here in SW Minnesota must work on the side to support themselves. You have to struggle with answers to questions like how do I fund my family's health care, and other similar things that many people today have taken care of by employer contributions. There is an unwillingness to build the work to a point where it might someday be able to supply things for your family that it isn't able to at the start.

Thankfully, what the author says is not true of all seminary graduates (two of my closest pastor friends in the area I spoke of have a PhD and a DMin, while another spent much of his ministry career as a Bible College prof). With that said, I think our stream of Christianity today does suffer because people aren't willing to take risks. There is more of a professional and less of an entrepreneurial spirit, and while there is a place for the placeholders, we also need people who are willing to think big, risk failure, and attempt great things for God without necessarily knowing there is a safety net in place for every possible contingency. 

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Brian Dempsey's picture

Greg,

I agree with you, but sometimes the opposite of the mentality that is described in that article takes over. For instance, I took a fairly decent risk in moving to Indiana with my family to pastor. They were a church that had eroded from 200 to 70 over a 8-9 year period. Many of the people who left were key figures in the church and there were significant challenges. The former pastor (here 25 years) even commented on his "retirement" that he didn't want to be the one who rode the church into the ground. We are 3.5 years into this thing, and I have no clue if we are going to make it long term. We see ups and downs (about 25% turnover in the last three years). We have 10 acres of property and multiple buildings, but no debt. I just don't know. However, I knew the risks in coming here, and I am fully invested in seeing what God will do here.

Contrast that with a couple I know who were in the midst of a church conflict and suddenly decided they were called to plant a church in North Dakota. They packed up and moved with almost no support, no ministry team, and no mission board/agency/accountability to a local church. They made it several years with little fruit, the whole thing collapsed, and they ended up moving back to where they had come from with nothing to show for it except for a near-nervous breakdown. I would label that a dumb risk. God often covers for our stupidity, but being stupid and expecting Him to fill in the gaps seems like a bad way to live life.

Maybe we need to do a better job of teaching our young ministry couples and singles the difference?

Brian Dempsey
Pastor, WBC
I Cor. 10:31

 

Greg Linscott's picture

Brian, I think we'd be more like-minded than not on this. I agree the second example you provided is foolhardy.

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Lee's picture

Some of the most helpful advice I have ever received was a simple reminder that the gift and the calling are the same.

Whether in mission work, church planting, or whatever, some of Christ's followers are gifted to pioneer (whatever specific gifts that may involve) and others are not.  It is equally wrong-headed for one not gifted to pioneer to pioneer as it is with one gifted to pioneer to settle for perceived comfort, safety, and stability. 

A burden does not necessarily translate into a call; a Holy Spirit gift most certainly does.

Lee

Joel Shaffer's picture

As someone who has ministered to the poor in my inner-city neighborhood for over 20 years, I will share my perspective as to why there is a lack of gospel ministers sent from poor communities from our Bible Colleges and Seminaries....

1. Ministers are not equipped to do holistic discipleship and so they feel uncomfortable ministering in poor urban settings.  Most likely they grew up in a white middle-class or affluent church and did their required internship in Bible college/Seminary at a church that was also white middle-class or affluent.    

2.  Ministers are afraid of the slippery slope towards the social gospel or they have wielded their dispensationalism like a club crushing any hint of responsibility for God's people to help the poor.   Maybe this happens as a response to evangelicals and progressives often times  butchering O.T. passages that were meant for a theocracy out of context and wrongly applying it to 21st century problems such as Obama care, but at the same time, these same passages are quite clear about God's heart for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the fatherless, the oppressed and the needy, especially within the community of faith.    

3. Ministers are not taught how to help the poor in a way that does not create dependency.   I have known of several pastors and members of urban churches that attempted to show compassion for the chronically poor in their congregations or in the community, but were taken advantage of because they didn't know how to go about it without creating dependency.  They burned out on compassion fatigue and eventually stopped trying to holistically disciple the poor.

4.  It costs alot of money and time to disciple the poor holistically.   If you are helping the urban poor, often times you are dealing with households with little or no father influence, lack of decent housing, unemployment or underemployment because of the lack of employable skills, drop-out factory public schools, racial discrimination, overzealous, failed drug laws that over incarcerated young men,  government programs (such section 8 housing and food stamps) that manage poverty rather than empower the poor, sexual immorality, gang-violence, crime, and the list goes on and on.  Ministers will need to count the cost if they are to pastor in impoverished urban communities.  

On the positive side, 4 years ago we helped establish a multi-ethnic church in our inner-city neighborhood, New City Church of Grand Rapids.  We were always intentional about making the gospel of Jesus central, making disciples, and helping the poor.   We have incorporated Business as Mission as part of our strategy as we disciple urban poor people.  As a result, our holistic discipleship has helped several families not only to grow in their faith, but also to obtain living-wage employment.  They are now tithers in the church as well.  About 40% of our congregation lives below the poverty level (it used to be 50%) but we are now self-supporting as a church.

Joel Shaffer's picture

I also agree that gifting does play a part in it as well......

Bert Perry's picture

Joel's comment strikes a chord with me.  I have had a tiny little ministry of reworking bikes for kids who need them, and one young gentleman in particular would come over to work with me.  Well, he'd sit there in his chair while I worked!  I eventually figured out that I would be nagging him constantly to pick up a wrench unless I put the folding chairs away and got him an old straight backed chair that forced him to sit up straight.  Then he worked.  He started basic training a few weeks ago.

Another person my family tried to help....didn't work out so well.  She came over so we could sew some garments that would be appropriate for church summer camp and could never quite figure out that she indeed was required to take part in the activity.  She went through at least three or four bikes in two years because she could never be bothered to use her kickstand, lean the bike against a wall, use a bike rack, or even get the bike out of the rain.  If you called her on anything like that, you'd have Dad reading you the riot act.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

BTW, Joel, all the best in overcoming some of the difficulties you've had lately.  I can only imagine.....

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Rob Fall's picture

Lack the faith for this kind of ministry. They want concrete answers and guarantees for every doubt. They want a guaranteed salary and don’t want the embarrassment of raising financial support (expressed more than once by individuals and couples).

  • This may stem from a background denominational missions as opposed to the faith missions most IFB and Bible Church folks are used to.

Have unrealistic expectations of the mission field. Will I have “me time”? Will we have a pension? Can we return home for medical care (my favourite)?

  • me time is pretty vague.  However, if a pastor does not take care of his own spiritual health then he has little to feed his sheep.
  • pensions.  A realistic question if they are working in another country.  Will they be covered by the UK pension system.  And again it may be a reflection of a denominational missions background.
  • medical care,  Another realistic question are they covered by the UK's National Health Service.  The British NHS is not looked kindly upon by many Americans.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Andrew K's picture

Rob Fall wrote:

Lack the faith for this kind of ministry. They want concrete answers and guarantees for every doubt. They want a guaranteed salary and don’t want the embarrassment of raising financial support (expressed more than once by individuals and couples).

  • This may stem from a background denominational missions as opposed to the faith missions most IFB and Bible Church folks are used to.

Have unrealistic expectations of the mission field. Will I have “me time”? Will we have a pension? Can we return home for medical care (my favourite)?

  • me time is pretty vague.  However, if a pastor does not take care of his own spiritual health then he has little to feed his sheep.
  • pensions.  A realistic question if they are working in another country.  Will they be covered by the UK pension system.  And again it may be a reflection of a denominational missions background.
  • medical care,  Another realistic question are they covered by the UK's National Health Service.  The British NHS is not looked kindly upon by many Americans.

Agreed. I despise the term ("me time"), but it appears Jesus definitely needed some time away from the crowds.

Rob Fall's picture

I get a feeling the author (Mez McConnell) doesn't understand that to many American lower class English, Scottish, and Welsh dialects are pretty much foreign languages.  Brother McConnell serves in Edinburgh.  I do believe he would have troubles understanding some one speaking with a full strength Cajun or a Southern Appalachian (I want to avoid "hillbilly") dialect. 

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Bert Perry's picture

Rob Fall wrote:

I get a feeling the author (Mez McConnell) doesn't understand that to many American lower class English, Scottish, and Welsh dialects are pretty much foreign languages.  Brother McConnell serves in Edinburgh.  I do believe he would have troubles understanding some one speaking with a full strength Cajun or a Southern Appalachian (I want to avoid "hillbilly") dialect. 

Having heard a narrative of Noah in "Glaswegian" (Glasgow Scotland dialect), I'd suggest that it's not just the lower classes that would have trouble understanding dialects with which we're unfamiliar.  For that matter, I remember having trouble with "black english vernacular" when i was in Compton, and I bet a shiny new nickel that Joel could run some phrases by me that would perplex me--even though in my undergrad years at Michigan State, I interacted a LOT with young men & women from Detroit and Grand Rapids.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

I think there are good risks and bad risks. But I also think that there is, among some, an inordinate affection for safety and security. I wonder how much of missions, historically, would have qualified as a good risk. When I read people like Judson, Carey, Paton, etc. it don't read like taking a struggling church in Indiana (or Michigan, as I did) where the culture is the same and backup employment is relatively easy to come by as a bi-vocational pastor and where hospitals and doctors are nearby and easily accessible. I don't know if you read much on missions but it is challenging to me to think of the sacrifice and to compare that to us (generally speaking). it doesn't really look like what we call sacrifice today for the most part. I am not suggesting we volunteer for the hardest thing we can think of, but I wonder if we don't need some perspective on this.

Ironically, I have read a good case that the risk that Jim Elliot/et al took was an unwise and unnecessary risk. There were good inroads that would not have resulted in their death.

So there is not always a good way to know. But there is, I think, a missionary heart that sees the need and the opportunity and follows it.

Brian Dempsey's picture

I was a missions major in college, and read a lot of the biographies and philosophies of early missionaries. I think we must evaluate them on a case-by-case basis. I don't believe God ever calls someone to sacrifice their family for the sake of ministry (or for that matter, leave family for years at a time to go serve Jesus). We know some missionaries with NTM who serve in one of the most remote and naturally dangerous places on earth. They do it as a family, and they do it joyfully. I applaud them and rejoice that there are families of their caliber doing this work. On the other hand, we know another family who ministered with the same board and went the route of dumping their kids in a boarding school where abuse and other issues were occuring. To this day that family is not right, but the parents are still out there "serving Jesus." I don't see how that is justifiable. We are called to place everything on the alter for the sake of Christ. I don't dispute that one bit. But that sacrifice must be placed within the context of the entirety of Divine Revelation. We don't get the pick and choose. Too many Christians have had the mentality "my God will supply all my needs" but completely ignore "if a man doesn't provide for his family he is worse than an unbeliever."

I completely agree with the general tenor of many of these comments. I just dont want us to romanticize things that are unbiblical and unwise. The humanly unwise is only the right thing to do if God is leading in it...the biblically wrong is something God will never lead us to do.

Brian Dempsey
Pastor, WBC
I Cor. 10:31

 

Michelle Shuman's picture

I live near and have close ties to Bob Jones.  We need to face that fact that we are spoiled here in the US and are spoiling our young people even more.  I'm not suggesting that we make life intentionally difficult and ugly, but consider this...

Many people can't eat what is put in front of them.  We have to give them choices.

We are so addicted to our phones, computers, and tvs that life is "boring" and difficult without them.  I once had a deacon's wife told me that even though they were struggling in the business, they couldn't live without cable, because her husband had to have his sports. 

When we give people everything they want, why should they want to willing give up something to serve God in a difficult place.  After all they can serve in their nice comfy church and not be bothered.

 

Michelle Shuman