Why are Fewer Younger Men Going Into Pastoral Ministry?

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TylerR's picture

Editor

My current church is the first place I've ever been where there is no culture or expectation of Christian service among the teenagers. I don't know why this is, or what the previous pastors "did wrong," or if they even did anything wrong. But, it's scary. This is one reason (I believe) why fewer young men are going into the ministry. 

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've never been in vocational ministry, but one thing that comes out in Stiekes' article is that he's emphasizing the deprivation of serving Christ that way, not the rewards.  A parallel that strikes me is that when I was in my teens, I got to visit my mom's relatives, most of whom are lower middle class to downright poor, but somehow the love I felt there made white bread toast with grape jelly taste like something Julia Child would have cooked.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ed Vasicek's picture

You know, it is still tough to find a ministry position, even with schooling. It often takes a couple of years.  And many positions pay poorly and make unreasonable demands upon pastors.

If there really were a shortage of pastors, wages would go up and workaholic demands would go down.

True, there are certainly fewer men training, but that doesn't translate into a shortage -- not now or in the future. The trend is online learning, and another trend is to get hired first and then begin taking classes online. 

I have a question in my mind: In the past, how many (percentage wise) of those who did train actually became (and remained) pastors?

Bible colleges and seminaries may do a good job training, but often (from a professional viewpoint) the people they are training will not end up in ministry.

If churches are going to mistreat their pastors (as many do -- the stories I could tell!) and they go from one pastor to another, maybe it would be good to stop the flow and even shut the doors.

 Nonetheless, men desperate for a place of ministry will consider positions that are either in the frying pan or in the fire. 

When I hear of a church needing a pastor, they are usually showered with resumes.  Position seekers may not be young, but I think we have -- for a very long time -- actually had a glut of pastors.  A shortage of pastors is what we need to correct some of the ridiculous ways pastors are treated.

Warren Wiersbe gave this advice: If you can stay out of [vocational] ministry, stay out.  At times (especially during times of conflict or when I am overcome with a sense of failure) I have thought that I was crazy to go into ministry, but I could not stay out. It is what God has for me. Fortunately, I generally enjoy ministry.

I think Wiersbe's advice is good. As for a shortage, I say "Bah, humbug."

"The Midrash Detective"

TylerR's picture

Editor

You wrote:

If you can stay out of [vocational] ministry, stay out.  At times (especially during times of conflict or when I am overcome with a sense of failure) I have thought that I was crazy to go into ministry, but I could not stay out. It is what God has for me. Fortunately, I generally enjoy ministry.

I couldn't agree more.

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?

Ron Bean's picture

I've noticed two things regarding the sons of pastors.

One is those sons who are brought up to take their father's place.

The other is sons who literally run to any other vocation.

(BTW I'm also not seeing many second generation Christian school teachers either.)

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Ed Vasicek's picture

Tyler, I appreciate your thoughts.  You wrote:

My current church is the first place I've ever been where there is no culture or expectation of Christian service among the teenagers.

A study found out that a disproportionate amount of Christian leaders (pastors/missionaries) came from small churches.  The main factor: a lot of contact with the pastor.

With the rise of large churches and specialized youth pastors, many pastors have next to no involvement with the youth.  This may also be a factor.

I didn't have time to see if I could document the ministry to church size stat, but this article sort of suggests it, in some ways: https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2010/august-online-only/small-...

 

"The Midrash Detective"

T Howard's picture

Here are some of my reasons I wish to remain bi-vocational and not go into full-time pastoral ministry even after earning my MDiv (and potentially in the future my ThM). I suspect young men may feel similarly.

  1. Some (many?) churches expect their f/t pastors to support a growing family on a non-livable wage, with no health, retirement, or life insurance benefits. Pastors also only get 2 or 3 weeks of vacation regardless of tenure. Meanwhile, the congregants enjoy a good wage, benefits, and up to 5 weeks of vacation at their jobs.
  2. Some churches boot their f/t pastor because he angers the wrong family or person in the church instead of cowing to their wishes. Or, he calls the church to biblical doctrine or orthodoxy, and a wealthy member objects. The pastor then has no substantive way to support his family except to work at the local McDonalds or move on to the next low-paying pastorate.
  3. Some churches expect their f/t pastors to do the work of ministry while the congregants are content to sit back in their pews/chairs and provide constructive feedback.
  4. Some f/t pastors are severely out of touch with the reality and context of their people because they've never worked a job after bible college.
  5. F/T associate pastors usually don't last long when a new senior pastor is brought on board. In one church I know, the new senior pastor asked for the existing associate's resignation on his first day in the office because he wanted to bring in his own people.
  6. Becoming a f/t pastor at an established church is much like dating. Both sides hide their warts and crazy uncles. After the marriage, the crazy and ugly become painfully obvious. In some cases, pastors and churches purposely mislead each other to seal the deal only to show their true colors later.

There's more reasons, but these have kept and would keep me away from f/t pastoral ministry in an established church as a young man. If I went into f/t pastoral ministry, it would be after I helped to plant the church or after I spent considerable time in the church as a bi-vocational pastor/elder. No surprises. No unrealistic expectations. Eyes wide open.

josh p's picture

Ed,

I agree completely. It seems strange to on one hand bemoan not enough pulpits for the new graduates and at the same time not enough men going into ministry. As one who was at one time pursuing full time ministry, it seems that things may just be equalizing. 

Bert Perry's picture

The Babylon Bee tells us the story of a youth pastor fed at an outreach for the homeless, where he was characterized as "under-dressed."   It is sobering to see the stories of insiders noting that my earlier point about "what about the positive of this?" was pretty optimistic, especially Tom Howard's.  (not belittling you, Tyler, but Tom "wins" this one)  It seems that a lot of churches, presumably including leadership, have a lot of repenting to do in this matter.

Again, if we can't quickly point out something positive about pastoring, we ought not be surprised that nobody's taking us up on it.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I'm the youngest pastor in my association, I believe. All the other pastors I've met have been, at a minimum, 55+

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?

Paul Henebury's picture

Good article, but I think Ed is right to say that we still have too many potential pastors out there.  In my view the vast majority of those who claim to be called to the ministry aren't.  They don't belong there, and they are the main reason the Church is in the sorry state that it is in.  Seminaries have perpetuated the glut by acting like sausage factories sputtering out so many uncalled candidates into the world.  A true pastor knows he is called and trusts God through thick and thin, trusting that God will provide (though often not in the way we might choose).  Yes, one way God can provide is through another job.  But for many today the provision has to include a list of things which make living by faith almost non-essential.  

I have read good men here recommend plurality of bi-vocational elders.  They have a far more sanguine view of God's calling of men than I do, yet a less optimistic view of God's ability to provide than I do.  Being a pastor is not a job like being an accountant or a salesman.  It is (I believe) a special calling which is not for many.  

Not only Wiersbe said a man shouldn't go into the ministry if he could avoid it.  Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones were both emphatic about that point too!  

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Steven Thomas's picture

Several observations come to mind after reading Greg’s article and the subsequent comments posted on SI. First, it is hard to find anything wrong with Greg’s premise and his explanation. Over a period of ministry that spans four decades, I, too, have observed the corrosive effect of our society’s preoccupation with “affluence and peace” (Schaeffer’s words). Without question these values have been insinuated into the culture of local churches. Also without question, there is a simultaneous decline in men preparing to lead our churches. The rapidly declining enrollments at conservative schools that exist solely for ministry preparation is sufficient evidence—without even mentioning the recent closure of several schools. The direct relationship between cultural influence and declining numbers of ministry students remains to be established objectively, but to me there is no doubt that a connection exists.

Second, the declining number of ministry students is a multifaceted problem. I’m sure that Greg would agree that the concerns raised in his article are not exhaustive. I would like to touch on a few other possible causes.

1) There has been a paucity of true worship in our churches throughout multiple generations. The heirs of revivalism raised soteriology above doxology in the local church. My experience was not uncommon: I have no recollection of ever attending a true worship service in the church of my youth. Today, even many “evangelical” churches follow a similar philosophy (perhaps putting on a better show). If we want to inspire young men to serve a great cause, we must give them an unshakable vision of the grandeur of God—and you cannot do that if they never attend a service in which the only attraction is God. As one has famously said, worship fuels the mission.

2) There has been too little mentoring. The only way young men will ever lay hold of love for ministry is to spend time with men who love the ministry. Seminaries provide indispensable academic training, but they cannot equip men for ministry. This is a work the Spirit accomplishes as the Word is communicated and applied in the context of significant relationships. There is no substitute for this (cf. Paul with Timothy and Titus). Perhaps some pastors need to claw back time previously invested in orchestrating activities that have no biblical precedence so that they can mentor young men, passing on their own love of humble service.

3) There has been too much pursuit of “affluence and peace” on the part of some in the ministry. As for affluence, those who would complain about too little pay and not enough vacation time need to be very careful. Perhaps they are part of the problem rather than the solution. As for me and most of my peers, I have several weeks of vacation available to me, but choose not to take it all. It may be inescapable that a man planting a pioneering work may need to be bi-vocational, but the church and the pastor’s family will suffer for it. Eventually, the church must be taught to meet the needs of the pastor as a matter of first priority (1 Tim 5:17-18). Even difficult people must be taught to obey this part of a full orbed ecclesiology. As for peace, no one will ever find a church that does not experience conflict. As witness to this, I give you every church in the NT! Part of our problem is that too many pastors fail to weather the storm. They use the conflicts as proof that “the Lord’s leading” them elsewhere. When they leave, problems remain unresolved, their ministry is cut short, the church is left victim to the agenda of Diotrophes, and young men never learn by example the immeasurable value of serving the church at great cost and emerging from the battle, scarred but stronger.

Finally, you will notice that each of these suggestions I have listed focus on what the minister is doing (or failing to do). After all, it is given to us to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph 4:12). If the saints remain surly and unproductive, maybe we need to look within ourselves before we begin to paint the saints with a broad brush of criticism. Or, perhaps, decide on a different career path.

Steven Thomas

Ron Bean's picture

I agree that there are a lot of unemployed pastors. There are many contributing factors.

-Some of them aren't called to the ministry. My alma mater used to meet every year with men who were "non-ministerial Bible majors" who didn't feel called to the ministry but wanted to serve their local churches. They were questioned as to why they didn't believe they were called to the ministry. I always thought that they should have regularly examined the ones who did feel called.

-Churches can't afford to fully support a pastor and the unemployed pastor doesn't have any vocational skill conducive to being bi-vocational. There seem to be a lot of these churches.

-Fully supported pastors are staying in the ministry longer. There's a church in my area whose pastor just retired at 75 and the church is a shadow of what it was 15 years ago, are unable to support a pastor, and are now grasping at straws.

-In fundamentalist circles, church planting in the form of home missionary work seems to have been disappeared.

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Editor

Thanks for what you said. I think the author is right about one possible factor, and we could list many more, too.

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?

Jim's picture

  • We need to get back to true Biblical Eldership. [explains my comment above]
  • We need to break down the barrier between bishops and deacons and acknowledge that both offices are "in the ministry" NOT "the bishop is the vocational (paid) office and the deacon is the lay office"!
  • While I acknowledge this:
    • There is a place for a vocational (full-time & fully paid) eldership
    • There is a place for an unpaid eldership
      • This could be the so-called bi-vocational / tentmaker elder OR
      • An elder who self-supports another way (personal-wealth or retirement)
  • The hardships (the soldier, the athlete, the farmer) are not just for the paid-elder (the vocational-minister)!
  • It's not sinful to provide for oneself. There is no need to be an ascetic! Two verses:
    • 1 Corinthians 7:31-34 AND
    • 1 Timothy 5:8
  • We have made much about distinguishing between those "in the ministry" and those not (the lessor ones) "in the ministry". The Scriptures teach all are in the ministry ( Ephesians 4:12 )
  • There is a whole "industry" that promotes the specialness of the "called" "minister". Just as Eisenhower warned of the military–industrial complex , there is a ministry-educational complex today that elevates the called ones for its own self-interests!
  • Teachings on eldership should be revisited and retaught. Here's one of the classics: Biblical Eldership and then this by 9Marks
  • Churches today treat eldership like the NFL Draft. A guy goes away (Bible college and seminary) and then is "called" with a resume and a try-out (candidating). Elders should be developed from within the church
  • What's missing in elders today (the traditional system of) is the the hoary head!

TylerR's picture

Editor

If you turn that into a sermon, I'll download and listen to it!

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?

Jim's picture

  • "too few men who are preparing to accept the call" (the idea of a special ministry call is indefensible!)
  • "many other churches have pastors nearing retirement" (there is NO retirement from ministry! (see Piper book!)
  • "more than a decade ago denominations began to warn of a clergy shortage"
  • " a rapid decline in the number of young men entering the seminary to prepare for pastoral roles" (comment: I volunteer at Central Seminary and I do not want to be misquoted / misunderstood or interpreted out of context of my above comments or my doctrinal position! I graduated from seminary and profited from it and value it! There's a place for the seminaries and admittedly skills like the languages are difficult to develop w/o the seminaries! But the route to eldership should not be through the seminary!)
  • "the numbers of those entering the ministry" (see my comments on "the ministry" above!)
  • "many retiring missionaries have been leaving the field " (three wrongful views in one sentence! There's a place for a vocational-fully/paid-fully-supported person to be sent and go, but it's every Christian's mission and the field is right out our front door! Yesterday I witnessed to a Jew whom God brought to repair a dining room chair!)
  • "that ministry is, frankly, very hard work" (again "the ministry"! Want to know what "hard work" is ... try to witness to one person a week. Amp that up (I haven't been able to) to one a day! 
  • "The soldier, the athlete, and the farmer" - every Christian is called to this type of hardship! The deacon too! (as in Paul's previous epistle!)

I could go on! The author is part of (nothing wrong with that!) the ministry-educational complex! (not knocking BJ which is a good school!)

JBL's picture

If what Jim is saying is true, there might actually be a biblical basis for making the method of pastoral training and determination of a pastoral calling as one of the fundamentals of the faith worth contending for. 

This would be, of course, alongside dress standards, music, and scripture version.

John B. Lee

TylerR's picture

Editor

You wrote:

The author is part of (nothing wrong with that!) the ministry-educational complex! (not knocking BJ which is a good school!)

I coined a similar phrase a year or so ago on SI, when I referred to the "seminary-industrial complex." I didn't mean it in a bad way. I just meant that the prevailing vehicles for a young man to get to pastoral ministry (bible college + seminary + youth minister = senior solo pastor) has a vested interest in perpetuating a model that I don't believe actually works well. Here's something to ignite some controversy:

  • Local churches often don't take ordination seriously. They often rubber-stamp the process. What proportion of local churches turn down a man for ordination because he can't teach his way out of a wet paper bag? Not many, I'll wager.
  • Seminary doesn't equal fitness for ministry. Too many people assume a seminary degree is a stamp of approval. Wrong. The real stamp is supposed to be the local church, but see above.
  • Leaving your home church to attend seminary = loses the mentorship aspect and is crippling.

I praise God for forward-thinking institutions like Maranatha Seminary which offers robust, rich virtual training for Seminary degrees, which allow young men to stay in their home churches, serve among the folks who know them best and can evaluate their calling, and stay with their home pastor who can best mentor them to use the tools they're being given at Seminary. Go MBU. For those graduate institutions which don't do virtual, I wouldn't be surprised if you're closed within one generation. It makes me sad, but I think that's the future.

I do wonder how often local Baptist churches are encouraging young men to consider pastoral ministry. Have things changed? I remember hearing that almost weekly from the pulpit.

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?

JohnBrian's picture

I would never attend, nor accept a call to a church that was not lead by elders, and appreciate greatly the elders at the church I currently attend. Committee lead churches (most SBC churches) give power to the least qualified. My SIL was 1 of 4 staff members at an SBC church, and over the course of a year, all of them left, because one individual managed to get themselves elected to many of the committees, and decided that the church would be run their way. After the senior pastor left, this individual gave my SIL the option of being fired or leaving with severance, just as their child was being born.

CanJAmerican - my blog
CanJAmerican - my twitter
whitejumaycan - my youtube

Jim's picture

What I noticed as the "senior pastor" in two churches (in both cases I had a 2nd pastor - the "assistant or youth pastor"):

  • The "buck" stopped with me ... all church "problems" were mine alone!
  • Lack of growth? My problem!
  • Disgruntled member? My problem!
  • Visitors come and go? My problem!
  • Financial issues? My problem! (My last church ... previous pastors took on debt ... enjoyed the benefits on the capital improvements ... and my "administration" paid the debt

Being the "point person" is no fun and I don't believe God's design.

 

Paul Henebury's picture

I like a lot of what Jim says (not just here but generally), but I cannot agree with this:

(the idea of a special ministry call is indefensible!)

This is not the place to argue the point, although I have tried to do so here and here.  I only wish to point out that many very eminent men have held that the special call to the ministry is not only defensible biblically, but absolutely necessary for the health of the Church. 

P.S. lest I be misunderstood, I should say that by "the ministry" I mean (as did Fuller, Newton, Spurgeon, Bridges, Alexander et al) the pastoral ministry.  I agree fully that every believer has a ministry, but that is not the same thing.  

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Jim's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:
many very eminent men have held that the special call to the ministry is not only defensible biblically, but absolutely necessary for the health of the Church. 

I'm not eminent! I'm a nobody!

I used to believe in a "special call" ... no longer! (I believe God gifts and directs people so perhaps that is something we can both agree to!)

---- Update: I read your 1st link (your article). Didn't look at the 2nd b/c dinner calls. I agree with much of what you have written.

 

Josh S's picture

I'm a young elder (that's a thing, right?) who works a second job to be able to spend more time pastoring. I agree with Stiekes' point. For many people my age "vocational ministry" isn't worth the bother. It's CEO-level stress without CEO-level pay. The cost of Bible college/seminary doesn't help. Unlike investing in, say, med school that's money the student will never see back.

I think, in general, the office of a pastor-elder has been undervalued. Young men don't value it enough to pursue it and churches don't value it enough to give their pastor(s) a decent (livable?) wage. 

The answers are of course complex, but here's some thoughts (a lot of this overlaps with what has already been said):

-Give value to the office of an elder while simultaneously encouraging every believer-priest to be active in ministry.

-Reclaim biblical eldership

-Make training up church leadership a priority.

-Find a more cost-effective way to train pastor-elders.

Josh Stilwell, associate pastor, Bethany Baptist Church, Des Moines, Iowa.

Josh S's picture

Jim wrote:

On "The cost of Bible college ... doesn't help" - addressing the first part of your comment below:

Looking at Bible colleges ... virtually everything that is taught there could be easily taught by a consortium of churches!

I completely agree and have written about it here and here.

Josh Stilwell, associate pastor, Bethany Baptist Church, Des Moines, Iowa.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Back in 1976, three men from my church went to Moody because we felt God calling us into the pastorate. Two were from Christian homes. I was the third.

The pastor preached on a future shortage of pastors, and asked us to come forward. Unknown to us, the pastor was soon to resign to be a prof at Philadelphia College of the Bible, and wanted to make the case that his calling to train pastors was desperately needed.

Like the coming Ice Age they predicted then, the shortage never came.

The Catholics, they have a shortage. The mainlines sort of do, but since most of them allow female pastors, they will soon be mostly female.  But for evangelical churches, so many man say they think God is calling them to the pastorate.

Of the three of us mentioned above, I was the only one that ended up actually being a pastor, though the others graduated from Moody when I did.  

We may have a shortage of students, but we don't of pastors.

"The Midrash Detective"

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