bits from bob....

Where Have All the Preachers Gone?

by Robert J. Young
©, 2001, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with these credit lines noted]

Many with frequent contact with churches in the domestic mission field are asking this question. Outside the mission field, others are expressing concern about a possible preacher shortage among the churches of Christ. If we are not currently experiencing a preacher shortage, is such a shortage ahead? Several indicators point toward this possibility. In this article, I share concerns and observations to suggest some possibilities as we contemplate the future.

When relatively large churches in the domestic mission field have difficulty finding a preacher, I am concerned. An elder from a congregation of approximately 300 members recently shared their experience. This church which is in the northern half of the United States searched for a preacher for eighteen months before they succeeded in hiring one. Someone may ask, "What was the problem? Was their standard too high?" I do not know the answer to the latter question, but I can share the frustrations expressed by this elder. The elders of this church believe preachers should be capable of writing a resume accurately and concisely, interviewing capably, and expressing themselves orally with clarity. This elder concluded that few qualified, capable preachers are interested in working in the mission areas of our nation.

When smaller mission churches cannot find preachers, I am concerned. Some say, "We do not have a shortage of preachers; we have a shortage of good preachers." While this statement may contain an element of truth, I still have on my computer an eight-page list of about 100 churches looking for preachers, almost all of which are in the northeastern United States. The churches listed are generally small, struggling, barely self-supporting, often on the fringe of viability. Some of these will go out of existence in coming years unless something changes. When southern churches are overwhelmed with resumes when openings exist and churches in the domestic mission field (even larger churches) look for months and cannot find one willing to go, I am concerned.

When we should be planting churches in growing metropolitan and inner city areas, but cannot find preachers committed to evangelizing these domestic mission areas, I am concerned.

When the ministry ability of the preachers available decreases, I am concerned. A church in the southern United States, in the "Bible Belt," received 85 resumes when it was announced that their preacher was leaving. The elders carefully evaluated the resumes and quickly narrowed the resumes to be considered to three. Many of the applicants had little ability to minister effectively based upon the results of their previous ministries. We as a brotherhood should be concerned because what is obvious now in only a few places seems to be spreading.

These scenarios may mask a greater problem. When fewer preachers are available, I am concerned. When fewer preachers are available to fill our pulpits, the churches where the problem will be noticed first are those churches with the fewest members and the least ability to pay adequately, often on mission fields. We are experiencing this problem in some places. The decrease in the number of preachers available is likely due to several factors: more churches are going to multiple staffs which require more ministers, fewer preachers are being trained, more preachers are quitting preaching and seeking job changes in mid-life.

In recent years many churches have hired a second minister or additional ministerial staff focused on youth, education, or another area of ministry. With church growth studies suggesting that churches can effectively use a minister for every 100 to 150 members, even middle-sized churches are hiring second and third ministers. More and more churches are hiring multiple staffs.

This increased demand for preachers is often coupled with a decreasing supply. This may not be readily apparent, for many young people are entering our Bible programs as students. In fact, approximately 1/3 of the male student population at Ohio Valley College are Bible majors. About one-fourth of these Bible majors complete the Greek language requirement for a Bachelor of Arts degree. Many of those Bible majors enroll in Hebrew. While this training is invaluable, such also suggests we are training more and more Bible students for graduate school and academic pursuits despite the strong ministry and missions focus we seek to foster. Talk to these Bible students and you will find that many of them hope to teach in the college classroom directly out of graduate school before they have any preaching experience. I also see fewer and fewer students in our Christian colleges who are "pure" Bible majors. Many of the young people we are training are double majors who are also training to be therapists, counselors, or vocational ministers. While these are good and worthy occupations, fewer and fewer young men want to preach--period! A student recently said to me, "I want a fallback position." My reply was, "As soon as the first hint of church trouble comes, you will quit preaching and go to your fallback position."

This problem can be observed not only in the college or university setting, but also in our churches. At Ohio Valley College, every summer we are overwhelmed by requests for ministry interns. We generally receive about three times as many requests as we can fill.

Add that more preachers than ever are quitting preaching and that even good preachers are quitting and the magnitude of the problem begins to focus.

What can we do? We must raise missions awareness in our own country. Spreading the gospel must become again who we are, a part of our identity, what we are about. We must connect resources and need. We must encourage more young people toward ministry. We must train ministers, not mere academicians. We must focus on practice. We must train capable ministers committed to preaching--period. We must focus on church planting. We must find preachers with heart. We must prepare for the productive mission fields--urban and inner city ministry, growing cities and even counties without any congregation of the churches of Christ. We must stem the tide of preachers quitting. One way to do this is to get back to evangelism. We must have fewer preachers interested in "climbing the ladder." We must train the pew for ministry.

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Last updated February 21, 2001.