Where are the ministers?
There continues to be a shortage of men coming forward for the Christian ministry. Many evangelical churches that can afford to support and are actively looking for a minister are unable to find one.
In many areas of the country, if two or three smaller churches were willing to form a joint pastorate they too could afford to call a pastor, and this would further increase the shortage. Also there is currently an encouraging interest in church-planting, which increases yet further the need for trained leadership.
When we consider that the average age of ministers presently serving independent churches is probably about 55, we realise that the already critical shortage is likely to become worse every year.
The Lord has blessed us in the UK with a choice of evangelical Bible colleges, with facilities to train more students, and many excellent regional training schemes. Our urgent need is for more men to train — and only God can give them to us.
What then are we to do? First, we need to be continually praying to the Lord of the harvest to raise up a new generation of suitable men and call them into training and the work of the Christian ministry.
It is vital that this need is regularly prayed for in our church services and prayer meetings. Only if leaders make a specific note of this can we be sure such an urgent priority will not be overlooked.
C. H. Spurgeon said, ‘There are many prayers we may pray, but there is one prayer we must pray, and that is to the Lord of the harvest to raise up labourers and thrust them out into the harvest field’.
Second, the Lord usually grows future leaders in churches which are spiritually healthy; that is, churches where the Bible is well taught and loved, where prayer is warm, passionate and persistent; where evangelism is engaged in with compassion, zeal, urgency and creative imagination; and, above all, where Christ is known and loved not just in the head, but in the heart.
It is interesting that in America the majority of ministers have come not from mega-churches but from smaller churches, where the level of commitment may be higher and there is more opportunity for hands-on experience. Regardless of size, it is in the healthy soil of spiritually revived churches that the Lord is likely to raise up the next generation of godly leaders and workers, and to develop those he wishes to call into full time ministry.
So churches should be on the lookout for people with potential, whom the Lord is maturing, and give them every opportunity to develop their gifts and take some responsibility as appropriate.
Particularly, these should be given opportunity to develop speaking and teaching gifts, to lead prayer meetings and house groups, and perhaps lead a Christianity Explored course. They should also be encouraged to develop their inter-personal and pastoral skills. Only when their potential is developed can their gifts be adequately seen and possible calling tested.
We must face the fact that some church leaders can be reluctant to delegate responsibility or give time for personal mentoring, and, therefore, they hinder the growth of those whom the Lord is preparing for service.
Third, when we are so short of ministers, the care of the ministers that we already have is of utmost importance. Many serving ministers are under strain and are having to take time off. ‘Breakdown’ in the ministry these days is all too common.
If we are privileged to have a minister, we should value and support him. We should care for him and his family as precious gifts from God. We should regularly pray for him, and especially for the anointing of the Spirit upon his ministry.
You remember the answer that Spurgeon gave when asked why his ministry was so wonderfully blessed by God: ‘My people pray for me’. Just think what a difference it would make to our churches if, through greater congregational prayer, our ministers regularly preached with unction, with the anointing of the Holy Spirit!
Christians would then mature, sinners be saved and our churches grow. We should pray, conscious that the minister and his family are often the target of Satan’s fiercest and most cunning attacks, and are, therefore, in constant need of the Lord’s protection. Too many good men are being snared either by the roaring lion or by the angel of light.
And we should encourage our ministers by showing appreciation (not praise). Ministers don’t seek praise or flattery, but do need constructive encouragement.
An effective minister needs to know that his ministry is appreciated, and in what ways it is helping his people, so that he can seek to be even more effective. A minister who is appreciated and encouraged will pray even more, and study and strive even harder to be a blessing to his people.
Important though training is, it is clear to me that churches themselves often determine the effectiveness of their pastor and his ministry. Too many ministers, perhaps especially younger ones, are discouraged, exhausted and even depressed. They would be far more effective for God, both in blessing the flock and reaching the lost, if they were prayed for and encouraged more.
During my years at Pontefract, the constant encouragement from the congregation and the eagerness with which they listened to the preaching, were a great blessing (visiting preachers consistently commented on this). Their obvious involvement, responsiveness and eagerness to hear what God had to say in the preaching drew out from the preacher a holy boldness to proclaim the whole counsel of God and apply it wisely and powerfully.
True preaching is a partnership, a dialogue in the Spirit. Congregations can do much to lift the preaching and pastoral ministry of their pastor. This really isn’t ‘rocket science’, is it?
General William Booth asked one of his children who had just returned from a preaching tour, ‘How did you get on?’ ‘I did my best, father’, was the reply.
But the old general wasn’t pleased. ‘With God you can do better than your best’, he said. So can your pastor, if you encourage and earnestly pray for him. He may not be a Spurgeon or a Lloyd-Jones — none of us are! But he can certainly rise far above his natural ability and do ‘better than his best’!
Most of us believe passionately in the need to provide the best possible training. However, the most expensive, comprehensive training won’t cure discouragement and depression; nor give a convicting and converting ministry; and it certainly can’t give the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
We need God to come down among us in mighty power, for only he can revive us. So we must go to him, give him no rest, and take no rest ourselves, until he parts the heavens and comes down once again.
A minister who is truly blessed and anointed by God will not only bless his congregation, but probably be the means under God of attracting other men towards church leadership and the ministry.
Let us really value those ministers God has given to us, and do everything we can to encourage them. Then perhaps the Lord will give us a new generation of men to train for future ministry.
This article first appeared in
the EFCC magazine Concern