Churches Facing Minister Shortages -- Sightings

There is a crisis brewing in the churches.  It is a shortage of men and women hearing and following a call into congregational ministry.  Once upon a time, young men (yes it was young men primarily) would be groomed for ministry as they grew up -- such as is described by Fred Craddock in his memoir of a call.  But, the number of clergy who are under 35 is dwindling.  If it weren't for an increase in numbers of women (many of whom are second career) and along with second career males, the churches would not find pastors.  There are a number of reasons for that, some of which are listed in the article below by James L. Evans.

This June, I will celebrate the 25th anniversary of my ordination to ministry.  When I was ordained, however, I didn't seem my ministry happening in the parish.  I fully intended to pursue a ministry of teaching.  It was 13 years after I was ordained that I took up my first full-time pastoral duties, and even then I thought that this was temporary.  It's been 12 years and I'm still in parish ministry.  But, I understand why so many might feel the call to serve God in ministry, but not see the church as a viable place to do ministry.  The institutional church has many problems, many of which hinder ministry.  It's easier to bypass the church.  And yet . . .

I invite you to consider this issue though the words of James Evans.


Sightings 4/8/10

Churches Facing Minister Shortages
-- James L. Evans

A study completed a few ago back by Auburn Theological Seminary in New York study suggests that churches in America may be facing a dramatic shortage of ministers in the coming years. According to the study, less than a third of students now attending seminary intend to minister to congregations. These students profess a sense of calling, and their purpose in attending seminary is to answer that calling. They just don’t see themselves serving local churches, and churches are finding their young and faithful leaving the church in order to fulfill their callings.

The effects of this trend may already be at work. According to a survey of denominations conducted by the Alban Institute, the number of ministers under thirty-five has dropped off dramatically since the 1970’s, in some instances dropping more than half. As baby boomers continue to retire, a real crisis in ministerial leadership is beginning to take shape for congregations.

Why is this happening? Studies conducted around the issue of calling reveal that the apparent lack of interest in congregational work stems from an array of issues. One issue, for instance, is low pay. Although clergy salaries have been rising steadily over the past twenty-five years, they have not kept pace with other professionals with comparable training and experience. Added to this are long hours and exhausting job demands imposed by local church work. Young seminarians also point to a loss of social respect as a factor in turning them away from church work. Scandals among clergy and the priesthood in recent years have certainly taken a toll on the way society views the ministry.

Maybe the young and the faithful are weary of the power struggles that have characterized denominational life for the last half century. Christians have fought over the Bible, over gays and lesbians, over marriage and divorce, even over Jesus. Or maybe the young and called are sensing a loss of spirit as churches become more and more politicized. In many congregations it is hard to tell where the church stops and political parties begin. In some services there is as much emphasis on party platform issues as there is on the liturgy.

The young people interviewed in these studies gave evidence of a vibrant faith and a genuine sense of calling. They care about people and see themselves working in their communities to help people in need. Apparently they don’t see their churches as a place where this kind of work can be adequately done, and the reasons why may be helpful in directing out attention to current trends and dynamics within those churches.

James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Alabama.


In this month’s Religion and Culture Web Forum, Web Forum editor emeritus Spencer Dew explores the relationship between Jack Kerouac’s religious thought and its expressive practice in the act of writing: “Indeed, his entire oeuvre can be read as an expression of his personal religious stance, a kind of ‘fusion’ of Catholic theology with notions taken from Buddhist philosophy and practice.”

Through a close reading of Kerouac’s novella Tristessa, Dew suggests that such a fusion—despite exemplifying Kerouac at his writerly best—leads to a solipsism that is ethically troubling, and likely reflective of Kerouac’s personal and professional shortcomings—especially later in his life. “Devotion to Solipsism: Religious Thought and Practice in Jack Kerouac’s

Tristessa,” with invited responses from Benedict Giamo (University of Notre Dame), Nancy Grace (College of Wooster), Sarah Haynes (University of Western Illinois), Kurt Hemmer (Harper College), Amy Hungerford (Yale University), Omar

Swartz (University of Colorado, Denver), Matt Theado (Gardner-Webb University), and Eric Ziolkowski (Lafayette College).


Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


roy said…
I have been asked about encouraging younger folk to enter the ministry and usually I do not do that. If a young person asks me, my general response is, "If you can do anything else, do it." Frankly, in my denomination, I don't see many churches being able to afford a full time pastor in 20 years... add that to lower pay relative to others with similar education and high educational costs and you don't have a very inviting picture.
Doug said…
I offered a study and a program on recruiting young people into ministry in the early 90's (when we began to see the shortage coming). Since then, I've been transformed as a pastor--working on letting God's Spirit make the church more spiritual and missional--working on becoming more spiritual and missional myself. When I talk to young people today, I counsel them that if they are to go into the ministry, they should beware of churches that simply want chaplains. They would better serve the kingdom of God if they either served a church that was missional or in a transformation toward becoming more spiritual and missional OR if they planted a new church. I'm excited about the future of the church because God is doing some new things in our communities and churches! Peace, Doug

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