The Christian Chronicle and the preacher shortage
The Christian Chronicle just ran an editorial on the shortage of Church of Christ ministers.
But here in the U.S., our assessment of the pulpit deficit tends to be grim. Across the nation, churches seek to fill empty pulpits. Many small congregations struggle to find enough money in their budgets to attract and retain a talented minister.
Now, before I read this, I didn’t realize we had a preacher shortage. My church has filled several positions, including the pulpit, in the last 3 years, and we had gobs of applications — often from men not then employed in ministry because they were working on their M.Div. I mean, I’ve personally listened to sermons from over 30 men applying for our pulpit position. We started with an even longer list.
But then, we’re a big church (attendance of 550 or so at the time, 680 now). And we’re progressive — which helps, I think.
And I recently attended a presentation at the ACU lectureships about the difficulty new M.Div. graduates often have getting hired. Churches don’t want to hire new graduates with no experience — especially if they don’t have a wife. If there’s a shortage, why aren’t these guys being snatched up?
And so I figure what we have here is not a preacher shortage so much as a mis-allocation of resources. Our universities are producing men with excellent educations (and large school debts) who want to go straight into the pulpit. But the big churches want a man with some experience, while the small churches don’t want anyone from ACU or Lipscomb and can’t afford to hire a preacher with the large school loans that come with a university education.
I mean, if the median church size is 75, well, how many churches can pay $30,000 for a minister (the average starting salary for a pulpit man according to the latest ACU salary survey)? How many will complain if his wife works? How many will allow him to preach a progressive theology?
Dealing with the absence of a preacher
How many ministers can afford to take a job that won’t let him support his wife and family — and pay off school loans? How many can afford to preach without a working wife?
In short, our problem is that we’re producing great preachers for the handful of churches that can afford them and that are willing to hear what they have to say, but many of our churches want a great preacher who will work cheap, be married with a stay-at-home wife, and teach legalism.
The Chronicle’s website includes an editorial by David May suggesting ways to deal with the absence of a preacher.
If you have a good minister, keep him.
Buy him and his family presents. Give him bonuses. Be sure he has good health insurance.
Let him take off to go to lectureships and go home to see his family and take the kids camping or to Disney World. And tell him how much you appreciate him — not once, but over and over.
Amen. Some elderships (and congregations) think the way to oversee a minister is to squeeze him for all he’s worth. Far better to treasure a good man and trust him to reciprocate with great service.
We tend to think of having a located preacher as a “must” for a growing or stable congregation. Without one we feel that we are somehow incomplete. But this is not the Bible picture. Acts 14 describes the approach Paul and his missionary friends took to grow churches. … There is no indication that the missionaries helped the new church find a preacher or raise the money to support one – or that the congregation ever had one.
I encourage churches to view being without a preacher as a blessing and an opportunity. When a church has no preacher the responsibility for the health of the congregation falls on the congregation and on God.
Hmm … I don’t know. Some churches can do very well without a preacher — if God has given them the talent to lead without professional help. I’ve been part of a church that grew while undergoing a 2-year preacher search. The members filled the pulpit and ran the ministries, and we did pretty well. But we had gobs of talent.
I’ve also seen churches that were destroyed by a bad hire. But I’ve seen churches thrive beyond their dreams when they made a particularly good hire.
And so, let me add a thought or two to May’s editorial —
* If you’re too small to hire the quality of man you need, find another church to merge with. Most churches of less than 200 are in towns with other Churches of Christ. The Churches are typically separate because of splits that occurred years ago for reasons that shouldn’t have mattered. Merge.
Or merge with a local Christian Church. Have an instrumental service and an a cappella service, and do God’s work together. This has actually happened in several towns, and when it does, it’s a powerful testimony to God’s power to heal division — if we’ll let him.
For that matter, merge even if you’re big enough to support your own minister. We shouldn’t require economic motives to merge. Love and faithfulness to God should be enough.
* Find two or three members with the gift of leadership and send them off for training, as I’ve described before, if not through a church planting organization, by other means.
Send them to the Pepperdine and ACU lectureships, both, every year. Encourage them to meet with capable ministers and elderships in nearby cities and ask for guidance. Get them to network with proven leaders. Be sure they attend every ElderLink in your part of the country.
A talented man does not need a Bible degree or M.Div. to lead a church. He does need encouragement, training, and support. And if your church grows enough to later hire a fulltime minister, he’ll love being supported by a team of experienced, trained leaders. Your investment in these men will be rewarded for many decades.
You see, church growth is all about leadership. Some small churches grow and thrive and serve God’s kingdom powerfully. Some churches just barely keep the doors open. The difference is leadership.