By Dean Collins
Since Bob Russell’s retirement from Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2006 he has encouraged ministry in the local church in a variety of ways. This year, he partnered with our Christian college presidents in the Just One Challenge. Shortly after the North American Christian Convention in July, I talked with Bob about his passion for recruiting the next generation of kingdom workers.
DEAN COLLINS: What role should local churches play in recruiting kingdom workers, both to our colleges and to the harvest field?
BOB RUSSELL: One of my regrets, when I look back, is that I wasn’t more aggressive in recruiting preachers. I had in the back of my mind that someday I would like to start a junior high “Preacher Boys” club. We need to start such a club before the boys enter senior high, because by then it’s too late. I thought if I started a boys club and met with them once a month for an hour, talked with them about ministry, took a trip with them every once in awhile to visit Bible colleges, let them preach a sermon . . . I think I could have recruited more guys into ministry than I did. It was one of those ideas I never implemented, and always wished I had.
I do think the local preacher has to be the catalyst for recruiting younger preachers. We’ve turned that over to the youth ministers, but we’re not duplicating ourselves the way we should.
Things have changed in the way the local church does ministry. How do we recruit both preachers and ministers to fill all the other significant roles within the church?
I’m a little prejudiced toward the preaching ministry, and one of the things that concerns me when I visit Bible college campuses is there are fewer and fewer young men interested in preaching. I find people interested in being youth ministers, worship leaders, and counselors, but only a handful of young men are interested in preaching. I think the other positions of leadership within the church—whether in youth ministry, education, counseling or executive pastors—will take care of themselves if we pay attention to pulpit ministry.
At some of our colleges, we believe that whatever specialized category you want to be in—whether that’s education, counseling, the business aspects of church, or something else—you have a primary responsibility to first be a preacher or proclaimer of the Word. In our curricula, we’re emphasizing the preaching. We want to influence all of our students to be better proclaimers of the Word.
If I’m a preacher in a church and I have an executive pastor, an education minister, and a counselor, and those people can teach in a classroom, fill the pulpit, or teach a specialty class on Wednesday night, then they are doubly valuable. I think our training should be primarily in the proclamation of the Word.
What should be the local church members’ role in recruiting kingdom workers?
I’m preaching at Southeast on this very subject.* Parents must be willing to give of their sons and their daughters and plant seeds in the minds of their children that ministry is a high calling. As a young boy, my mother would say to me, “You could be a preacher someday.” She didn’t say these things when I was a teenager, because she knew I’d do the opposite of what she suggested. So many of our parents, especially of the gifted kids, want them to be an engineer or a doctor or a physicist. They’re somewhat apologetic or embarrassed if their child chooses to go to Bible college. Parents must change that attitude.
I think church leaders need to encourage young people into ministry by providing scholarship money, praying for future preachers, and even recognizing the young people they’ve sent out into ministry. We need to proudly display a photo wall of our recruits to ministry—these are the preachers and missionaries who have gone out from this church; we hold these people in high esteem. They’re in our “hall of fame.”
I’ve told about how D. P. Shafer, at 80-plus years old, put his trembling hand on my shoulder and told me I could be a good preacher some day. I didn’t choose to do that until I was a senior in high school, but that stayed with me.
What’s different about this generation than when you chose to go to Bible college? Does it seem more important than ever to attract Christian leaders?
We’re losing the current generation to Christ, percentage-wise. There is a sense that some kids are very deeply committed, but their peers are not. If we want to avoid the type of decline that has happened in Europe and Canada, we must recruit the best and the brightest to reach their generation.
How do you think Christians should consider the call to ministry, regardless of what they do for a living?
I do think there are other ministries. My son Phil is a policeman. He invites fellow policemen to church, and he has baptized other policemen. He tries to be a representative of Christ; he serves on the worship team at church; he’s a deacon.
He stopped a young man the other day for playing his radio too loud. As soon as he pulled up, the guy said, “I know my radio was too loud. You pulled me over for this before.” Phil asked him how old he was, and he said 28. Phil said, “You’re 28 and you’re still trying to impress people with loud music in your car.” Then he looked in the back seat and saw a Bible.
Phil asked if that was the young man’s Bible, and the driver swelled up and said, “Yes, that’s my guide and my protection.”
Phil said, “Get that Bible out and turn to 1 Corinthians 13. You may have heard of it—it’s the love chapter. Look down at about verse 11.” So he reads the verse that says, “When I was a child. I thought like a child and I acted like a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things.” Phil said, “Well, do what it says,” and he turned and walked away.
I think we need to encourage people by reminders and illustration that they have a responsibility to go preach the gospel wherever they are.
*To hear this sermon, go to the resources page at www.justonechallenge.org.
Dean Collins is president of Atlanta Christian College in East Point, Georgia.