8 Suggestions for Finding and Equipping More Future Preachers
By Shawn McMullen
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14, New American Standard Bible).
“How will they hear without a preacher?” The apostle Paul asked that about his own people, the Jewish nation. But in a general sense, it applies to all who have never heard or understood the good news of the gospel of Christ.
We need preachers of the gospel today. Desperately. But do we have enough of them?
Perhaps not, according to Barna Research.
In terms of developing young leaders, data featured in two separate reports—The State of Pastors and Leadership Transitions—show that, as of 2017, only 15 percent of senior pastors were 40 years old or younger, echoing the need for younger pastors in ministry. The State of Pastors research also showed that seven in 10 U.S. pastors (69 percent) agree, “It is becoming harder to find mature young Christians who want to become pastors” (see “What’s on the Minds of America’s Pastors” at www.barna.com).
Why are younger preachers in short supply? Who or what is responsible for this trend?
Some might point to culture. We’re living in an age where the local church and its ministers aren’t nearly as well respected as they once were. A November 2019 article posted by MoneyWise (titled “Americans Say These Are the Most Respected Professions”) shared rankings of 27 professions and found the clergy to be the 11th most trusted. The writers offered this observation.
If this survey had been conducted a few hundred years ago, the clergy might easily have locked down the top spot for honesty. But the calling has become tarnished by scandals. Gallup says clergy members are still seen mainly in a positive light, but their rating for ethical behavior has fallen to the lowest level in 40 years of surveying.
So, in our present culture, we might understand that vocational ministry doesn’t have the appeal it once had. But surely that can’t be the primary cause of our current dilemma.
Some might point to our Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries. They’re not recruiting, training, and sending out preachers as they used to. Degree programs in preaching and ministry aren’t emphasized as they once were.
I suppose you could make that point. It’s likely our Christian schools could be more intentional about ministry training. But then again, they can only equip those who enroll.
And then there is the local church. Where do ministry students come from? They come from our congregations. So maybe a good place to begin reversing this trend is within the local church. While the local church isn’t solely responsible for the trend and its reversal, I’d like to focus on it here as we think through possible approaches and solutions.
So what can the local church, its leaders and its members, do to help enlarge the pool of those who train for and enter the preaching ministry? Here are eight suggestions.
Modeling the value and high calling of the preaching ministry may be one of the most effective ways to recruit and send out workers into the harvest field. Preachers who whine and complain about their hardships, who find themselves frequently at odds with church leaders and church members, will do little to encourage others to follow in their steps. On the other hand, preachers who work diligently and sacrifice willingly for those they serve, and do so with joy and gratitude, present a compelling case for vocational ministry.
Granted, vocational ministry isn’t the only high calling. Every faithful disciple who honors God and points others to his mercy and grace is engaged in a high calling. Even so, the ministry is a unique and honorable calling, and the clearer that becomes to a local church, the greater the possibility that young people from that congregation will be attracted to vocational ministry.
Another way the local church can help raise up and send out preachers is to build a culture of awareness. Be intentional. Look for young people within the church who show interest and display potential. It might be helpful to create a measure for this. “I will try to identify at least two ministry candidates from within our church in the next five years.” That may not work in all situations, but the idea is to make it a priority and pursue it as a strategy.
“But you don’t realize how small our congregation is,” you might say. Point taken. But let’s not forget that many powerful preachers of the gospel today have roots in small churches. Jesus said, “Everything is possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23).
Once you’ve identified young people with ministry potential, challenge them to consider it. Be gracious but direct. Some may have no interest, but others simply may not have given vocational ministry a thought. And some might feel honored and encouraged that you see this kind of potential in them.
INVEST IN THEM
How many of us in ministry pray about our impact on future generations? I would guess that’s a value nearly all of us share. So what better way to multiply our ministries and affect the future for Christ than to invest in those who will carry on the work of the gospel when we cannot? As you identify potential Christian workers in your congregation, be sure to follow up your invitation by spending time with them. Meet with them regularly. Take them with you to meetings and appointments. Let them see how you share your faith and counsel others. It will be one of the most significant investments you’ll ever make.
This follows closely on the heels of investing in them, but it deserves its own place in the process. It’s great to have fellowship, to spend time together talking and listening and praying. But that’s not enough. While at some point we will release these ministry candidates to others who will continue their training, it’s vital that we lay the groundwork for their service. We want them to enter their formal ministry training with a strong desire to become like their Lord, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Take the necessary time to teach them the fundamental truths of the gospel. Help them become grounded in God’s Word.
Few things motivate like sincere encouragement. As you invest in your disciples, make sure you continually build them up and let them know you believe in them. Encourage them privately and publicly. Once they leave your oversight to begin formal ministry training, continue to encourage them with calls, messages, and visits.
POINT THEM IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
Thankfully, a ministry candidate today has many good options for formal ministry training. Our Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries continue to provide excellent instruction and experience for ministry students. Our movement is blessed with many strong campus ministries that are actively engaged in making disciples and training workers in university settings. The Association of College Ministries (aofcm.org) is a helpful resource for this. The Russell School of Ministry (rsministry.org) offers a newer model of ministry training, providing extensive practical experience coupled with on-site and online classroom instruction, allowing students to graduate with little or no educational debt.
PRAY FOR THEM
This could go without saying, but it won’t. We know the value of prayer. The Lord himself said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2, English Standard Version). So let’s pray for more workers to be raised up, trained, and sent out to preach the gospel. Let’s pray for the institutions that train them and for instructors who have committed their lives to this vital task. And let’s pray for the privilege of identifying them within our churches and preparing them for this eternally significant work.
Shawn McMullen serves as vice president of partner relations for the Christian Church Leadership Foundation in Cincinnati, Ohio.