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Addressing a crisis of empty pulpits

In some parts of the world, a preacher shortage is something to celebrate. Across Africa and Latin America, for example, people are being baptized at a rate that makes it difficult for preacher training schools to keep up with demand.
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.
“Preacher searches, like building programs, drain a congregation of its energy,” David May, a church member in Minnesota, told The Christian Chronicle. “Hopes rise and fall with each new tryout. … We typically put the mission of the church on hold pending the location of a minister.”
Add to that the financial hardships churches face in the current economy, and it’s easy to envision a future of empty pulpits. But, as often is the case, opportunity accompanies crisis.
May and other Chronicle readers have offered ideas to address the pulpit shortage.
One is a high-tech version of the circuit preacher — a traveling evangelist who delivers sermons at several congregations each Sunday. Some of these hard-working ministers still exist, though volatile gas prices wreak havoc on their finances.
Royce Sartain, a missionary in northern Europe who works with Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas, uses videoconferencing equipment to “attend” church services in Estonia and Iceland.
The technology also can be used by congregations without a full-time preacher. Videoconferencing, unlike
pre-recorded sermons, offers real-time interaction between ministers and congregations, even if they’re separated by thousands of miles. One person also can preach or teach to several congregations simultaneously.
Though technology can provide a live speaker, it can’t replace the personal roles of a minister — one-on-one Bible studies, hospital visits and counseling, to name just a few. Church members must be willing to step into these roles, May said. He noted that the book of Acts gives us many examples of growing congregations that had no full-time ministerial staff.
“People step up and do what is necessary when the responsibility is theirs,” May said. “When there is a located preacher, the temptation in our busy world is to hope the preacher will get it done.”
Other readers have advocated Bible classes that stress ministry opportunities instead of repeated analysis of the same Scriptures. Some have suggested ministry training programs designed for people with full-time jobs in non-ministry fields.
May stresses that he’s not advocating getting rid of full-time ministers.
“If you have a preacher, give thanks and love the minister and his family,” he says. “If you don’t have one, thank the Lord for giving you the responsibility to grow the church.”
Instead of lamenting a minister shortage, we should reexamine the definition of “minister” itself. Even in churches with large ministerial staffs, we must heed Christ’s call to all his disciples. We all must do the work of the church.
Paul tells members of the church in Rome that “you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.”
He’s not just talking to the man standing in the church’s pulpit — assuming the church even had one.

  • Feedback
    Maybe young men are electing not to be hired to preach to the saved. Maybe they do not want to publish a newsletter or “run” the church. Maybe they want to go out and preach to the unsaved. Maybe Christians should help them..
    April, 29 2009

    Preachers should be trained to go into the field and not into the pulpit. Churches should train to be Christians inside and outside the church walls. Preachers and churches should complement each other, and yet, be a part of each other.
    January, 31 2009

    Flavil Yeakley was commissioned to study one school from which he found approximately 25% of Bible students could not begin preaching due to the debt burden they carried graduating from that Christian institute of higher education. I’d really encourage the Chronicle to work with the Christian Higher Education Foundation to do an online survey to determine how pervasive this is and their suggested remedies, if necessary.
    January, 2 2009

Filed under: Editorial Staff Reports

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