For many small to medium-sized churches, it is already difficult to find a pastor. And, unfortunately, I see the time coming when it is almost impossible for biblically solid churches to find a pastor. I already know of a handful of small churches that are looking for a pastor, want a pastor, and can even pay a pastor, but they simply can’t find a pastor. What is the problem? The church culture is completely at odds with Biblical teaching, and the social culture is at odds with the church. The smaller the church, the greater the challenge will be. This article is written with the smaller church in mind.
Why your small church won’t be able to find a pastor
The available pastors hate establishment
There is an anti-establishment spirit among younger (under 40) pastors today. These pastors grew up in established churches, had parents who were involved in the Moral Majority, and came out with a bad taste for “right wing” establishment. The view of the younger crowd, as voiced by Russell Moore, is that the forefathers viewed the gospel as a megaphone that shouted, “get off my lawn” to every wayward soul. The “Jerry Falwell wing” (as Moore called the previous generation in a recent tweet) is viewed with disdain (though, in my opinion, the influence of Falwell, the Moral Majority, and the “great right wing conspiracy” was far more powerful on society than anything at work today in the religious world).
Go hang around a seminary for a day or two, have lunch with students and hear their heart, and you will probably hear them say, “I’ll never go to an established church.” They have a disdain for their parents’ church—a disdain that is short-sighted and dangerous, in my opinion.
And, realistically, you are in one of these established churches. Your denomination (if you have one) is promoting church planting and overseas missions and either saying nothing or saying, “It’s time to change,” to the established churches. The day in which a young pastor goes to a small town church to begin his career is over. Now, these young pastors serve a few years on the staff of a large church in the city, then move directly to church planting. In my view, large church staff experience is a very poor training ground for pastoral ministry in small to mid-sized churches. I would prefer to see a young pastor serve from the pulpit of a church with 12 members than I would see him serve as the student minister to a group of 300 high school students.
The available pastors only do “thought” work
Many of the seminarians are entering the ministry to do “thought work.” I’m glad there is a move away from pragmatism and toward thinking but I also know that the work of a pastor involves a lot of ministry that isn’t very intellectual. The young pastor may not be willing to trim weeds, vacuum floors, set up chairs, and fix the stopped-up sink, but all these things need to be done in the small church, and if they are not done, the church suffers. I know that members can do these things and are very willing to do them, but I also know that members have jobs and families and other activities in the church and can’t always do the labor of the church when it needs to be done. The pastor, on the other hand, is going to be there when the sink overflows.
If a young pastor only wants to discuss theological matters and prepare for Sunday’s sermon, he’ll never make it in the small church. I began my ministry in the small church and have now come full-circle, having pastored small, medium, and large churches. In the small church, there is simply no way around the fact that the pastor is the preacher, custodian, cook, maintenance man, outreach guru, kids club leader, counselor, and community liaison. If a young man isn’t willing to do these things, he’ll fail at pastoring your small church.
The available pastors can’t teach verse-by-verse
Even though the young pastor is interested in “thought work,” he’s often a failure at verse-by-verse Bible teaching. In large part, this is due to the fact that seminaries are teaching theological thinking but not teaching the skills for Biblical exegesis. Your small church may be (should be) built around verse-by-verse Bible teaching, and your next pastor may not be able to do this. After six-weeks of telling the congregation to hear from God and catch a vision of what their lives could be if they were truly sold out to Him, the congregation is going to get weary and the preacher is going to get frustrated. Small church people are farmers, bankers, teachers, plumbers, police officers, and short-order cooks. They are neither interested in conquering the world nor in being made to feel guilty because they’ve spent their lives planting and harvesting the same 40 acres. What they do want is to be able to read and understand the Bible. They want a pastor who picks up this week where he left off last week, which may be some obscure passage in the minor prophets.
What your church should do to prepare for the future
Your church is going to need a pastor someday. When it needs a pastor, it will find that few (if any) are available, but there are a few things the church can do to prepare.
Avoid the “Big Box” seminary
I went to big box seminaries, and I’m no longer a fan. While they have lots of students, skilled professors, great facilities, and endless learning opportunities, they are doing a very poor job preparing young men to preach the Word from the pulpits of small churches. For the most part, they are completely disconnected from the local church. In fact, if you want to find an example of poor churchmanship, look to the big-box seminary. The professors and the students alike are far too often the worst of church members. Though pastors are almost forced to recognize and honor them, the pastor is quietly hoping that church members do not emulate them. The pastor recognizes that the professor may be preaching in other churches on Sunday morning, but wonders why the professor never comes to a mid-week meeting, rarely comes to a revival meeting or Bible conference and is slim to none in financial generosity. The students are often not willing to work in the nursery, sing in the choir, or volunteer in the evangelism / outreach ministry. There are notable exceptions, of course, and I’ve been blessed by them, but they are a “rare bird.”
On the other hand, there are hundreds of small (maybe even tiny) Bible colleges and institutes that are preparing young men for ministry. These colleges are often integrally connected to a local church and all the professors are active in the church (many times as a pastor of a neighboring church). All the students are required to have service in the church and perform menial tasks as well as teaching roles. In short, the small Bible college is likely to produce a better churchman, and better churchmen make better pastors.
Buy a house
If your small church doesn’t own a house for the pastor to live in, buy one. If it owns one, fix it up. I am convinced that this is essential for small churches for the future. In the past, almost every church owned a “parsonage” or “pastorium” for the pastor and his family. In more recent years, churches sold these homes in favor of the pastor being able to purchase his own home. In my ministry, I’ve lived in both church-owned and self-owned homes, and both have their advantages. However, for small churches, there is a real possibility that without church-owned housing, the church will not be able to attract or afford a pastor. Even if the pastor doesn’t live in the home, the ownership of a home may be the difference between keeping the doors of the church opened or closed.
Raise up boys to preach
In the end, it is the local church’s responsibility to call their pastor. It is equally their responsibility to raise up their future pastors. Your church ought to be looking for boys and young men who have the potential to serve. I am convinced that the call to pastor comes from the church. Your church ought to have a “pastor-in-training” program for any interested young man. In fact, even men of 50-60 years old may be great pastors in their retirement years, and a little training would enable them to carry out their ministry with strength.
(Shameless advertisement: Our annual Labor Day Bible Conference/Retreat is the perfect pastor-training conference. Perhaps your church would like to send a few of the young men of the church to get a taste of solid Biblical theology and teaching. The things they learn and the people they meet will be worth far more than the financial investment.)
Dr. Randy White coming soon: How to start a home church