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Here I sit, nestled in an ultra-hip chair at a West Tennessee Starbucks. Over a steaming cup of bold coffee, I fire questions at Andy, a 21-year-old college student who takes pride in his rugged, half-shaved face. I pick this young man's brain because he is one who is jealous for my job; he aspires to the office of senior pastor. Not a youth pastor or children's pastor or college pastor—though each of those is a high and worthy calling. Andy is one who ultimately wants to feed and lead a local church. This guy intrigues me because his breed is becoming so scarce.

A Theology and Missions major at Union University, Andy shares his innermost thoughts with me, and I find my spirit lifted by his passion for the body of Christ, his fierce commitment to preach the Word, and his humble love for all types of people. Andy's got the goods. He is going to lead a great church in the future, and I feel burdened to do everything in my power to help him get there.

For the past four years, I have served as senior pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee. I'm well aware that my town is unusual. Jackson is a small city with four colleges. That's right: four. Like a football stadium, our sanctuary feels the ebb and flow of the changing seasons. These college students rush in each fall and reinforce our church with a new wave of energy and optimism.

While I have grown to love all the students in our college ministry, I must confess a bias I feel in my heart toward those who aspire to the ministry. I have carved out a special place in my life for those who jot pastor on their future vocation card. What saddens me every year is that so few of those exist.

Why is there not a great host of young people in my church praying about a life in the pulpit? Why are guys such as Andy so rare? That's a question I have pondered for the past few years. This has perplexed me. After all, what could be more thrilling and fulfilling than preaching the Word of God with power and watching the Holy Spirit carry a group of people forward? What profession could catapult a person into a more meaningful position of influence?

Surely there must be some logical reasons for the shortfall of senior pastors. After several months of highly caffeinated conversations, this is what my exploration has unearthed.

Why the Preacher Population Is Shrinking

1. A Fear of Failure

There is a growing perception among college students that the church has locked into its traditional form and remains unwilling to innovate. Yet the next generation of leaders lives with a carpe diem mindset, hoping to spend their lives in ministries that make noticeable strides. Hence, the cream of the crop flees from any ministry post where creativity and fresh thinking are squelched.

For those who do sense an unshakeable call to ministry, they often look first to healthy parachurch organizations or aggressive mission agencies. At best, the five-star future preachers are staying up late with likeminded friends and sketching out the logo for their church plant. These young preachers would rather work second jobs and write sermons in their sleep than to hold a position in a church that is out of touch with culture. Most of them don't believe they could survive in the average church, so this fear drives them to seek other options.

2. A Lack of Exposure

During the past 10 years in full-time ministry, I have discovered most young people feel disconnected from the primary pastor of their church. Many students identify heartily with their youth or college pastor, but very few teenagers sense a kindred spirit with the senior leader. While the pastor hits the hospitals and preaches the funerals, other staff or lay leaders carry on the life-on-life ministry that results in heavy-hitting impact.

As a result of this model of ministry, very few young people feel compelled to consider the office of pastor. They simply haven't seen the life and everyday rewards that come with the call. Hence, they never have asked the key questions: "Would this role in the church be a good fit for me?" "Could I be successful as a preacher?"

Twenty years ago, most churches in my tradition held annual or semi-annual revivals. When the nightly sermon came to a close, the call for public response was sure to include the commitment to full-time ministry. In that era, every church considered one of its primary goals to call out the called.

As most have observed, revivalism has run its course in most churches, and there has been no new net to catch the youth who sense the tug to the ministry. Therefore, other worthy professions attract the best and the brightest. When we throw no bait, we catch no fish.

3. A Fear of a Dysfunctional Family

Let's face it. Most college-aged men are looking for a gorgeous mate more intensely than a good major. Conversations in college ministry always find their way back to the best-looking, most eligible bachelorettes. The fear of graduating single is very real, a front burner issue.

It has been my observation that most young women are scared to death by the idea of becoming a pastor's wife. The common caricature of the sweet-hearted, VBS directing, piano playing pastor's wife makes most girls want to turn and run. The average young lady feels as if she never could fit the mold. For this reason, young men who sense a call to ministry often are afraid to make that information public.

They want what all of their friends want—to fall in love, stay in love, and raise a quiver of kids into full-blown followers of Jesus Christ. The pulpit seems to be a dangerous place for the man who wants to be fully present and fully engaged with his family. Therefore, it seems more doable to dive into a less pressurized position of ministry and avoid the pitfalls of being the preacher.

Finding Timothy

If John Maxwell is right, and "everything rises and falls on leadership," then even our healthiest churches are in big trouble without strong, capable leaders rising up through the ranks. What can we do to find the next Timothy, to raise up the next generation of preachers? While we can't eliminate all of the perceived dangers that come with the call, I do want to propose two practical ideas that could yield huge returns with time.

1. Ask God to send a young, teachable Timothy to you.

I mentioned Andy in the opening paragraph of this piece. I'm happy to report that Andy has become a valued team member in my office. He hangs out five to 10 hours a week, babysits my kids when we're in a pinch, and has his own set of keys to the church.

Andy doesn't make a dime, but he takes on every little assignment I hand to him and follows through with precision. Between services on Sunday morning (we have three), Andy is invited into my private prayer room where I rest and recharge. In those in-between moments, he is a fly on the wall while I banter with our worship pastor and tinker with the worship order.

Sometimes my mood is up; other times I feel down; sometimes I sit in silence and quiet my heart. Andy knows his boundaries and takes it all in. He walks with me at strategic times throughout the week. What would hinder you from taking on an Andy? If God brought a person such as him along, would you carve out a piece of your life for six months to a year?

2. Create a way to push young people to the front lines of ministry.

Two years ago, I preached to our college students from Luke 9:57-62. The theme of that passage is commitment. Three different would-be disciples approach Christ on His journey to Jerusalem; all three find good reason to remain uncommitted. That night I preached heartily and called for a specific response. "I'm looking for a handful of students who will commit to five hours a week in frontline ministry," I said.

From there, I outlined the concept of a semester missionary program called "FulFill," which would strategically place college students in key roles of servant leadership throughout our church. I committed myself to interview each of them personally and to work with our staff in assigning them. Even though I desired to place each student in the ministry of his or her choosing, I reserved the right to position them where the Lord led. To my surprise, this risk seemed to increase their interest.

My eyes welled up with tears that night when 60 students signed on. The following semester, each of them showed up faithfully and proved their worth. In those 15 weeks, I encouraged our staff to do more than simply shove them in a corner of service, but also to invest in their lives intentionally through lunches, emails, and text messaging. The goal for the program was reciprocal growth—the church would be blessed with an army of willing volunteers while the students were blessed with the coaching and encouragement of a staff member.

One additional layer to FulFill, which proved to be valuable, was a weekly leadership forum. I met with these 60 students every Wednesday night in a private room from 4:30 to 5:30. The sole purpose of the meeting was for me to share insider talk. I tried to be as transparent as possible about my personal life, covering topics such as communicating with my wife, what I read to my children at bedtime, what goes through my head in making major church decisions, fears and insecurities I face as a leader, how I budget my time, etc.

On one particular Wednesday, the Spirit led me to lay down my armor and discuss a very personal problem I was facing with my family. I asked them to pray for me and with me on that matter. In those vulnerable moments, a real bond was formed. I was learning how to treat these students as friends, and this called to mind what Jesus said to His budding leaders: "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends" (John 15:15). The relationship between Christ and His core leaders became increasingly personal. We would be wise to take note of that.

While the whole group seemed to benefit from the weekly leadership forum, this hour also afforded me the opportunity to seek out the Timothys—to consider how and if I could catalyze their growth or pour courage into their hearts.

The Bottom Line

More than likely, the task of preaching always will be risky and never will be the most popular of professions. It is likely the church will continue to battle a shortage of top-level leaders, as does every other organization I know. However, as we work together to raise up well-equipped, courageous pastors, we build a solid foundation for the future church.

It was D. Elton Trueblood who said, "A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he never will sit." May God grant us wisdom as we sow seeds for the next generation.

Ben Mandrell is the pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN.  A father of four and husband to Lynley, Ben’s passion is to see the local church become the saltiest salt and the brightest light she can be. 

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Daniel T. Osborn

commented on May 2, 2011

While I like what the article states, I have a few caveats. First, this is not about a shortage of "preachers," it is about a shortage of senior pastors and there is a huge difference, as I'm sure the writer knows. I have never been a mega-church pastor. I have pastored 4 very different small congregations for about 14 years now, two at the same time at one point. I used to think preacher and pastor were synonymous, but the ministry has corrected my misconception. This much I can tell anyone, at least two of the fears mentioned here are very real dangers to any senior pastor. The author proclaims "Most of them don't believe they could survive in the average church, so this fear drives them to seek other options" The fact is that most of them are right! They couldn't survive in the average church. And the fear of having a dysfunctional family is a very healthy fear, for almost nothing will invade and degrade any attempts at family life like the demands of a congregation. Wives and children will get put off and neglected. In fact, because the vast majority of churches do not, and likely cannot, pay the pastor a livable wage, the wife will have to work outside the home. Hello daycare and another expense the family can't afford. I do not know what kind of wage the author get's for his services but I have never received enough as a pastor so that my wife did not have to work. And as statistics show, financial problems are the number one reason for divorce and marital strife. What I think was missed in the article was this, churches MUST CHANGE if they are going to attract and keep good, God ordained pastors. This is the most sorrowful realization to me because most churches resist change fanatically. One of the churches I served at had in their history the date that they took out the hitching posts from the parking lot. It wasn't until 1952 or 53 that they realized the car wasn't just a passing fad! Here's hoping and praying that the church herself will change enough to attract and keep committed, Christ-following, bible- believing and faith-filled pastors as they should.

Jason P. Foster

commented on May 2, 2011

I find the main reason that the preacher population is shrinking is due to the fact that young ministers do not want to fight the country club church people that have no desire to reach the lost. They would rather work outside of the traditional church context so that they can actually be involved in ministry.

Matt Krachunis

commented on May 2, 2011

one of the biggest reasons that was not mentioned is the impact of the "video church". There is no reason to raise up a pastor if every time a church expands or grows they start an "extension campus" and then pipe in the personality. If a church has 5 extra locations that has 5 video screens instead of a preacher, that's 5 churches that could have added another preacher. Sure, the "campus pastor" is always there with boots on the ground, but I've always wondered, if that pastor can be trusted to pastor the flock, why can't they be trusted to preach? Raise up and send out more pastors and you'll get more pastors. Don't send out a media team. (did I just kick over a sacred cow?)

Chuck Williams

commented on May 2, 2011

Great Article that not only speaks directly to a problem many are unaware of, but also offers a Biblical plan that every pastor can follow. Having pastored for over 35 years, some of my greatest memories are those I had the privildge to mentor.

David Hodgin

commented on May 2, 2011

Uhh? Am I a fossil or something? I had a job, a vocation, a career, then I got a calling and became a pastor/preacher. If it wasn?t a calling, I would have quit long ago and not for any of the reasons mentioned here. Pastoring is the weirdest job on earth. Everybody praises God when things go right and blame the pastor when things go wrong. A pastor must be an extravert who is happy to spend hours alone in his study or an introvert who is comfortable in social gatherings and in front of crowds. A pastor is a theologian, counselor, personal advisor, life coach, must love children, respect his elders admire his peers and be an encouragement to everyone. A pastor must be able to organize and lead a volunteer staff, who can fire him if he gets too pushy, not to mention operate a non-profit organization according to the law or stand liable for that. And by the way, don?t get caught rewriting a Chuck Swindoll sermon, not only is it plagiarism, but your people want a fresh new message from God every week just for them. Forget that you officiated a wedding on Saturday, a funeral on Thursday, a board meeting on Tuesday and had to be home in time to see the little league games on Wednesday and Friday. Also a pastor must not be caught up in the love of money so all the above must be accomplished for a meager salary that he is happy to get. So why is the preacher population shrinking? An epidemic of sanity would be my guess!

Francis O'rourke

commented on May 2, 2011

Well, I agree with Matt Krachunis' comments and add that most of Pastor's won't trust people in our pulpits very often. Most of the churches I have visited over the years, both large and small, have lots of ministry but not one of them includes pastoring as one of them. Why is that?

Bob Fry

commented on May 2, 2011

I do not wish to sound hard but if these three things is going to stop someone from being a pastor or a preacher than I wondner if they are call at all.I believe that when one is call they can by God's grace and the Holy Spirit's power go forward to what God has call them into.

Mark Scrutton

commented on May 2, 2011

Maybe the real reason they're discouraged from ministry has to do with an "inside" knowledge of the industry. All they have to do is ask any former clssmates how the "job search" is going. For every minister position advertised there are anywhere from 150 to 500 or more prospective pastors applying for each. Clearly in stricty business terms, the industry suffers from tremendous pastor bloat. No doubt, declining membership, dwindling funds due to the economy and church restructuring or closure has taken it's toll. If Barna is correct, many (most) former pastors lack leadership. A number of seminaries are indeed teaching leadership now. Ironic - churches with open positions want "experience" from those not trained or gifted in leadership, doomed to continue to repeat the past performance.

Fernando Villegas

commented on May 3, 2011

This article is missing the biggest reason for why the preacher population is shrinking: the specialization of preaching. We've given the average church member the impression that you need a seminary degree in order to preach, but that just isn't true!! Where in the Bible does it say that preaching is limited only to pastors? One we rid ourselves of that false assumption, I believe we will begin to find others in our congregations whom God has gifted to share the preaching ministry.

Gene Cobb

commented on Jun 12, 2012

Very interesting reading. When God called me to preach I never worried if I wouldn't find a handsome husband just because I was a Pastor. When I obeyed the Lord, I got it all! A wonderful church, a handsome husband and a more wonderful life than I ever could have made on my own. That was almost 40 years ago. My husband and I are both Pastors. We came from very different backgrounds, but both served the same God. After 30 years in the ministry we feel we haven't even come near to finishing our work! We will probably never pastor a mega church. We don't live within 40 miles of a Starbucks, (but I do notice Pastors seem to thrive there). We have Pastored in the same church for 19 years. I know, make my point! Let's step back and let God call the Pastors! The iron hand of flesh is what is hurting the pulpits the most!

Keith B

commented on Jun 12, 2012

Good article. I personally am just beginning as a Pastor in a small country church. I don't feel called to be one of many in a big church...I'm just an ordinary pastor.

Daniel Baldwin

commented on Jun 12, 2012

2Th_2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition. The Holy Bible is true to the word and it has been told of the falling away therefor we should continue to compel them to come in. Do not give up on the souls that is out there unsaved. If we show effort on our part, God will help us to do what He want us to do. Praise God!

Glen Maidment

commented on Jun 12, 2012

Great article pastor Ben. I am very encouraged. Glen- Melbourne Aus

Jason Jones

commented on Jun 12, 2012

Point 1 is wrong. It is not a fear of failure. We want to be effective, in our failures and successes. So often the desire to actually reach people and challenge people to grow in Christ is squashed by the man who is supposed to be helping them grow as ministers and to often that same man is in don't rock the boat mode. It is not fear, its sadness at understanding how far the Church has fallen.

Keith B

commented on Jun 12, 2012

Actually....I think I dismissed the idea of being a Senior Pastor for some time because I didn't want to seem arrogant. I always figured a Senior Pastor was a guy that started out as a youth guy, then worked up to Senior. I didn't feel it was something I could ascribe to until I "put in my time" in ministry.

Timothy Andrews

commented on Jun 13, 2012

Thanks Ben. I hope your words will stir senior pastors and elders to commit (again) to working with the next generation of pastors. Perhaps if you publish this again somewhere you could finetune it so that it is more clearly talking about pastors i.e. the title and some comments seem to relate to the shortage of preachers. If your article has stirred individuals to think more about this topic I recall a booklet series by PJ Smyth (Newfrontiers) on topics like 'The church needs more elders' ...'The Church needs more preachers'...etc

Patricia Medley

commented on Jun 13, 2012

We have had a Future Pastors' Club at our church. One of the young women who thrived in Future Pastors' Club in Junior High became a leader in our church, a leader in our synod, a leader in our Bosnia Servant Mission Trips and now is attending seminary with a definite call to pastoral ministry. If Paul could use Priscilla, and Jesus could send Mary Magdalene as a apostle to the disciples, God can use women like us. "The Spirit blows where it wills. You hear the sound of it, but you don't know where it is going!"

Dennis Edwards

commented on Jun 14, 2012

I believe pastor burn out or wear out is because we are trying to make something happen before the timing of God for it to happen! Making our fruit comes before it's time, thus premature fruit. Anything premature takes a lot of time money and energy to maintain.

Jimmie Tempano

commented on Jun 14, 2012

Several years ago, my pastor commented that it was very discouraging to spend hours and hours preparing a sermon and delivering it only to realize that most of the congregation would not be able to say what the sermon was about only an hour later. I am not speaking against preaching but, perhaps, depending only on preaching to change lives is a mistake. I am not criticising the importance of preaching. Jesus preached and preaching is obviously legitimized. However, Jesus was involved in people's lives where His messages were lived out. That seems like it would be very difficult to implement in a mega-church or even a church with a big enough membership to support a full-time senior pastor. I apologize if this seems critical. I don't have answers to offer, I only have questions.

Zelebrate Life

commented on Jun 14, 2012

great read. there are many good preachers but not all are good mentors, which the author obviously is.

Pollie Marabe

commented on Jun 18, 2012

I totally agree w/ this comment: One of the biggest reasons that was not mentioned is the impact of the "satellite church". If a preacher can be trusted to pastor the flock, why can't they be trusted to minister and send to baptized believers? Raise up and send out more preachers and you'll get more pastors. Don't send out a Gospel team!Senior pastors should know your men and support them,train them,and send them as God called them to preach!Let your preacher start a new daughter church.Trust them!Don't underestimate the capability of God to His called preacher! If you doubt your preacher, you doubt the enabling power of God to him, who is called by God.

Timothy Jepsen

commented on Jun 20, 2012

Good article! Let's not leave out however over 50 of the population...dare I say women? I was raised in patriarchal Christianity and it has many valid points. I believe, however that we would be remiss in our efforts if we fail to realize the context of Christ's time. That Law to Grace transitional zone which didn't become more fully Grace until the Book of Acts. At that time we see mention of a female disciple (Acts 9:36) named Dorcas/Tabitha. We also have a Pauline admonition in Gal. 3:28 about no male nor female in Christ. Let's incorporate the whole counsel in our efforts to find new pastors! For good measure, we can also look at Romans 16. Thanks!

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