I graduated from the School of Religion at Bob Jones University in 1987. In those days, the administration publically declared “training preachers is what we do best” and many agreed with the sentiment. Despite its reputation, the “Preacher Boys” class at my school has shown a steady downward trend in enrollment.
In the last 15 years two Bible colleges in the Upper Midwest closed their doors. Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Owatonna, Minnesota, and Northland Baptist Bible College in Dunbar, Wisconsin, no longer exist. Once fertile training grounds for the next generation of Bible pastors, teachers, and missionaries, the schools could not sustain existence primarily because of a lack of students. History tells us of multiple institutions of higher learning that still exist but no longer specialize or show interest in training people for vocational ministry.
I do not believe the problem resides in the halls of academia; I believe the problem resides within the walls of our churches.
Last weekend our church celebrated and recognized what few churches experience. We ordained a man to the ministry of the gospel. We’ve watched Chris for years and found his life exemplary. We’ve listened to his sermons and Bible lessons and found his teaching faithful to our Lord. We’ve witnessed his love for the Lord, the church, and the world and determined the call he claims from our Lord is genuine.
Following the Sunday worship where our church “set aside” Chris in a custom we call ordination, a woman in her 20s and new to our church said to me, “That was amazing. I’ve never seen that before!” Think about it, here’s a lifelong Christian, raised in the Christian community, and in two decades she’s never seen her church identify one of its own as the next recognized by the church as one called by our Lord to handle his Word and lead the next generation of Christians.
The problem is not that Bible colleges, Christian universities, and seminaries are not producing enough graduates. The problem is the local church is not praying for, planning to train, and promoting the vocation of the ministry of the Word. There are fewer students in our seminaries because our churches are not sending them.
It is true that the pastors at my home church were powerfully influential in my entering vocational ministry, but they were not the first to suggest I consider the call of the Lord. Ed the electrician and Don the truck driver were two men in my home church. Apart from each other, they planted the thought in my young mind that ministry might be in my future. They weren’t control freaks, and neither of them pursued education farther than high school, but both of them loved the Lord and loved his church. Both of them thought it good to encourage a kid to give thought to a lifetime of handling the word of God. The first to inspire me to do what I do today were not pastors or elders or missionaries but two labor union guys who saw a kid in their church, thought, “Maybe,” and acted upon it. When the time for my ordination came, those two men witnessed me accept my responsibility. I doubt they recognized the impact they had on me or took any credit, but that fact remains, they pushed the first domino.
There are many actions our churches can take to encourage vocational ministry. For example, we can give young men the opportunity to teach and preach, show up when we know they are scheduled to teach or preach (not stay away because it’s not the real pastor preaching), and be willing to endure their early stabs at handling the Scriptures, attempts that probably won’t remind of you of John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, Charles Stanley, or Paul Tripp.
We could commit to funding their seminary education like so many denominations do. For example, did you know that a man who is a member of a Southern Baptist Church receives a scholarship equivalent to 50% of the cost of tuition upon entering a Southern Baptist seminary? In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the archdiocese pays for the room and board cost of seminarians preparing for the priesthood. I know of nothing remotely close to that kind of support in the independent church.
An action we can and should pursue is to encourage the young men in our church to consider training for ministry. If we see a boy, a high school student, or a college young man who displays Christian character, whose love for the church is apparent, and who seems always to gravitate to the Bible, we should put in front of him the possibility of becoming a pastor / teacher in the church. How else will it happen? Do you expect God to give the boy a vision in the night? Is God supposed to write it in the sky? Should we hope the kid gets an otherworldly text message or Snapchat imploring him to pick up the mantle of the gospel? Of course not! The impetus comes from the church.
Jesus said, “pray for laborers.” Chris was the most recent that we have had the privilege to ordain, but there is no guarantee of another. We must pray that the Lord of the Harvest would send laborers into the harvest from our church. We must pray that our church would be the kind of soil that grows laborers. We must pray that the next in the chain of succession of Bible preachers does not get sidetracked by a love for this world.
There are many wonderful moments in the life of a local church. From baptisms to weddings to baby dedications and so much more, we share joyful experiences. Hardly anything tops when a local church sees one of its own take up the charge to preach the Word. I hope you will see many more of them.
As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.