Canadian Mennonite
Volume 6, number 12
June 17, 2002
Responding to the pastor shortage

The cover story in this issue addresses various aspects of what has come to be known as a "pastor shortage." Not surprisingly, there is no single cause, or solution, for this problem. And Mennonites are not alone in facing this challenge.

Amidst the research findings and personal stories, I hear three related and promising answers to the overall question of how to address the shortage. The common thread is the concept of a "call"-more specifically, the conviction that shoulder-tapping and encouragement for people inclined toward ministry is as important as the inner call felt by individuals.

1) Call more youth into ministry. A dramatic yet simple example is the page 24 story of a 16-year-old approaching her pastor with a concern and vision for outreach. The pastor in turn challenged this young person to start an outreach ministry and offered to be a support and mentor.

Such experiences were also part of my own history. During high school I bemoaned the lack of a youth group in my small home church. I was challenged to help start one. Sunday evening "Christian Endeavour" programs created openings for involvement; adults took notice and offered encouragement at crucial points. As a high school youth, I also experienced the power of critique and censure when an adult refused to take my hand of greeting after I had spoken from the pulpit-he said only ordained persons should use the pulpit. This was an early, realistic signal that church work involves not only receiving affirmation, but also learning how to handle criticism.

The stance of encouraging ministry by youth-not only for them-is well expressed by the Mennonite World Conference plans for a "Youth Summit" at the Zimbabwe Assembly in the summer of 2003. The assumption guiding their work, said planning committee members at April meetings in Ontario, is that youth are not only "the church of the future" but an integral part of the church now.

2) Call more adults into ministry. The fact that the average age of students at our seminary is 41 signals a trend in the making for some decades in all denominations. For some people, this is a discouraging sign-further reason to intensify the search for more youthful applicants. Others argue that the present mix of seminarians, not all of them fresh from college, is a hopeful sign. Ministry is being strengthened, they say, by seminary graduates with maturity and diverse experience, sometimes from other careers.

The church's "ministry inquiry" programs are geared to young people who want to test their ministry gifts. There ought to be such programs for adults who would like to test their gifts and suitability for ministry. Why not be intentional amidst the trend toward older seminarians?

3) Call more people into lay ministry. When congregations are between pastors, they sometimes discover hitherto unrecognized gifts as various members step into the breach. Let's encourage these gifts "by design" rather than "by default," suggests Maurice Martin, who directs a new Congregational Leadership program of Mennonite Church Canada. The "design" needs to include calling people to ministry not only in the gathered church but also in the scattered church-in their work in the broader community.

Acknowledging a wide range of ministry gifts won't eliminate the need for pastoral leadership. Active encouragement of lay ministry will create a lively context in which pastoral leadership itself could be renewed.

-Ron Rempel, editor

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