Out of 1,757 Southern Baptist churches in Oklahoma, 230 are without a pastor. Even more worship leaders, education ministers and student pastors are needed. The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma on-line resume system has more than 700 resumes for pastors and staff. Yet each year, churches express increasing difficulty finding ministry leaders. With so many resumes and a great need, why is there such a void?
While people look for places to serve, what churches need are leaders. Many churches have passed the responsibility of producing leaders to educational institutions and seminaries. Leadership at its core requires on-the-job training. One cannot just watch and learn; he/she must put the concepts into practice in real life situations. Educational institutions, therefore, are not enough to provide leadership experience.
The answer lies much closer to home. In our churches are people who are called to serve who have not been mentored and nurtured into ministry. Some ethnic church traditions recognize this and have a practice of bringing young people into the pastor’s ‘inner circle.’ They are given unpaid ‘associate’ titles with responsibility and mentoring. The expectation is that God will call some of them to full-time roles. Those who are, have the benefit of experience and mentoring. They become a pool of future leaders that churches use as the Kingdom grows.
Pastors and staff take young people on visits to the hospital; invite them into prayer times with the staff, ask them to fulfill roles in the church and involve them in ministry. On Sundays, these young leaders read Scripture, pray, bring a greeting and are mentored in the ways of leadership.
The challenge is raising-up godly men who will follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit, speak with God’s wisdom because they know God’s Word, and give the knee time in prayer necessary to lead a church as an under-shepherd. Most 21st Century churches are no longer making disciples who know how to listen to God so when God calls them for His own glorious service, they know His voice and respond.
The easy thing for a church to do is to program events, the more difficult and needed thing is for churches to create environments that cause people to grow in Christ-likeness. That is the benefit of what some of our ethnic brothers and sisters are doing. There is no substitute for a godly man or woman investing their lives in another. Once we do this, we will see an increase of men and women with hearts for God who hear from God and respond to God’s call.
A challenge in bringing young people to roles of responsibility is they will make mistakes. What better place to make a mistake than in the caring confines of the church family? It is a safe place where leaders can grow. Churches and leaders must be aggressive about looking out on the field and seeing potential leaders.
We’ll have greater confidence in the coming generation if we make the investment now. Otherwise, the leadership void will grow. In spite of resume systems and online resources, the vast majority of pastoral and staff positions are still filled by personal reference. Leaders are often contacted and asked, ‘who would you recommend?’ If we do nothing, we will have nothing to say.