Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Heritage Protestant Reformed Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Young man, have you considered the ministry?

How much have you thought about this matter? How often have you given yourself to earnest prayer about this work? How frequently have you discussed this with your parents or with someone else whom you trust?

The need for ministers is great!

It is certainly true that God will bring into the office whom He will, and God’s will is never frustrated. But this does not mean that articles like this one are unnecessary. Dear reader, if you feel the inward call to serve God in the ministry, my prayer is that this writing would strengthen you in that conviction. But, whether right now you sense that inward call or not, my desire is that God would use what you read here to encourage discussions about the ministry with your parents, elders, teachers, and godly friends.

A fear

Before we come to the need for more ministers and some practical advice for young men, I find it necessary to address a fear. Anyone who has been observing the denomination in the last few years will know that the atmosphere is stormy. The tempest of controversy has blown about and hurt many families, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Ministers, too (perhaps especially), have felt the cutting winds. The fear is this: Men who enter the ministry, and do so especially nowadays, will face many hardships and deal with heavy situations. And so, there is a hesitation even to bring up the topic of our need for more men in the pulpit.

Parents fear to ask their sons about the ministry. A father avoids the conversation with his boys, because he does not want to see them “put through the wringer” in their pulpit ministry. He dreads the possibility that men might critique their every word and blacken their name. I personally have heard more than a few fathers express how loath they are to talk with their children about the pastorate.

Young men cringe when they are asked about the ministry. These young men have observed what has happened in the last years. They know, perhaps from observing their own pastor, what a toll these times have taken on him. They have seen how men have subjected ministers to the microscope, examining their teachings at close range and sometimes even publishing abroad their criticisms. And so, the young man is not so quick to pray about the ministry, or even to give it much thought.

What do we say to this fear and hesitation? We know, of course, that God will bring every man into the ministry whom He has eternally determined to set into the office, but that does not mean we should not address these fears.

We must remember that God never promises ministers an easy path. He promises that He will always be with and will strengthen ministers as they go through the waters and fires of many afflictions, but never does He promise a water and fire-free ministry. By the way, saying that the ministry contains suffering is not to deny the reality of joy in the office—just ask any faithful servant of Christ and he will tell you of the joy he experiences as a gospel minister, a joy that exists even in the midst of dark places and suffering. He will exclaim what a privilege it is to serve Christ in the pastorate, something that brings him daily to his knees in gratitude. But the fact remains: in the office, there is toil and pain. Consider a Jeremiah, functioning as a true prophet—how cruelly treated he was! Think of a Paul, preaching and teaching God’s Word faithfully—and men persecuted him! What we are facing now in our churches is no new thing for ministers in church history. Jesus Himself knew very well the hardships that His servants undergo in their work, but that did not stop Him from saying, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38). Current troubles should not be reason for us to fear bringing up the ministry, to stop thinking about it, or to quit praying regarding it.

In fact, an argument could be made that these hard times in our churches lend even more urgency to such consideration of the ministry. Exactly in these times we need undershepherds who will lead the sheep into the green pastures. Precisely at this moment we need men who will clearly explain the truth, oppose all error, and help navigate the church through all the issues that a controversy brings. If ever the church has need for faithful soldiers of Jesus Christ at the front lines of battle, that time is now!

The need

Great is the need for more men to serve in the office of the ministry!

This need for pastors is nothing new. The matter of considering the ministry has appeared repeatedly on the pages of the Standard Bearer, evidence that the Protestant Reformed Churches have, throughout their history, struggled with a shortage of pastors. Our churches are not alone in this either. Talk with people from other denominations, and you will discover that they face similar challenges. None of this surprises us, for our Savior Himself said long ago, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few…” (Matt. 9:37). The need for more preachers of the Word is not new, but it is just as real and urgent in 2022 as it has been through the years. Therefore, we address it once again.

As of this writing, four churches have no minister. Those four vacancies will need to be filled at some point. Additionally, a few men in the denomination are nearing retirement. The time will not be long before these men step aside from the full-time, active labors in their congregations, understandably unable to give themselves to the work like they had in years earlier. This will leave more vacancies in the churches. Furthermore, five students were enrolled in our seminary during the 2021-22 school year. If the Lord brings them all into the ministry, it is not likely that all five will labor in our churches in America and Canada (and that is not to take away from our gladness that some of the men might serve Christ’s church in other places of the world; it is merely to state a fact). And so, should the seminary students graduate and receive calls, that would only partially fill our immediate needs. Finally, one of our churches is beginning the process of calling a man for the good and necessary work of home missions. If a man currently serving a congregation accepts this call, he will leave that congregation vacant. We need more men for the work of the ministry!

These facts and statistics are concerning to us because we understand the nature of the ministry and why it is so important. A good exercise would be to take some time, perhaps on a Sunday afternoon, to read the installation form for ministers in the back of the Psalter. Part of that form explains the duties of a minister, supplying biblical proof throughout. By way of brief summary, ministers of God’s Word are, first, to preach the Word of the Lord, including all the elements that faithful preaching should have. Second, the servants of Christ are to pray publicly in behalf of the whole congregation. Third, the office is to administer the sacraments, which Christ instituted as seals of His grace. Fourth, the duty of ministers is to keep the church in good discipline and govern it in a proper manner. Following these four points is a paragraph to which we should pay special attention: “From these things [the duties of the minister summarized above] may be learned what a glorious work the ministerial office is, since so great things are effected by it; yea, how highly necessary it is for man’s salvation, which is also the reason why the Lord will have such an office always to remain.” How vital is the ministry! A shortage of ministers concerns us, therefore.

Some advice

Considering this need in the churches, a need that legitimately concerns us, what advice can be given to young men?

First, pray! Jesus said, after all, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38). Surely, the church must be praying for more laborers. But this includes you, young man! Make not only the general prayer that the Lord will send more laborers into His harvest, but be asking that the Lord would make known His will for your life. Do that regularly. Years ago, Homer C. Hoeksema gave the following counsel to young men, as relevant today as it was in his day: “Finally, let me take this opportunity to address young men directly, particularly young men who are considering the question of further education upon graduation from high school, or even some of our young men who are perhaps already in college. Don’t make the mistake of looking at your future simply from a carnal point of view of what you may or may not like to do. But consider and seek the answer to the question, ‘Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?’”1

Second, communicate! That is, maintain open lines of communication with others in your life. Primary here are your parents. Your father and mother know you best: where you are spiritually, intellectually, and in other areas. If your parents want a sit-down with you to talk about the ministry, do not cut off the conversation, but be open to what they say. And even if your parents do not approach you, take the initiative by starting the discussion with them: ask them good questions and glean their thoughts. Whether or not you sense the inward call to the ministry, such talks will prove edifying for you and your parents. You might be less inclined to bring up this topic with a teacher, your pastor, or an elder, which is understandable. But if they open up communication with you about the ministry, consider carefully what they say, and then take their words home and pray fervently that God would plainly show to you His will for your life.

Remember your siblings and friends, too. They know you well, sometimes just as much as your own parents. Whether you feel that inward call or not, what could it hurt to have an open, honest conversation about the ministry? If anything, such spiritual conversations will only add to the richness of the relationship you have with that sibling or friend. Perhaps you, reader, are that sibling or friend. Is there a godly and gifted man in your family or in your friend circle? Have you ever pulled him aside to ask him if he has considered the ministry? Do not underestimate how the Lord may use you in the life of that young man you know.

Men, have you considered the ministry? The need is great!

Lord, send forth laborers!

1 Homer C. Hoeksema, “Our Urgent Need of Students for the Ministry,” Standard Bearer (April 1, 1986), 294.