The church’s need for ministers has always been great.
Christ’s words found in Luke 10:2apply to the whole New Testament age. “The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send labourers into his harvest.”
There never has been a time when the church could not use more men to go into all the world to preach the gospel as pastors and teachers.
But there are times for a particular denomination when the words of Christ ring especially true. The Theological School Committee (TSC) and faculty of our seminary are convinced that for the PRC that time is now.
Therefore, this article.
Our readers are surely aware that we have at present six vacant churches in a denomination of but thirty-one congregations. If it were not for our three professors preaching every Lord’s Day (often twice), five students licensed and active (one of whom, from Northern Ireland, ends his ‘tour of duty’ in our circles this coming May), and a handful of retired ministers pitching in to help (all but one in their 70s), there would be a lot of reading sermons (or tapes, as the case may be). Reading sermons, etc. will do in a pinch, but, as both elders and congregations realize, it is not the same as the lively preaching of the gospel week by week by a pastor who knows his flock and proves that both in the word brought and in congregational prayers offered.
And, in our circles, having one’s own pastor is more than having a dependable stated-supply to preach every Sunday. Our ‘preachers’ do much more than preach on Sunday and chair the monthly ‘church board’ (council), as is done elsewhere. They are expected to teach most of the catechism classes; lead various societies; visit the sick, dying, and shut-ins; do their part in family visitation; serve on denominational committees; and do pastoral counseling as the need arises.
Not for the fainthearted or lazy.
Which is all to say that, in our congregations, vacancies leave big shoes to fill.
Lest some young man become discouraged at this point, let me encourage him by assuring him that congregations used to require more!
Relief has been granted.
A couple of decades back, the minister (college-educated, and hence with typing skills) was commonly the one who typed up the bulletin Saturday night as well (with his wife helping). I well recall my first two pastorates, handing my wife the announcements I had dutifully typed out, which she in turn typed onto a stencil (an hour or so tedious task, as anyone knows who remembers anything about stencils), which I then carried to church to churn out a 100 or so copies on the latest Gestetner, manually-run, mimeograph machine.
Nowadays most of our congregations appoint a bulletin clerk, and the minister’s involvement is minimal—meaning, these days PR ministers have one less responsibility to worry about.
How did ‘old’ Rev. Vos put it in one of his memorable meditations? “I salute all janitors!” (due to their patient service to the various congregations and fielding the complaints of both the frigid and the hot).
Well, I salute all bulletin clerks! High time they got their due.
How old was ‘old’ Vos when he wrote and honored all those long- suffering janitors? I am guessing around 58. How old am I? Funny you should ask.
You say I digress. Perhaps. I am, after all, approaching 60. It happens. But it is a digression leading to a main point.
What is of special concern to the TSC and faculty is not merely the six vacancies, serious though that is, but also the ages of the ordained ministers now actively serving in our denomination (at present 31 in number if you include pastors, missionaries, and professors).
Now for the telling number: almost half (14 of those 31) will be of retirement age in the next 10 years (65 years being the standard used). This is a sizable percentage ‘nearing’ retirement age. This is not to say that our ministers are required by the Church Order to retire at age 65. Most may continue for a few years beyond that, perhaps even into their 70’s. But the last few ministers to retire had to request emeritation prior to reaching 70 due to health issues. That cannot be ignored.
And of those 14 who are 55 years and over, four will be 60+ this year.
Which all leads to this: our churches need a sizable influx of young men into our seminary over the next decade, and graduations following, just to stay even with the retirement rate. Without that, our six vacancies, that now seem too many, will become even more.
And consider that this somewhat sobering assessment is from the optimistic perspective that all our present ministers will serve full term, that is, until the normal age of emeritation. But I trust by now we have learned that the Lord does not guarantee that either.
A sobering reality.
Adding to what is facing us is that our three professors are in their mid-50s. As many of you know, the constitution of our seminary requires the TSC to begin seeking a replacement for each professor when he turns 65. As things now stand, strict adherence to the constitution would mean we will have three professors all going through the retirement process at the same time (a mere 10 years ahead). Wisdom requires that we avoid that, of course, and that the process be staggered so that one professor is replaced before the next replacement process begins.
We can inform you that the TSC has already appointed a committee to put some thought into this looming reality, so that the transitions take place with as little disruption of the instruction at seminary as possible. But, regardless of the process decided on, within the next decade the process to replace our three professors must begin. Three new vacancies will result.
Who will fill those vacancies?
Men upon whom the Spirit places the call to the pastoral ministry are sorely needed.
At present we have six students in seminary, one graduating this year, three the following year, D.V., and then a gap of one year until two more are ready in 2013. That is enough to take care of our present six vacancies, but what of the 14 men who will be reaching retirement age in the next 10 years?
So, there you have it.
On a positive note, we understand that at present there are some young men taking courses in college to satisfy pre-seminary requirements. We know of one young man of our churches intending to seek entrance this coming fall, D.V. And we have heard of others who are seriously considering pursuing a course of study that would lead to seminary.
Such is most welcome news.
But the need for finding replacement for 14 men in the next 10-15 years, in addition to filling six present vacancies, is a matter of no little concern. It works out to 20 vacancies, if all things remain as they are.
And what must weigh upon us as Protestant Reformed people is that we must not be so provincial as to be concerned only about taking care of ourselves and our own congregations first. “Missions can wait! Our vacancies must be filled!”
If that is all we focus on, then I am convinced that the God of Jonah will rise up and testify against us. “Yet 40 days [in a short while] and Nineveh [with all its little ones and cattle] shall be overthrown!” (cf. Jonah 3:4). We had better not be found out-at-sea ignoring the call to go out into all the world to preach the gospel in these last days.
We live in days when the cry for faithful gospel preaching comes from all parts of the world: “Come over and help us!” Such requests may not be lightly dismissed.
But the ability to answer such cries requires MEN, men whose hearts have been stirred by the Holy Spirit both to feed Christ’s flock(s) and to launch out into the deep.
Can such men (young and not so young) be found?
What can you and I do about it?
Well, first of all, we had better be found praying with fervor to the Lord that He provide us with the much needed laborers.
That’s how we began this article, if you recall. Jesus Himself exhorted His church: “Pray ye the Lord of the harvest, that he send labourers….” Little praying? Little return! On the other hand, be assured our Lord honors obedience to His exhortations.
Councils must be urging their ministers to be beseeching the God of Jonah to lay this calling upon the hearts of our young men, making sure that none are sleeping in the bottom of our ‘fishing’ boats, deaf to this call, when they ought to be thinking very seriously about preparing for the ministry.
I don’t know that one need go so far as to threaten to throw some young man overboard if he demurs, but I do recall a man named Farel getting a bit forceful when a young fellow named Calvin thought he could slip through Geneva and retire to scholarly pursuits, thereby avoiding the call to the ministry!
So there is precedent for collaring likely candidates with some serious talk.
Congregational prayers are the place to begin, but added to that must be the prayers of fathers at the table, with their sons listening, for the Lord to lay this matter on the hearts of young men.
And there is biblical precedent for mothers making it a matter of prayer as well. Let’s not forget Hannah.
Family visitation is an excellent time for officebearers to ask the teenage sons, “Have you considered the gospel ministry?”
If gifts are discerned, surely it is not out of line for teachers in our schools and for members of the congregation to confront young men with that question too: “Have you considered the ministry?”
And let’s not imagine that only a young man fresh out of high school and going to college is a suitable candidate. Married men with families already started are not to be overlooked or excused from considering this calling. We presently have more than one man now serving as minister who returned to college in his 30’s to satisfy the pre-seminary requirements for entry. In fact, one of them is serving us well ‘on the hill’ as we write.
But he is not getting any younger either.
A concluding word is in order, a word addressed directly to young men themselves.
I offer a quote lifted from the writings of ‘old’ Rev. Vos. Back in 1963, when our churches faced a similar shortage of ministers and seminary students, he penned a forceful meditation based on I Samuel 1:27, 28 (where Hannah returned [dedicated] her child Samuel to the lifetime service of God at the tabernacle).
Are there any God-fearing young men who read this?
Yes, it is late on the calendar. It is very late. It should have begun with your mom. [i.e., preparation for the ministry!—KK] But how about the holy ministry in your church? Are you not concerned about the fact that we are woefully short of ministers?
Would it not be heaven for you to say: “Speak, for Thy servant heareth”?
And heaven with its joyful angels, would say, Amen!
Interestingly, the meditation from which these words come was reprinted in the SB in 1997 (Vol. 73) when our churches again felt the pinch of vacancies.
A meditation worth being read by young and old again.
So, though ‘old’ Vos has been dead these past 30 years, we still refuse to let him ‘retire,’ so sore is our need.
And, be assured, so dear to his heart was the well-being of ‘his’ beloved PRC that I am sure nothing would gladden his heart more than to be told, “Dominee, your exhortations urging young men to consider becoming ministers in Christ’s church are still bearing fruit in the twenty-first century.”