Imagine with me the year of our Lord 2025, the year of the Protestant Reformed Churches’ centennial anniversary. Not that far away when you think about it—just eight short years.
Now imagine seven or eight vacant PR churches at that time as well.
Actually, not all that imaginary. Not when you consider how few college-aged men of our churches at present have indicated an interest in preparing for the gospel ministry—just three (3) at latest report. And they are only thinking of and prayerfully considering it at present—two in their second year of college (sophomores), one in his first year (a freshman). Which means, even if their contemplations turn into reality, two would enter seminary in the fall of 2019 and one in 2020, giving us possibly three more candidates to be ordained into the gospel ministry by 2024.
Because a lot can happen between preparing oneself for the gospel ministry and actually sitting for a classical exam, having received the lawful call that confirms one’s desires and years of preparation.
But, you respond, this year seven young men are to graduate from our seminary and will likely receive calls into our churches, and three more will be graduating in 2019, D.V. That’s ten new candidates to fill our vacancies and other denominational callings in the next three years.
That sounds like more than sufficient.
Indeed it does, until you start doing some assessing and calculating.
The first hard fact is that we, like a number of other Presbyterian and Reformed denominations (as we as observers heard at NAPARC this past year), have an aging ministry. In other words, a substantial percentage of our ministers are either in their late fifties or in their sixties, which, in turn, means that in the next eight to nine years they will either have been granted emeritation or will be facing it. In fact, according to our calculations, of our 35 ‘serving’ clergy (ministers, missionaries, and professors), 12 are fifty-seven years old and above. And, keep in mind, a couple of others have already drifted into their early fifties. (You can look it up).
So, within fifteen (15) years, about half of our present clergy will have laid aside the mantle of their active pastoral ministry.
And by then, how many churches will we as a Protestant Reformed de denomination number? (Not that we feel real comfortable ‘numbering the people.’ But, for all that, past trends and realities must be considered.)
Likely, there will be more than our present 33 congregations.
At present at least two more of our larger congregations (following our Faith congregation with the recent formation of its daughter congregation, Zion PRC) are seriously considering the need for the formation of daughter congregations (which would bring our total congregations to 35). In eight years there are likely to be more. A number of our congregations are showing significant internal growth, and if they continue to ‘bring forth’ at the rate experienced in the past decade, they will be compelled to consider the need for ‘giving birth’ to daughter congregations as well.
Are we heading for 40 congregations by our 100th anniversary? That is not all that far-fetched. Certainly, it is within the realm of possibility.
Be that as it may, to the above information add this reality: from the pool of remaining ‘younger’ clergy (once you subtract the 12 who are either nearly sixty or older) we are committed to drawing three new professors as well as some new missionaries. Calls continue to go out for a third missionary to the Philippines as well as for a home missionary (or two). And we are convinced the cry and need for new missionaries will not end there. There are new fields on the horizon. In light of what has developed in India due to visits and work there by men of our churches over the last decade, there has been talk of the possibility of and even need for sending missionaries to India.
Missionaries? In the plural?
To a culture and environment as demanding as that of India, surely two-by-two will be the way of wisdom.
And it seems the time is ripe. Certainly, the need is great.
Which brings us back to the need of our churches to consider the very real likelihood of a shortage of ministers a decade or so down the road to serve both the needs of our own congregations and calls from others to “come over and help us!” The call from the ascended Christ to press more and more of our resources into filling the Great Commission “while it is yet day” becomes more pressing as the great Day of the Lord draws near.
Contemplating the graduation of seven young men from our seminary this Spring and their being declared qualified academically and spiritually for calls to the gospel ministry gives reason for gratitude. Three more following in two years will certainly help avoid an immediate shortage.
But all that these ten young graduates will do is fill immediate needs, thereby avoiding a present shortage.
With three vacancies at present, with three professors needing to be replaced in the next few years, with two calls for additional missionaries going out, and then six or so of our ‘senior’ ministers looking emeritation in the face the next few years, those ten young men should not lack for a call and a place to serve.
It’s what looms following the placement of these ten that must be considered. As far as the Theological School Committee and seminary faculty are aware, there is a scarcity of young men coming down the pre-seminary ‘pipeline’ at present.
We have been heartened to hear that there are a couple of young men from our sister church in Singapore, the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church, who are seriously considering preparation for the ministry and who will be looking towards our seminary for instruction. One should be ready for our seminary in the fall of 2018 (on track to graduate in 2022), the other (due to Singapore’s two-year military service requirement) would be ready, at the earliest, to apply for admittance in 2021.
This, of course, is good news for various reasons; the needs of our sister church in Singapore being answered coming first to mind. But also the enrollment of these young men would give our ‘newly-to-be-appointed’ professors at least some bodies (and minds) to teach!
But, as things stand right now, when the three men of the class of 2019 graduate in the Spring of that year, there will be no students from our churches remaining in seminary even to teach in the Fall of 2019. Not unless a young man or two presently in college apply for admission at that time. There will be, hopefully, a couple of young men from the CERC of Singapore enrolled, one of whom is presently already enrolled and finishing his first year of seminary. But he, and the others from Singapore, are thinking of the gospel ministry in terms of returning to the CERC with the great ‘fishing shoals’ of East Asia in mind, not with the PRCA in mind.
It certainly would be gratifying if our newly-appointed professors would have, in addition to students from foreign lands, young men (or even, not so young!) from our own churches to instruct as well.
The ‘grim’ reality, at last report, is that we will have no young men from our own churches applying for admission to our seminary this coming Fall (for the school year of 2017-18), nor for the year following.
This means, not only will we not have any Protestant Reformed candidates for the ministry in the years 2018 and 2020 (we have no PR seminary students presently in the junior or freshmen classes), but neither will we be graduating any students in the years 2021 or 2022.
It will not exactly be raining PRC candidates for the ministry in the five years following 2017. That’s quite a drought when the need is great and the fields are white with harvest.
And those are exactly the years when many of our experienced pastors and preachers will be declaring emeritation, stepping out of the active ministry with few, precious few, stepping into the gospel ministry as replacements.
And if no others of high-school age are thinking seriously of preparing themselves for this high and important calling, the drought of candidates for the gospel ministry within our churches could extend for some time.
A sobering thought.
What can we do about it?
From a human point of view, seemingly, not a whole lot. Qualifications for ministers of the gospel is a matter of the Holy Spirit granting the necessary intellectual gifts, and then working a not-to-be-denied internal call in a young man’s heart to prepare himself. That is God’s work, beginning already within the womb, not ours.
But we recall the statement found in the Heidelberg Catechism dealing with why prayer is ‘even’ necessary (in the context of the sovereignty of God who knows everything anyway). If memory serves me right, the answer is that God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only who ask them of Him. And ask for them continually at that!
Well, if there is any calling in life that has to do with God’s grace (for His church) and the operations of and directing by the Holy Spirit in the heart and soul of someone, it strikes us that it would be the calling to prepare for being a preacher of the gospel in the service of the sovereign Christ and His beloved church.
So, let’s start praying, shall we! Praying from congregation to congregation, Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day, and family by family. We are not suggesting that this is not being done by many; but perhaps, because there was a dozen young men (at one point) attending seminary a couple of years back, we imagined the need (not to say crisis) was taken care of and, as a result, the regularity of these prayers with their urgency diminished somewhat.
It is exactly the earnest prayers of His church that moves Almighty God to answer our needs, and it is exactly petitions made publicly in worship and at family gatherings that Christ’s Spirit uses to impress upon certain young men the need to consider seriously the call to prepare for the gospel ministry.
Importunity in prayer with specific petitions that have to do with Christ’s kingdom carry certain power with God, if I read my Scriptures aright.
The pressing need for students is a matter that elders should remember to raise at family visitations where boys and young men are present, “Young man, have you considered the gospel ministry and preparing yourself for it?” And when it comes to young men who have discernable gifts, a persistence in reminding them of this calling and the churches’ present need here and abroad.
As well, we would enlist the help of our school teachers, those who know their students well, to place this ‘career’ calling before young men of high-school age, reminding young men that the gospel ministry is a life of service, service of the highest sort, to be pursued not simply for their own benefit and gain, but for the sake of the immortal souls of the whole range of God’s people, from the youngest child to the oldest saint.
And every member of our congregations can single out a suitable young man or two, reminding them of this ongoing, not to say crying need, of Christ’s kingdom and church.
To be sure, God will provide. He always has, in His own way and according to His own timing. But He is a God who will have us recognize that it is He and He alone who can supply our need, especially when it comes to preachers and preaching. And that spirit of depending on the Almighty comes to expression exactly through persistent supplication and prayer.
Jehovah God will have us as churches express that. Not just a few members here and there, but, as in Old Testament times, congregations of people coming before the Lord, a people who have known the joyful sound now for well-nigh 100 years, a people who assemble together to beseech the Lord to show us mercy and to continue to raise up young men qualified to preach the gospel, lest there be, if not a famine of the word, still a shortage of pastors and preachers.
When our hundredth-year anniversary rolls around, who can deny it would be reason for much gratitude and joy if our seminary were well supplied with a goodly number of godly young aspirants to the gospel ministry!
That would be a most tangible token of God’s covenant faithfulness indeed.
Truly, it would be gratifying to see on the horizon a cloud the size of a man’s hand arising over the sea in answer to these prayers.
Let us be praying for a shower of blessing arising out of the Great Sea of God’s covenant faithfulness and grace.
This is a kingdom cause.
The need is great.