Our Acute Shortage
Last time I mentioned the fact that we are not accustomed in our churches at present to speak in mild terms of a mere “need” of ministers, but rather to speak of “an acute shortage” of ministers. I also made the point that from the point of view of our clergy, our potential ministers and seminary students, our churches as a whole, and our covenant parents this poses a very serious and sacred responsibility,—the more so because we as churches profess to have and to proclaim the pure gospel.
That shortage of ministers, therefore, should be reason for pause. And again, not only for our young men who stand at the threshold of their life’s work, but especiallyfor them, this shortage should be reason to stop and think.
With this in mind these lines are written.
First of all, let me analyze the shortage and thereby underscore it. It is hardly possible that any of us could be unaware of it; but it is possible that we are not as aware of it as we ought to be. Probably those of our churches who have experienced the trials of an extended vacancy are most keenly aware of it. Our ministers, who, having hardly become settled after their first two years’ stay in a congregation, must pass through the crisis of one call after another, certainly are aware of it. Those of us who are directly connected with the work of our Theological School surely cannot avoid a keen awareness of it. And, in general, all our churches, experiencing the more or less unsettled conditions attendant upon the constant moving around of our ministers, as well as their repeated absence for sometimes lengthy classical appointments, feel the pinch of this shortage.
But probably we all were inclined to heave a too ready sigh of relief when we learned that this year the number of students at our seminary took a sudden jump from one to four. The shortage was no longer so critical, we thought.
Nor, I am sure, is there anyone more pleased and thankful at the sudden increase in our student body than the undersigned.
But let us not relax as though the shortage is past: For this is not the case. The contrary is true. Consider the following items:
1. We have at present “five vacant pastorates,—four vacant and calling congregations and one vacant missionary charge. This already will take up more than our present student body, one of whom is expecting to graduate at the end of this term, D.V., and three of whom will be at least two years away from graduation at the close of the present school term. Hence, even after another two and a half years one of these five vacancies will remain unfilled.
2. The Lord in the past year has given us clear warning of the fact that two of our beloved veterans in the ministry will not always be with us, both of them being past the Biblical three score and ten years. They will leave a large place vacant presently in the churches, a place that will needs have to be filled, both in our seminary and in the churches.
3. The Lord has given us a potential field of labor in Jamaica to which we are unable to give the desired measure of attention because of the man-power shortage. It is safe to say that if a man were available, he would surely be sent to Jamaica and would find more than enough labors for one man.
4. It has been the policy of our churches in the past, according to synodical decision, to have two missionaries in the work of church extension, laboring together. This is a Biblical ideal. But this adds one more to the shortage.
All of the above does net take into account various other factors. There is, of course, the factor of normal attrition in the number of our ministers, due to age or ill health. Nor does it take into account the possibility that even any of our younger ministers could by the Lord be removed suddenly from the labors of the church militant. Nor does it take into account the possible addition of new congregations. Nor does it take into account the fact that our last Synod decided to investigate the possible expansion of .our seminary’s work into the area of pre-seminary studies.
It is obvious, therefore, that it requires no rich imagination to speak of a rather acute shortage of ministers and potential ministers in our churches.
And why do I point to this?
Am I filled with anxiety and sinful worry about the morrow? In no wise! Also in this we must surely be mindful of the Lord’s injunction, “Be not anxious for the morrow . . . .” And not only so, but as churches we may well remember thankfully that the Lord has always provided for us in the past, and that as surely as we believe that we represent the cause of His church in the midst of the world, so surely we may also go forward in the confidence that He will continue to provide for us in the future. About this we need have absolutely no doubts!
Moreover, we must always remember that it is the Lord, the exalted Christ, Who gives pastors and teachers unto His church. To Him, therefore, we must and do commit the needs of our vacant congregations, of our mission posts, and of our seminary. And indeed, such prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, is the only way to Christian carefreeness also with respect to this need, this urgent need, of our churches. This we must never forget! If the Lord Himself does not call, no one will be called to the ministry.
But does our responsibility end there?
By no means! For, on the one hand, the Lord Christ uses means, which in this instance implies that He usually calls forth His ministers out of the organism of the church. And, on the other hand, a genuinely prayerful attitude in this matter does not exclude, but rather implies that the church will not be coldly passive in regard to this need, but rather will see its sacred duty, under the Lord’s blessing, to produce its own ministers through the education, training, and guidance of the covenant seed. If our churches are to have ministers, they must be produced out of the organism of our churches. That is the way the Lord works usually. And in that sense it is the responsibility of our churches to produce trainees for, the ministry.
This is also the spirit of Article 19 of our Church Order, which requires that “The churches shall exert themselves, as far as necessary, that there may be students supported by them to be trained for the ministry of the Word.”
Again I say,—more emphatically in the light of our shortage,—let our churches, our pastors and elders, our covenant parents, yes, and our school teachers too, face up to this calling in their guidance and counseling, in their preaching and catechetical training, in their educational processes, in their parental advice and admonitions,—especially when our covenant youth arrive at that crucial stage of “choosing life’s task.”
But especially: let our covenant young men, who “are strong” and whom “the word of God abideth,” give earnest consideration to this matter,—praying unceasingly.