A question church leaders in virtually every denomination have been asking for some time now is, “Where will the next generation of pastors come from?” A high percentage of pastors are approaching retirement age, and as our own Pastor Search Committee can attest, the number of available and qualified candidates for pastoral positions is small. Studies tell us that 50 percent of pastors leave the ministry within their first five years of service, and 90 percent of clergy do not stay in until retirement. Right or wrong, there is a perception that ministry is an increasingly difficult profession, one that is hard on those who are called. Many seminary students are not looking for pastorates; they’re taking classes for personal growth and enrichment.
So, where are congregations to look for leadership? A Google search of the phrase “culture of call” quickly reveals that church leaders, conferences, and judicatories all across the spectrum of Protestant denominations are responding to the challenges of a shrinking pool of pastoral leaders by turning to the local congregation, and initiating steps to create a “culture of call” in the local church. A culture of call seeks to provide opportunities for people to explore ministry options in a safe and supportive environment. It’s an ongoing commitment of a congregation to identify and nurture future leaders of the church—not only for pastoral ministry, but for other ministry involvements and leadership roles as well.
To create a culture of call, congregations need to think long—start early, with children as young as elementary school age, teaching them that they are unique, created for a purpose, and then helping them to identify ways to live out that purpose. If churches wait for people to raise their hand and say, “I feel called to ordained ministry” before engaging them in purposeful living, they miss the ones who are still trying to discern their purpose in life. Children and young people need to know that the congregation will nurture and support their exploration of various leadership roles as they’re growing up. Being asked to consider or explore a specific call by God to serve as a lay person, or as a licensed minister, then doesn’t need to feel like such an overwhelming step. Persons being asked to consider specific calls to ministry have already learned that God has a call and purpose for everyone, no matter their age or station in life. And if these persons are already seeking to follow Christ as their first calling, specific callings to ministry may seem like natural next steps.
This is pretty much how it worked for me right here at Weavers. As a teenager, while my father was the pastor at Weavers, I remember being asked to help teach a children’s Sunday School class. I cannot for the life of me remember why I said “yes,” but I did. And I enjoyed it! The youth group (MYF) had officers—president, vice president, secretary, maybe even a treasurer (I don’t remember!). I was appointed or elected president of the MYF. Again, I don’t know why anyone selected me for that role…perhaps because no one else would do it. Or perhaps because God was slowly sneaking up on me, training me for future leadership roles.
VMC had a mentoring program at the time called the “Paul-Timothy Program.” A seasoned leader was matched with a younger person in a mentoring relationship. There were books to read, one-on-one sessions with the mentor, some seminars, etc. I was matched with Glendon Blosser, who was Bishop of Central District at the time. It was some years later, after I had held leadership roles at Rosedale Bible College, that Glendon tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to consider becoming the pastor of one of the small mission churches in WV. By then, I had had a good number of people ask me in recent years if I was going to be a pastor some day. I always laughed them off, saying, “No way! I don’t feel called to that!” I did, however, sense a call to Christian service. So, when the church (through Glendon) called me to explore pastoral ministry, I could not easily discount that as a possible calling from God.
After weeks of prayerful consideration, I agreed to give it a try. I figured if it didn’t work out, I could say that at least I tried, and move on to the dream of my childhood—to become a professional pilot. Now here I am, almost 45 years later and about to retire from a career of vocational ministry. A big reason for having stayed with it is that, early on, I was nurtured and supported by folks right here at Weavers. A culture of call was being practiced; I am a product of that (at least in part). Maybe it can happen again—for others!
Phil Kanagy, pastor
August 5, 2020