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Are we growing vocational ministry leaders?

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Leadership development is an extremely hot topic right now in the business world and in the church. According to one study, over 80 percent of organizations believe it’s important to develop leaders at every level of the company, but only 5 percent of businesses have prioritized leadership development.

The need for young leaders has only been exacerbated by the current hiring challenges. Skill gaps, relocations, continued fallout from the pandemic, remote work and the great resignation—all have added to the leadership development challenge.

At the district and national level, we are also discussing the need for young leaders in our U.S. Mennonite Brethren family. MB Foundation began to bring attention to this concern as early as 2015 when we launched the Leadership Generation Fund.

I had observed the lack of leadership development for several decades and others were seeing it as well. The desire was to remove some of the financial barriers to encourage young people to investigate, explore and develop skills to pursue a career as an MB pastor or MB missionary while utilizing existing training grounds (educational institutions, FaithFront, local church, Multiply, etc.) for the leadership development. Since 2016, $50,000 has been made available annually for this purpose.

While we are pleased to have provided grants to 82 people in the years since launching, we have been amazed and disappointed at our inability to grant the full $50,000 in any one year. In fact, our average amount granted per year (2017–2022) was $31,060 to 17.6 individuals. There are not nearly enough young people in the pipeline to fill the needs of our churches and agencies!

There are many theories and ideas as to why we are struggling to develop young leaders for MB ministry. While I’m sure that there is not one simple reason, I would like to throw one more reason into the discussion. Wendell Loewen, professor of youth, church and culture at Tabor College says, “Ministry is just not a valued career option in our culture.”

I’ll be more pointed and say that I don’t think ministry is valued as a career option in our families. Furthermore, I believe the prime obstacle to valuing ministry as a career option is the consumer culture that has invaded our churches and families.

I’ve met too many parents who have talked their children out of certain career paths, perhaps even callings, because of the perception that the chosen career will not pay enough. Rather than lifting up the high calling of ministry, we have a culture that values higher compensation, bigger lifestyles and attaining success.

When I was a young man being called into ministry, I had people in my church encouraging me to yield to God’s calling and follow the call into ministry, parents offering to pay for the education to do so and a conference ministry (Christian Service) that nurtured me into ministry while helping me to understand that having stuff was much less gratifying than being in the center of God’s calling.

We don’t all have the privilege of the support network I had. The point is that everywhere I turned, people were encouraging the call to ministry. No one was talking me out of it because it wouldn’t pay enough. At one point, my parents even accused me of “chasing after the money” when I chose to explore secular business to gain new experiences and skill sets.

What are we communicating to our children today regarding their chosen careers? Are we encouraging them to seek after God’s call, or are we emphasizing the need to make enough money, provide for their families and store up a nest egg for an uncertain future?

I’m praying we will have people in our churches that, once again, lift up the honorable calling of vocational ministry. That we will have parents who encourage their children to pursue God’s calling on their lives, wherever that may take them. And that we will have an explosion of young people who pursue a life of ministry, bucking the tide of consumerism, whatever the cost.

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