Finding pastors

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Where are we going to find our pastors? I first heard this question asked with passion 30 years ago. Although I took some of my coursework through the Fuller Theological Seminary extension in the San Francisco Bay area, most of my graduate level theological education was based at our own MB Biblical Seminary in Fresno, Calif. 

It is in this context that I clearly remember J. B. Toews leaning across the lectern, extending his hand and index finger to provide focus, and already then, as if foreseeing the reality that was closing in on us, expressing the rhetorical question in a German tainted emotional lament: “And ya, where are we going to get our pastors from?”

Why do I remember it so clearly? One reason is that J.B. verbalized the question multiple times. I remember thinking at the time: He really is deeply concerned about this.

Today, when the model and function of pastoral ministry is under significant review, it seems good and right to think about some basic questions. Does Jesus still want pastors in his churches? If he does, what should their priorities be? What should these pastors be doing and how should they be doing it?

A quick review of biblical material suggests that God has ordained a church plan that includes pastors. Ephesians 4 clarifies that the Spirit of Christ apportioned grace to his followers, some of whom he gifted as “pastors and teachers.” The text goes on to clarify that the assignment for these individuals is to equip the church for service and to build up the body of Christ toward maturity.

I Peter 5 adds that pastors and elders are to serve the church humbly. This is clearly reminiscent of the words of Jesus himself who counsels his pastors-in-training to be sure to lead in a model that is different from what the secular world would normally employ.Matthew 20 records Jesus’ teaching that the “lording it over” model needs to be rejected in favor of the “sacrificing servant” model. So it’s clear that God’s plan for his people includes pastors, specifically a certain kind of pastor that function in a certain way with specific priorities.

So having established this, what’s up with the shortage of pastors? It’s a long list of answers by all accounts. It’s a marginal wage adventure. It’s the limited respect given the position. It’s a no-win assignment; opposition is a sure thing. It’s tough on the pastors’ children, and the spouse-of-the-minister role is a glass house impossibility. It’s a leadership assignment without the authority to lead. It’s just too lonely, and on the list goes.

However, the truth is that when God places specific passion and selected spiritual gifts in someone and then quickens an understanding of vocational kingdom opportunity or call, the only question left is the matter of willingness. Once the hand of God is on someone in this way there is much the rest of the church can do to help. Our denomination’s Ministry Quest program is a great next-step option. Check it out at www.mbseminary.edu/ministryquest. And there are pastors and their families who are experiencing joy and fulfillment and kingdom value results, albeit not necessarily every day.

A month ago in my monthly E-NOTE to U.S. Mennonite Brethren pastors I asked them to let me know if they have a specific person or two in mind as their potential successors in pastoral service. Pastor Dave Buller, Topeka, Kan., wrote, “My wife and I are mentoring a couple…I believe (has) the hand of God on their lives. I told him, ‘I think God is calling you to ministry,’ to which he responded, ‘We’ve been wondering, but nobody has ever shoulder tapped us before.’”

Pastor Lowell Stutzman, Grants Pass, Ore., wrote, “I have tapped two young…men whom I believe God is preparing for future service in his kingdom.” Pastor John Effinger, Sioux Falls, SD, wrote, “Eight of us attended an event called Men at the Cross. Its main focus is to get men to disciple other men working one on one…. I haven’t yet found my Timothy, but (your) challenge may help me to narrow it down.”

Although there may be a few other sources, I absolutely believe that our next generation of pastors will come from our own congregations. Do you sense God’s hand on someone you know? How about tapping their shoulder, for the sake of Jesus’ church and yours.

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