As we continue to explore the crucial need for developing more ministry leaders, I am calling for a vision summit to be held in early January 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. The plan is to gather leaders by invitation only to discuss options for how we can do a better job of developing leaders and then to come up with an action plan moving forward.
I hope to have at least 40 leaders present—MB leaders who currently have a part in leadership development and some pastors who have a passion for seeing more men and women placed in the leadership pipeline.
Although the leadership development deficit we experience as Mennonite Brethren is also experienced by nearly every denomination in the United States, we can do better. In fact, if we are to have a future we must do better. The days of a plethora of men and women choosing ministry as a vocation are gone. We must actively encourage young people to consider using their God-given gifts for pastoring, church planting, missionary work, evangelism, youth ministry, worship leading and teaching.
I’ve received some communication from people indicating that our problems would be solved if we would simply allow women to be lead pastors. Regardless of one’s view on women in pastoral ministry, if this were true then denominations who do have women in lead pastoral roles wouldn’t also have a leadership void. But they do. So, it’s not about our collective policy of not allowing women in the lead pastor role. The problem is much more complex than that.
Young leaders are choosing the secular marketplace rather than church ministry for a lot of reasons. One, it’s more rewarding financially. Let’s face it—most churches don’t pay anywhere near the salaries and benefits found in the marketplace. In addition, various sources reveal that many parents prefer their children choose jobs that pay better than typical ministry positions. Thus, they discourage ministry as a vocation for their children. Two, young leaders see and hear how hard ministry life is. Many have personally observed intense church conflict. They’ve witnessed pastors being around for three or four years and then—gone.
The March 2017 Barna Group study “The Aging of America’s Pastors” reveals some alarming statistics. David Kinnaman, Barna Group president, says: “There are now more full-time pastors over the age of 65 than under the age of 40. It is urgent that denominations, networks and independent churches determine how to best motivate, mobilize, resource and deploy more younger pastors.” This is a startling revelation.
But let’s shift gears. Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, the workers are few” (Luke 10:2). This isn’t just a 2023 problem. It’s an age-old problem.
But Jesus also adds, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Developing and sending out more leaders isn’t just our problem—God wants to be involved! He wants us to ask him for workers. These are his workers, called by him. He’s the One who has gifted people for works of service. The work being called to is his kingdom work, not our work.
Therefore, although a vision summit—getting leaders together to think and dream—is a good thing, prayer is THE thing. Prayer will be a key element at the vision summit. We need to get on our knees and ask God about his harvest workers. How do we help get them involved? How do we develop them? How do we deploy them? I think God has the answer if we’ll listen.
Don Morris is the USMB national director. He and his wife, Janna, live in Edmond, Oklahoma, where they attend Cross Timbers Church.