Protestant Churches Fight Pastor Shortage

( [email protected] ) Apr 06, 2004 06:52 PM EDT

Although Protestant denominations have been experiencing a shortage of pastors, they resolve the problem by following the example of Jesus by bringing more laborers into the vineyard.

The reversing decline of people entering pastorship has resulted from changes in the way churches have treated the career.

"About 35 years ago, we decided it was very important for people to have experience in the world before they went to seminary," said Episcopal Bishop Edwin “Ted” Gulick in Kentucky. "We lost a whole generation of people to their wonderful experiences."

Churches are now turning their efforts to recruiting pastors and ministers from as early on as college and are adapting to a new approach in ensuring the congregation has a pastor.

"We're working hard" at recruiting, said Gulick. His efforts like that of many other protestant churches are showing positive results. A few years ago, was worried about the shortage of clergy members in his Diocese but now he reports that more people are stepping up to assume the responsibility.

Episcopal members can find Gulick at the denomination's summer camp in Leitchfield, Ky., working "unabashedly and intentionally as a recruiter", speaking to potential candidates.

More students are attending seminary, researchers say, although many focus on non-pulpit ministries.

Some churches are recruiting ministers who are interested in rural ministry, which is not usually popular among pastors given their preference. However, there are people who are gravitating toward then that area of ministry.

"I love it," said Rev. Kathy Allen, a newly ordained Methodist ministry who graduated from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary last year. "I've got a small church and we're doing some great things,” she said.

“I don't think we pastors always do a good job of showing people the joy of ministry," such as helping people and sharing in their most important life events, said Rev. Bill Gruen, who pastors two southern Louisville churches and is a member of the recruitment committee of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

At times, people can be turned-off to pastorship because of disputes that arise among leaders and the visible stress among the pastors.

"There's enough evidence that there's a lot of depressed clergy out there," said Marcia Clark Myers, associate director for church-wide personnel services in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

However, there are more remediable reasons that are overlooked explaining why new pastoral candidates don’t come forward. One key reason is the people never knew that kind of opportunity existed.

"No one ever mentioned it to me,” said Rev. Jim Chatham, a retired pastor of Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville, who explained that people don’t enter a pastoral career as their first career option because they simply didn’t know. However, Chatham is now working with Advocates for Ministry “to mention it” to college students.

"If you can get people to think about this, it will prompt more people to go into church-related careers," said Dwight Moody, who directs one such program at Georgetown College in Kentucky.

One researcher admits the shortage of ministers but said that’s not the main issue.

"The problem is not so much a shortage of ministers but a shortage of members," wrote Presbyterian researcher Jack Marcus in 2002. "Until we come to terms with that reality and begin to reach out to more unchurched persons, efforts to increase the number of ministers will focus on symptoms rather than on the underlying problem."