Among the problems which face our churches at the present, one of the greatest undoubtedly is the shortage of minister of the Word. And, the problem seems to be growing worse instead of becoming less serious. The need seems more acute, for the supply is declining in proportion to the increase of the demand. Many words are expended in prayers and sermons in the hope of alleviating the lack. Yet very little action is ever taken. We can, and I am sure we do, trust the Lord completely to supply shepherds for His sheep. But this cannot give us the obligation or the right to simply sit and wait for this to happen.
I would like to offer some criticism of our attitude and actions and, I hope, give some suggestions to give us an improved, positive approach. There are two basic reasons, I feel, why we have this problem.
First, there is a widespread and almost complete apathy on the part of almost all of our people, even those who should be directly concerned. This is not revealed by words, for we constantly hear talk urging our young men to seek this calling. But we have reached the point where talk is cheap. No one seems at all interested in helping and advising and encouraging individuals. No one contacts young men who seem qualified; no one investigates possible or probable candidates. While it is true that he who is called must receive the call from the Lord, this is no mystic voice from heaven or the letters “P.C” emblazed on the skies. It is a call that is revealed very practically and through means, talents, and circumstances which the Lord uses. To answer this call involves a decision on the part of the individual, a decision which is by no means an easy one to make. Yet, the person who faces the call has to go it entirely alone, seldom receiving the help he so often craves. And even after he has made his decision, he is almost completely a forgotten man until he shows his face in a seminary classroom or on a pulpit.
Secondly, the lack of interest and moral support is also revealed in a lack of financial support. The one who feels called to the ministry is certainly not looking at financial gain or abundance of earthly reward. The student, however, often has a real problem and struggle to make ends meet. Many churches, e.g., the Christian Reformed, are quite ready to give students considerable financial help. Yet we do not seem to consider this aspect as part of our calling as churches. Article 19 of the Church Order states, “The churches shall exert themselves as far as necessary, that there may be students supported by them to be trained for the Ministry of the Word.” We apparently feel that very little exertion is necessary.
I know, we have the student aid fund. But that is turning out to be a misnomer. In the first place, the student is not asked if he has a need nor is he offered assistance, but he has to take the initiative himself, which he is often loath to do. Secondly, while we do not intend to support those who do not become ordained in our churches, we simply refuse aid to students who would like to go to a graduate school. Thirdly, the students who probably have the greatest need of finances, the married students, cannot receive help.
It seems to me that it is time this situation be remedied. I would suggest a program along the following lines,. First, consistories and members of congregations should constantly be on the lookout for potential ministers. They should find out what vocations the young men are seeking and their reasons. They should personally urge and advise qualified youths to prayerfully and carefully consider the highest calling. And they should not wait with this until the person is almost through high school or in college. Nor should they fail to continue their interest, advice, and encouragement to those who prepare for this task.
Secondly, these potential students should be brought immediately to the attention of the theological school committee. The committee should make it their business to be personally and vitally concerned with each prospective student. They should offer the guidance they are qualified to give. Perhaps one of the ministers should be named as a personal advisor to the young man, to be available for consultation regarding his problems and doubts and certainly to help him plan his high school and/or college schedule of subjects relative to the requirements of the seminary.
Thirdly, financial support should be offered willingly. The students should be consulted in regard to their financial situation and the churches should be eager to fulfill their obligation to aid the cause of the Kingdom in this way. Secondly, while the advisability of a student going on to graduate school may perhaps be questioned, to refuse him aid on this ground seems to reflect more selfishness than concern for the preaching of the Word in our churches. Thirdly, if the churches feel that supporting a man’s family is too much exertion, let them give him at least as much aid as they would give to an unmarried man. We seem concerned that a minister get a good wife; yet, at the same time, we tell him that if he should dare to marry, he can count on no help from us. We have at the present a prospective student who is married; we also have older married men who are interested in going to the seminary. We will undoubtedly have young men who will want to marry and who should not be placed under undue stress to wait until graduation. (Note – the young people did not make this mistake in adopting the constitution of their scholarship fund.)
If we follow a program similar to this, I feel that we will be rewarded not only with more young men, but also with the joy of giving and helping, with an increased awareness of the importance of this office, with a greater appreciation for it, and with a more blessed fellowship within the communion of saints.
Instead of simply looking to heaven for ministers, let’s also look around us for men. Instead of praying prayers which almost seem unheard and then relaxing in our apathetic chairs, let’s reflect a living faith by our action.