Greetings from the disciples of Christ at the Red Roof Church of Bulverde, Texas. I’m Lee Harder, the senior pastor, and would very much like to invite you to join us for worship this Sunday. We gather in God’s house at 8:30AM and 10:45AM to hear His Word proclaimed from Scripture and we would like to have you share it with us.
I had the occasion to visit with a former classmate of mine from the seminary days of 40 years ago. He has retired and enjoys the good life out west. As we shared war stories from the seminary and our respective years in the ministry as pastors, we began to realize that I might be the last from our graduating class at Northwestern Theological Seminary still active as a pastor.
When we had our first class reunion 5 years after our graduation, out of a class of 33, 11 had already left the ministry. As of a dozen years ago, there were only a handful still serving congregations. The shortage of pastors serving churches is becoming alarming. Too few pastors for too many churches, especially smaller ones.
I was one of the founders, former president and instructor at the Beyond the River Academy, where pastors train pastors through an online instruction in basics that will equip someone who feels called by God to serve in a congregation as pastor. Those entering the program do so usually after having ended a career and feel a need to serve as a pastor because the Spirit is moving them in that direction. Because they are often financially sound, they are willing to go to smaller congregations that cannot afford the full time, master of divinity pastor. What we provide are the tools that will help to preach a sermon, teach a Bible study, visit with someone sick or dying, and marry, bury or baptize. Still, there are not enough to meet the growing need.
As the baby boomer pastors retire, it’s going to get worse. Added to that is a growing trend among younger clergy. Many younger clergy are “giving it up for Lent,” so to speak after just five years. Some who are leaving the ministry are finding the debt crushing. Church attendance, and therefore giving, is at 1920’s levels. Full-time calls at wages that will put food on the table and pay for seminary debt are disappearing. Health insurance costs keep rising. The business sector promises stability that the church can’t offer anymore. And some are leaving because they’re getting eaten up, and life is just too short to put up with that for too long. We follow a Jesus who said that we’re to give our life away, but not in the way that disregards life itself.
Couple this with the fact that seminary enrollment is at unsustainable lows and it’s not surprising that there are fewer pastors to serve churches. Oh, and don’t forget the non-denominational churches springing up all over that provide exciting, high energy worship programs that light up the auditorium with glitz and glamour to the beat of the latest rock and gospel sound. Plug in the motivational speaker who makes those attending feel good all over in a politically correct way, it’s tough to be content with a traditional pastoral role.
I’m happy where I’m at and doing what I do. Retire, I don’t think so, at least not yet. I may be the last in my class, but that suits me just fine. God has called me to be a pastor, to preach and teach His Word to His people. That’s enough to keep me content to serve Him. Sure, there are days when it gets terribly frustrating. God’s people of every time can be difficult. They always have been and likely always will be. Quit? Not happening! I’m going to do precisely what our Lord has called me to do for as long as I have breath and the people in this congregation (or some other in the future should they tire of me here) are willing to put up with me. I’m having too much fun most of the time and love rising to a challenge the rest of it.
I wish others would see both the need to serve (key word) and the joy of serving (that’s an important one too). The church needs men and women who love Christ and are willing to shoulder His cross in the face of all adversity. Besides, I get paid for being a Christian. How can one beat that? Am I blessed or what?
And those are my thoughts. Have a great week. God bless. Pastor Lee
Pastor Lee R. Harder