An article in the June 8, 1965, Wall Street Journal, "Empty Pulpits," states: "A severe shortage of clergymen has left almost 69,000 Protestant and Jewish congregations in the United States without a full-time minister or rabbi. . . . Even more alarming to religious leaders are indications the scarcity will soon get worse." This warning is sufficient reason to explore the possibility of such a shortage in the Adventist Church and to evaluate the effect upon our own of a shortage in other churches.
The Southern Baptist Convention reports that in 54 of its colleges preministerial student enrollment has fallen sharply from 6,061 in 1957, to 3,514 in 1964. Probably by no coincidence, 200 additional Southern Baptist pulpits were vacated between 1961 and the present, these vacancies now leaving 3,000 of their churches without a full-time minister.
Hoisted by Methodists at their last General Conference was this help-wanted sign: "Needed: Young men with courage and devotion to take on the challenge of the Christian ministry." Their board of education says they urgently need 2,400 new ministers each year but are currently getting only a little more than 1,000. The report calls for a "church-wide program of enlisting men and women for the Christian ministry."
Other churches express a similar need. The Lutheran Church in America says: "The supply of pastors is less than 50 per cent of the need for new parish pastors." One of the old universities of Switzerland, which used to be a renowned center of theological studies, had only one student registered in theology last year. The United Presbyterian Church states that the number of candidates for their ministry must be doubled by 1970. The American Association of Theological Seminaries says: "The Protestant ministry is not keeping up with the growth in population, the growth in the number of church buildings. . . . The denominations . . . must develop an effective strategy of recruitment that will keep the seminary enrollments abreast of this responsibility to the people of the United States and Canada."
"We just plain don't have enough clergymen. The honest and shameful truth is that the Episcopal Church doesn't reproduce its own ministry. If it weren't for men who come into our church from other communions, nearly half of our parishes would be without priests," says Roderick S. French in his book Don't Miss Your Calling.
In 1851 there was one clergyman to 1,043 persons; in 1921 the proportion had fallen to one for 1,567, and in 1951, to one for 2,111. If we take clergy under sixty-five, the proportionate fall is even more alarming one to 2,006 in 1921, and one to 3,263 in 1957 (from Table 15 in Facts and Figures About the Church of England).
This dearth of ministers, even in some of the more affluent denominations, indicates that there are an increasing; number of hungry sheep in need of shepherds. What a challenge to a mission-minded church! Is the Seventh-day Adventist Church prepared to meet this challenge? It would be heartening if at such a time as this our seminary were graduating more young ministers than we need annually.
To meet the need for a rapidly expanding force of workers is an earnest concern of every Adventist leader. Overseas as well as in North America, the need for well-balanced, well-trained, dedicated young men is acute.
For the Seventh-day Adventist Church, H. W. Klaser, then statistical secretary of the General Conference, in May of 1961 presented a detailed report of the unions in North America, showing 2,806 ministers in 1960 and a projected need for 3,541 in 1970, or an increase of 735 for the ten-year period. As of the third quarter of 1965, the statistical department reports 3,365 ordained and licensed ministers, including those in departmental and institutional posts. This indicates that 559 of the projected 735 have already been employed in the first five years of the above period. Apparently the growth rate is faster than anticipated.
The Klaser report anticipated a yearly need for Adventist ministers of 211 in 1970. Rather than being visionary, as some have felt, that estimate apparently errs on the side of conservatism, since more than two thirds of the projected increase has already been effected in the first half of the ten-year period.
The shortage now, according to the head of one of our college theology departments, is for experienced pastors. This means we did not train and employ enough interns ten or fifteen years ago to meet today's need. That the mistakes of ten or fifteen years ago have not been corrected is indicated by another college Bible teacher who says the conference presidents in his area do not see any shortage of candidates, and furthermore, that the school is worried about finding sponsorship for all of a large upcoming class. It would seem that if there is a large group graduating in any one year, we should thank the Lord for it and be certain that every gifted young man is given an opportunity to get the experience that will qualify him to fill the need for experienced men in a few years.
If 211 new ministers will be needed each year by 1970 to cover growth and replace those who are taken by death, retirement, or change of work, this means we need to more than double the number of interns now being hired each year. There are now 226 internships available in North America, but these are three-year internships. The first two years cover the Bachelor of Divinity training, and the third year is at work in the conference that calls them. Actually, then, the internship plan brings about eighty new workers into the organization each year. Some others have come into the work from teaching, literature evangelism, singing, et cetera, who may or may not have an adequate theological training. The need to increase our working force is apparent now, and according to the above figures, will be critical in a few years.
In 1967, Pacific Union College expects to graduate a class of thirty-five; La Sierra twenty; and Union College 32. These men would finish their Bachelor of Divinity in 1969 if we can find ways to sponsor them and hire them when they have finished.
In the spring of 1965, of the thirty graduates in theology at Pacific Union College, twenty were granted internships, or conference sponsorships. What effect this will have on the thirty-five who look forward to graduation in 1967 is an important ques-; tion that bears on the supply of ministerial candidates for the future. As a denomination we must face the fact that the only source of experienced ministers is inexperienced men plus time. Nor should we forget that many young men will later serve as Bible teachers, administrators, chaplains, et cetera, and that ministerial training is vital to leadership in these posts. Hence, the need to do what some conferences are already wisely doing—taking on more young men than the internship plan at present provides for.
Additional scholarships would undoubtedly help encourage more young men to consider the ministry, although this is not the greatest issue. Oberlin Theological Seminary not only stepped up recruiting but in 1962 began offering four $1,500 one-year scholarships to students from any college, and eleven one-year $1,000 grants to students from colleges in the Great Lakes area. In spite of these inducements the number aspiring to the ministry dropped from seventy-five then to sixty-two now. Six or seven years of college and seminary does place an impossible financial hurdle before some families.
More important issues are suggested in the Wall Street Journal: "Nobody pays much attention to ministers anymore"; and "Clergymen have less influence in today's society than they did in simpler, more rural America of the past."
It is true that the minister's work is demanding. The pastor is the work horse of the denomination. Some of his tasks are not pleasant. Certainly he is worthy of his hire —of the feeling that he is influencing men for Christ and thereby bettering society. I'm convinced that Adventist ministers receive more of this remuneration than the average minister. But this problem is underscored by the report from Union Theological Seminary in New York, that only 65 per cent of its graduates become pastors now, against 75 per cent in the early 1950's. At least 120 seminary graduates of other faiths have gone into the Peace Corp and many more into the Anti-Poverty program. This would indicate a continuing interest in humanitarian work but a disillusionment with either the aims or the methods or with the rewards of the ministry. Perhaps they are disillusioned with good reason. If so, this is a grand opportunity for us as a church to be prepared to step into the vacancy and point souls to our message.
Some there are who have said, "Unless one is preparing to be a minister or a teacher, or doctor, or a nurse, our schools do not have much to offer—as though there had been a disproportionate emphasis upon these callings. On the contrary, these three fields are perhaps the most urgent needs of our denomination at this time. This is specifically the purpose of our schools.
In a society that supports more bartenders than clergymen, we have certainly not oversold youth on the importance of preaching. Engineering now outranks medicine in popular appeal to young men. Business, law, the building trades and selling, claim their fair share of Adventist youth. Many fall into some available work which holds no challenge for them simply because they have never been guided or encouraged to choose and prepare for a more challenging profession.
In a survey of 1,978 ministerial students in 57 theological schools of 20 denominations, 630, or nearly half of the 1,471 who replied, credited a minister as the first or most important influence to enter the ministry. The mother was given as the prime influence by 17 per cent, the father by 11.2 per cent (but 15 per cent of those answering were sons of ministers, so the average father was still less influential).
The secret of more ministers lies largely with pastors and parents as the most effective recruiters.
There is much every Adventist minister can do to increase the number of future ministers. By our lives we can inspire youth to follow us. Every young person is to some degree a hero worshiper. By our friendship, our sermons, and personal help to them, we can merit their imitating us. Many a boy decides while in the primary or junior department that he would like to be a minister. We encourage juniors to sit as close to the front as possible, where they can become more personally involved in what happens in the pulpit. On hikes, camping trips, and in home visitation, one can ask boys about their plans for lifework.