The key to more pastors: mentoring and affirming

July 27, 2017 by Lee Hinson-Hasty

wrote previously about Big Tent, and how the experience of leading a workshop there connected me with more faithfully called who are thinking deeply about the future of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

We drew the picture of the future leaders of the church as more diverse, a great advancement for us all, but there simply are not enough seminary graduates to replace all of the retiring pastors expected in the next decade. As a reminder, some 75 percent of teaching elders (pastors) in the PC(USA) are eligible to retire in the next decade, and there are not enough seminarians ready to graduate to take their places.

How do we solve this?

I have two thoughts on this, and these are things anyone can do.

Mentor youth and youth adults, and affirm those called to ministry.

First, mentoring. Studies indicate that the best place to find new candidates for ministry are in congregations —  especially healthy churches, churches where the youth and children have a good experience. I know it sounds incredibly obvious, but indeed, it is true that the next generation of ministers are in churches today. An investment of time in mentoring youth or young adults who have gifts of ministry is an investment that will pay dividends for decades to come. In other words, the next generation of ministers are in our youth groups and Christian Education programs now! They need to know about our incredible Presbyterian (U.S.A.) seminaries and the programs offered by each.

Support college ministry. Provide resources, friendship and hospitality to college students in your area. Ensure that they know they are loved and cared for by the church. Extend this to college students who are from your congregation. Be sure that they know that you are thinking of them and their bright futures.

The Young Adult Volunteer program plants that seed for many, but we need to introduce them to that possibility first – and be sure that we’re here to mentor and guide recent participants when they return. Many do choose to go to seminary, and the support from their home congregations is one of the key reasons.

Costs can be a deterrent to attending seminary, but know that 80 percent of the cost of seminary is shouldered by Presbyterian seminaries on average. The seminaries are doing their job managing the funds that are provided, but they could do more with more. If the denomination could provide more funding or donations through the Theological Education Fund, we could continue to cut the cost of seminary.

Cost shouldn’t ever be the reason to not answer God’s call.

Second, let’s discuss what affirming means. It does imply that some commitment is made on our part to affirm those who want to go to seminary with financial support. The Theological Education Fund is here to do that. But spiritual and emotional resources are critical, too. We should encourage those who feel called, including mentoring, and should pray for and with them. To go to seminary, to decide against pursuing personal wealth or prestige, is a bold move these days – and potential seminarians need all of the support we can give them. Putting our prayers into action will be the way we answer God’s call for theologically wise and faithful leadership needs for our future and of future generations.

Remember, too, that these servants will likely serve congregations for decades. I cannot think of an investment that multiplies like this does.

This mission is possible.

The Church has the resources and the intellect to address this coming challenge in our church. We need to put our money, minds and mentoring where our mission is. 

What do you see here? What questions do you have? I remain open to being in conversation with you about how theological education can transform the church. You may reach me at my office at the Presbyterian Foundation at 844-896-2959 during the week or by e-mail at lee.hinson-hasty@presbyterianfoundation.org.