In the most recent newsletter of the North-American Division of the Adventist Church I found an important—and at the same time alarming–news item. The NAD invited church leaders from different administrative levels for a summit from 6 to 8 September, to study the threat of a major shortage of ministers in North-America. At this moment some 450 pastors are of retirement age, but are still fully employed. In the near future this number will each year grow with an additional few hundred persons. It does not demand rocket-science to conclude that this may well have some very serious consequences for the well-being of the church. Moreover, one should keep in mind that a considerable percentage of the current pastoral force has not completed the full professional training.
No doubt, lots of factors play a role. Possibly, the problem is not equally severe in all parts of the United States and Canada, and some ethnic segments of the church may have a bigger problem than others.
At the same time we must also realize that a shortage of clergy is not a specifically Adventist problem. Many other faith communities also wrestle with a future or actual shortage of priests or pastors. In some cases the main issue is a lack of finances that makes it impossible to hire the necessary people. But, more often, not enough people feel the ‘call’ to the ministry. Too few young (and not so very young) men and women feel called to start preparations for a career in the church.
Of course, this lack of ‘callings’ has many underlying reasons and raises many questions, in particular when it concerns our own church. Is it still sufficiently attractive to aspire to a job as pastor in the Adventist Church? And, I am not primarily thinking of the financial aspects, but, more specifically, of the job description. Can the pastor simply no longer live up to the many expectations? Has his task been fragmented in so many ways, that the work can only provide limited satisfaction? And does perhaps all the hassle about the absence of full equality of male and female ministers have a negative impact on the recruitment of new church workers? I suspect there are quite a few young people who hesitate to pursue a career in an organization that, as far as this is concerned, still lives in a rather distant past.
However, I believe that the shortage of people who aspire to become ministers may, above all, have to do with something else. Does the Adventist Church of 2014 provide enough space to be who you are? Is there the space to develop and to freely form your own opinions about all sorts of things. There are, I think, but few potential ministerial candidates who in everything simply want to go their own, without any reference to the core beliefs and fundamental traditions of Adventism. Yet, many discern of late how the denomination tries to push many viewpoints on the membership, and, in particular, on those who are employed by the church. This makes many people gasp for air. And this may well be a major cause why many hesitate and wonder whether it would perhaps be advisable to opt for another career.
I have spent a major part of my working life in the church in a country where church leaders have allowed for a large degree of space. Most church workers have used this space in a responsible way. As a result most pastors have continued to enjoy their work, have felt supported by the church structure and were able to develop and discuss their opinions without fears for repercussions. Such an approach might also go a long way in North America in dealing with the impending shortage of pastors.