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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: The shortage of candidates for the ministry

LOOKING BACK

                                                                                                                                              Friday August 2, 2013

 

Today we look back to August 1963 when negative attitudes were blamed for a shortage of candidates for the ministry.

 

THIS shortage of ministers – what are you doing about it?”

 

“THIS shortage of ministers – what are you doing about it?”

A fair enough question.

For the speaker, dealing with a problem of readjustment of charges in a presbytery, the problem of ministerial manpower was one that lay at the Presbytery’s door; or if not there, then perhaps in some departmental office behind the revolving doors of “121”. It might affect him, sooner or later, if no solution ot the problem could be found; but finding it was not his business. As he probably would have said himself: “That’s their headache, not ours”.

I don’t suppose he could have told who “they” were. But we can be quite exact and precise about it. ‘They” are the General Assembly’s Committee on Education for the Ministry; and it is their problem, because they asked for it.

Some years ago this Committee asked that the scope of its work should be extended to cover recruitment for the ministry as well as the training of the recruits once they had been found. A special sub-committee on recruitment was appointed.

“It’s their problem,” the elder said; and he was right. “It’s not our problem,” he said; and he was wrong.

A committee can carry the matter so far. After that, it is “over to you” – you elders, you members, you parents.

 

Disapproval

 

An American Air Force chaplain reports a conversation overheard between a couple of “brass-hats”.

“Did you hear about Colonel Brown’s son who just finished Harvard?”

“No – what about him?”

“He says he is going into the ministry.”

“Oh – what a waste of an education!”

There are young men who have had to face strong parental disapproval when they said they wished to train for the ministry – and yet the parents were devout churchgoers. One divinity student, who made the decision to enter the ministry fairly late in his University Arts course, told me that, when the news of it got around, his parents received messages of sympathy from several of their friends – and the friends, too, were church members.

Discouragement doesn’t need to be big and brash in order to be crushing; and it doesn’t need to be deliberate in order to succeed. Discouragement may seldom be deliberate. It is in the casual comment (the “idle word” of which we are warned in the Gospel) that the danger of discouraging really lies.

No sensible person is going to take parents to task if they want to make sure that their son is being realistic in so grave a decision – if he has really “counted the cost” and decided that he can measure up to what will be required of him. After all, they are doing no more than will later on be done by one of the Panels of the Assembly’s Central Selection Board. But if by their words, or their behaviour, they come anywhere near to saying what that American “brass-hat” said – what impression is their son going to get of the sincerity of their own faith?

There are, humanly speaking, two specially strong persuasions to encourage a young man to enter the ministry. The first is the life of a good minister; the second is the attitude of a good layman towards his minister.

The former puts a strong question and challenge to all who are already in the ministry. But there is also a challenge to the layman, and a question for him. What impression are other people, and especially the younger people, forming of the value he sets on a minister?

We all talk – ministers and layfolk alike – about those people in our parishes who cannot find much use for a minister except when they need him for a baptism or a wedding or a funeral. We can easily see how little they value him! But, while we look at them, they are looking at us. Do they see anything to make them stop and wonder if perhaps they’ve been mistaken – if perhaps the minister does after all count for something more than they have imagines?

To return to that question. “What are you doing about it – about this present shortage in the manpower of the Church?”

 

L.