This is my paper. I only gave 10 of my 12 points.
Where are all the preachers?
Our subject is not an easy one to tackle but having given some thought to the matter, it seems to me that there are a large number of factors that may well explain, at least in part, why there is an apparent lack of preachers in the churches typical of our circle. We were asked to consider the questions both of the shortage of preachers and of good preaching. This list chiefly looks at the matter of the fewness of preachers but I think has something to say to the other question too.
I would like to begin with three caveats.
1. We do not know for a fact that there is a shortage of preachers or of good preaching. We may be mistaken in either or both perceptions.
2. It may be that it is the Lord's will that there is such a shortage. It may well be the case that we are better off with too few rather than with too many, as the story of Gideon teaches us. Whereas in the past some became preachers who weren't called that is less likely now.
3. Many years ago I read a book by the late Leonard Ravenhill called Why revival tarries. Sadly, the only thing I remember about it was a chapter lamenting what was then the widespread practice of lobotomy. My fear is that someone will remember just one thing I say and come away with the false impression that I believe that we would have more preachers if we could only get rid of Christianity Explored or if only there were less assistant pastors. It would be unfair to caricature what I want to say in that way.
So 12 factors that may explain, at least in part, why there is an apparent lack of preachers.
1. The lack of conversions
It would be difficult to demonstrate that a lack of conversions leads to a lack of preachers but common sense would suggest that a shortage of conversions is likely to lead to a dearth of preachers.
2. The lack of revival
Again, proving such a thesis is almost impossible but it would seem that ministers are often called to the ministry in times of revival or at least when a measure of awakening is known, something very rare amongst us.
3. A lack of agreement on what constitutes a call
I have just spoken about being called to the ministry. Most men here will be aware that not everyone today would accept that there is even such a thing as a call to the ministry. If we accept, at least for a moment, that there is such a thing, it cannot be denied that any confusion over the matter is going to make it difficult for those who are called to know they are called.
4. The existence of so many assistantships and similar roles
When I began my ministry back in the eighties I would love to have begun with an assistant pastorate. Sadly, there were hardly any to be had. That has now changed to some extent and it is more common for men to begin that way. While that is probably a good thing in itself, it means that more men are tied up in assistant pastorates and so less are out leading churches and preaching. There has probably been a growth too in joint pastorates and perhaps parachurch roles too.
[5. The easy availability of vast numbers of sermons in recorded form
While this is probably a good thing in itself, it may well be that it has put some off attending churches, discouraged preachers who cannot preach as well as the internet giants and generally skewed a right understanding of what good preaching is.]
6. Trust in group work
Both in evangelical circles and in our own narrower Reformed ones there has been something of an epidemic of aids for small group evangelistic Bible studies. Whatever view we may take of this phenomenon it is not difficult to see the inevitable danger of it detracting from pulpit work and from preaching of a more conventional sort.
7. The rejection of the one man ministry
I am using a popular but emotive phrase for the sake of brevity. However we understand the changes that have taken place in the last few decades that can be placed under this heading and whatever we may make of such changes, the knock on effect is surely to discourage men from entering the Christian ministry as traditionally understood.
8. The growth of eldership
Again, this is not something that we want to decry necessarily. It can be argued, however, that some who might have gone into the ministry have settled for an eldership position supposing they can be just as effective while not entering full time ministry.
9. The growth of evangelical theology
There was a time when the study of theology was largely written off by evangelicals due to the incursions of liberalism. There has been a welcome resurgence of evangelical theology in more recent years which, while a good thing, has meant that some young men have such a high regard for good theologians that the ministry can appear a rather unattractive role in some ways.
[10. The ubiquity of the entertainment culture
We are a society where entertainment has a top heavy visibility and influence. Whereas the ministry once had a certain attraction as a role that draws crowds, that is now very limited and no doubt there are some busily contemplating a career in sport or sports journalism, in acting or in music who in another time or place would be giving much more consideration to preaching. At the same time, the entertainment culture can encourage preaching that is not necessarily the best for men's souls.]
11. The demise of the idea of a life career
Various changes have led to the current situation where a life career in one area is increasingly unusual. It is tempting to think then of the ministry as one of several options to pursue in life rather than giving one's whole life to such work as was once more common.
12. The downplaying of the idea of an educated ministry
While education itself can never improve preaching this phenomenon has probably led not only to poorer preaching but also to a lower view of what a minister is in general so again making the ministry a less attractive calling. No doubt other factor could be highlighted such as prayer, secret sin and the increase in educational opportunities outside the ministry but these twelve should be enough to be chewing on for now.