Why the Shortage of Ministers?
SHORTLY after World War II there was a booming revival of religion in America. New churches were going up everywhere and so were clergy salaries. But now that optimistic spirit has given way to some serious, somber reevaluations.
In fact, some ministers now confess that the loud cry of a “resurgence of religion” was without substance, fictitious. They say the whole thing was a statistical subterfuge and not a spiritual fact; that membership figures were present, but spiritual workers were absent.
In proof of this they point to one of the strangest and most serious paradoxes in modern-day religion, namely, a rising membership roll and a declining seminary enrollment existing parallel to each other. Ministers emphasize that right now, when church attendance is at its highest in history, there is a dire need for first-rate manpower in religion. Just how serious this problem is, the following reports show.
Time magazine for April 28, 1961, reported: “The number of new recruits to the priesthood has been falling off in Italy at an alarming rate.” In Italy the ratio of priests to laymen is the smallest in the country’s history: 1 to 1,008, as compared with Ireland’s 1 to 75. In Bologna 81 parishes are vacant; in Salerno, out of 160 parishes, 60 are vacant. Southern Italy, excluding Sicily, had more than 80,000 priests a century ago; today it has fewer than 10,000.
Roman Catholic priest Roger E. Vekemans said that there is a need for “200,000 more priests in Latin America.” On a world scale, Cardinal Pizzardo, prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities, stated that in order for the Catholic church to keep up with the demand it must ordain at least 10,000 new priests every year. But in 1959 there were only 5,475 new ordinations, about half the desired number.
Another problem facing the Roman Catholic Church has to do with priests leaving the priesthood. A Vatican official has reportedly said that a “disturbing” number of Italian and French priests have left the church. While no figures are released by Catholic authorities, one Protestant source suggests that 5,000 Italian priests and more than 1,000 French priests have left the Roman Catholic Church in the past fifteen years, that is, more than were ordained in 1959.
In Genoa, Italy, the seminary attendance dropped 40 percent in the past twenty years, and 80 percent of the seminarians drop out before completing the twelve-year course. Seminaries in Turin are said to be two thirds empty. There are also nun shortages. These statistics by no means represent the whole problem, but merely serve to show that a serious shortage of manpower does exist in Catholicism.
SHORTAGES IN PROTESTANTISM
Shortages and desertions are equally as great in Protestantism. In April, 1961, New York Times readers were told that a survey of theological schools in the United States showed a 5.3-percent drop in enrollment in 1960. There were 1,125 fewer students for the ministry than the 1959 total of 20,365. The United Church of Canada is faced with a similar problem. Dr. A. C. Forrest, editor of the United Church Observer, said: “We know we have an emergency, a crisis. We need at least 200 more men in the ministry every year.” But the question is, From where are they going to come? In Winnipeg there are fewer ministers now than there were thirty years ago. Leading seminarians predict that by 1975 the Protestant churches of North America will have a shortage of 50,000 ministers. It is obvious that soon millions of people in Christendom will find themselves without clergy guidance.
BEHIND THE SHORTAGE
What is behind the shortage in ministers? Why are not more young men and women entering the ministry? And why are so many clergymen leaving their pastorates to find work outside the church in fields of social service, government or business? Why are they willing to abandon their flocks to inept help? Associate professor of pastoral theology at Yale Divinity School, Wesley Shrader, is of the opinion that too many clergymen today are being overworked and underpaid. Dr. Samuel H. Miller, dean of the Harvard Divinity School, called the overworked and underpaid minister “one of the tragedies of our time.” The increase in the number of emotional breakdowns among clergymen, no doubt, has had its effects.
However, other religious authorities are more inclined to think that materialism is to blame for the shortage. Many young people refer to the ministry as “a grind,” and if they must become a part of a grind, they say, they would just as soon choose better-paying and more prestigious “rat races” than the ministry. Some complain that some salesmen and janitors work less than half the hours that most ministers do and make more than twice as much in wages. “The bitter truth,” says one report, is “that ministers are worse off today [financially] than they were a generation ago.” Especially is this true in some rural areas.
There are observers who blame the decline in the priesthood in Italy not on the poverty-stricken conditions among priests but on Italy’s prosperity. Don Luigi Noli, who is in charge of vocations for the Genoa diocese, said: “Young people today think they know how to live. Before they’re 18 they expect to earn 10,000 lire a month. How can you persuade them to become priests?” Priest Bernard P. Donachie seems to agree with him. Speaking at a morning mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York city, Donachie said that the spirit of sacrifice is lacking among Catholics and it is this that is contributing to the “frightening shortage of priests, brothers and sisters.”
However, Protestant authorities say “fuzzy thinking” and the “downgrading of the local pastor” are equally responsible for their shortage. Being “just a pastor” holds out about as much glory and promise to a young man entering the ministry as playing a part as “just a housewife” to a Hollywood beauty queen. The “big men” in religion today are not the pastors—those men who preach and teach—but those who deal with the general theory of religion, those who can invent new phraseology or head a new religious movement or fascinate young people with scintillating lectures—these are the hero-clergy of the hour. And, too, in some denominations two thirds of the ministers specialize; the remaining third do the mundane pastoral work. This revelation has had a demoralizing effect on those who had planned on the ministry as a career.
THE REAL CAUSE
Yet all these complaints, legitimate though they may be, are but a shadow of the true cause. Dr. John Bright, the guest preacher at the First Presbyterian Church in New York city, said: “The plain truth is that we do not have it in us to follow Christ.” Theodore M. Greene, a distinguished philosopher, in a widely discussed article remarked that the one greatest trouble with this age was the absence of spirituality among the spiritual leaders. Danish clergyman Poul Ulsdal confessed: “It has terrified me to discover that many clergymen are actually rather uninterested in religion.” Former Methodist clergyman James B. Moore writes: “Some ministers plainly hate their jobs. I have known ministers who despise people in general and their congregations in particular.” Moderator of the United Church of Canada, Angus J. MacQueen, said too many ministers have “lost the sense of who and what they are,” that they are plagued with a sense of personal insecurity. In Ohio a minister reports: “I feel that there are a good many ministers who feel rather lost. I’m among them. We simply cannot see where we are going in the church. . . . We can’t see that we are making much of a difference in our communities or in the lives of the individual members of our communities. This disturbs me.”
How can the faithless inspire faith? How can the blind lead? How can the lost save? How can the hopeless create hope? Is it any wonder that there is a turning away from religion with such leadership?—Matt. 6:22, 23; 15:14.
FRUSTRATED AND CONFUSED
Other ministers speak of themselves as being frustrated and having thought conflicts. Many clergymen are said to be divided between what the people expect them to be, do and say and what they themselves would rather be, do and say. Former Methodist clergyman Moore says: “Almost every clergyman must be two men: what he really is, and what he thinks the church and society expect a clergyman to be.” All this adds up to one big problem of frustration.
There are thought conflicts too. Young ministers today fresh out of seminaries often find that their understanding of “Christian truths” conflicts with what the laity and some of the older ministers of their churches believe. Moore states: “Those churches which demand a literal subscription to such dogmas as the Virgin Birth, the Physical Resurrection of Jesus, the Deity (rather than the divinity) of Jesus, the Bible as the actual words of God, and so forth, are in for trouble in the coming years. Any young minister like myself who got out of seminary in the last ten or fifteen years knows this. It makes no difference whether he is a Methodist or a Baptist, a Presbyterian, an Episcopalian, or a Lutheran. A very large number of the ministers of my generation, regardless of denomination, have arrived at personal convictions about the Christian faith—through long wrestling and struggle—which are far more liberal and unorthodox than they would dare to admit in public. . . . To put it bluntly, they no longer believe in the Gospel as they are expected to preach it, and no longer believe in the denomination they are expected to support.”
We are told that “there are thousands of ministers in America like that today. And most of them are playing a role, but they are not really happy in it.” Little wonder, then, that young men and women are not responding to the ministry. “For truly, if the trumpet sounds an indistinct call, who will get ready for battle?” Who will be attracted to a divided house? How can the unhappy be an encouragement to others to follow Christ?—1 Cor. 14:8.
POLITICS AND THE REAL NEED
What is, perhaps, even more exasperating to the conscientious young man is the extensive use of politics in religion. Moore writes: “The outright bootlicking, backslapping, and ‘apple-polishing’ which go on in the aggressive fight for position, place, and prestige are appalling to any sensitive young minister. The pity is that this is about what is expected. The leading laymen expect it and foster it. The rule in the church is very often ‘whom you know’—not ‘who you are’ and what you have genuinely to offer in preaching, personal example, creativity, intellectual clarity, honesty, and sincerity. It is well known that many bishops in the Methodist Church, for example, actively campaign for office. The same goes for college presidents, board secretaries, and the pastors of many of the larger churches. . . . The means of achieving these offices—often by men of third-and fourth-rate talent—is sometimes enough to make a big city ward-heeler blush.”
What are the conscientious young men and women to think when they see those who throw parties, those who wine and dine and hobnob with the respected senior ministers, laugh at their boring jokes and say “yes” to their every whim, as the ones who are moved ahead? The Christian Herald reports their reaction: “Many students leave seminaries less able and willing to preach than when they came three years before.” Their zeal is dampened. Their spirit for the ministry leaves them. They die spiritually. The will to live for Christ is gone. And who is to blame?
When discipleship displaces church membership, when building faith, hope and love overshadows the building of church edifices, when the saving of human lives becomes more important than saving traditions and conventionality, when serving God becomes more important than satisfying self, then men want to be ministers, but not ministers of religious organizations that fail to teach God’s Word. They want to be ministers of God. And during the years 1957 through 1960, rather than there being a decline in the ministry, in the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses 277,866 persons became such ordained ministers, dedicated public teachers of God’s Word.
Jesus himself said: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.” Sincere worker ministers are in demand, not because there has been a decline of interest in religion; rather, because the urgency is greater. Mankind stands face to face with God’s Armageddon! God’s established kingdom must be preached as a witness to all nations before Armageddon strikes. That is what makes the demand most urgent at this time. Will you minister for God?—Matt. 9:37, 38; John 4:23, 24; Zeph. 2:3; Rev. 16:16; Matt. 24:14; 1 Tim. 4:16.