How much does your church give?
James M. Renihan
The churches of our Association are very generous in their support for Gospel work. Whether it is foreign missions, special projects, or the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies, I am always blessed by the faithful contributions which come in from our congregations. But perhaps there is an area where our giving could be increased.
I came to faith in Christ in 1970 through the ministry of an average sized evangelical Baptist church in a small city in Massachusetts. There really wasn’t much remarkable about the church. It was a downtown church with about 150 years of ministry in the city. It had been planted as the 2nd Baptist church in town, and had served well for all of those years. Attendance was probably around 250, with a mix of older people from the neighborhood, families that had grown up in the church and now drove in to the services and new faces visiting on a regular basis. The church had a generous missionary budget, and an annual missions conference. We had a youth group of about 20-25. The congregation had all of the regular activities familiar to the day—it was a typical church in every way—with one significant exception.
I was a sophomore in high school when I began to attend and was baptized. There were two grades of students ahead of me, and of course by the time I was a senior, there were three grades behind me. From these young people who were part of that church between 1969-1976, 10 men entered the gospel ministry—8 in pastorates in the US, and 2 in foreign missions, and now 35 years later, these men are still in these positions. The more I think about this, the more remarkable it seems to me. Why did that very typical—even average—church send so many of its men out to serve in the ministry? This is a question worth considering. Several reasons come to mind, and these perhaps may serve as thought-provoking points for our churches to reflect on. Here are some to contemplate:
1. The pastor and assistant pastor regularly encouraged all of the spiritually minded young people to consider what was called ‘full-time Christian service.’ Sometimes this was emphasized publicly in various meetings, but also it was frequently presented to us privately. It was not unusual for one of these men to speak directly and personally to one of us and urge us to consider whether Christ might be calling us into the ministry. There was no guilt manipulation, simply personal exhortations to pray and consider. These exhortations forced us to confront the matter of a call on a regular basis. We had to consider carefully the Lord’s will. It was not just a general question for others—it became a personal issue for each of us.
2. The male leadership of the church (being a very traditional Baptist church, we had a pastor and deacons, but they really functioned more like elders) were also actively involved in encouraging men to consider the ministry. One of the key moments in my own life was a meeting I had with the pastor and deacons of the church. As part of their oversight of the church, they scheduled a conversation with all of the young men my age, seeking to give some advice and direction for the future. When they met with me, they told me directly that they were convinced that I should attend seminary and train for pastoral ministry. I came away from that meeting convinced that I could not ignore the unanimous counsel of the spiritual leadership of the church.
3. The people of the church also prayed for and encouraged men to pursue gospel ministry. When they learned that one of us was considering Christ’s call, they were very supportive. There was almost a sense of excitement that another of their own would one day be serving Christ in a position of leadership. This congregational interest promoted a special climate for each of us. We saw respect and appreciation for ministers. We saw the esteem in which Christ’s servants were held. For young men, this made the ministry seem to be an honorable calling—it was something to aspire to under Christ. Lest I be misunderstood—this did not breed pride in anyone. Rather, it provided a sense of the value and importance of the work, and gave to us a desire to be useful with God’s blessing in such a great work.
I could easily continue with reasons, but perhaps these are enough for now. Pastors, do you encourage your men to consider the gospel ministry? Do you spend personal time with them and encourage them to pray about this? Do your elders likewise seek to press this matter upon your young men? Do they urge these men to consider the possibility of Christ’s call? And what about your people? Do they esteem ministers? Will they rejoice when one of their own gives himself to serve the Lord in the ministry? I am convinced that our churches must place a higher priority on cultivating their men for service in the church.
In 1833, a South Carolina Presbyterian, George Howe, published an article appealing for men to pursue the Gospel ministry. Consider some of his questions:
1. Every church requires the labors of a pastor. Should not every particular church, then, have one of her sons in training for the holy ministry? If she takes one man from the church at large, as her spiritual guide, should she not put one of her sons into the field to supply his place?
2. Should not every church, having a number of youth within her bosom, who have natural qualifications, which, if improved, would fit them for the ministry, furnish all she can for this sacred office? Should not our vacant pulpits he filled? Should we not pour a constant flood of spiritual instruction over the wide plains lying south and west of us, and send out our sons thither to preach Christ? Assimilated as we are in climate to the great body of the heathen world, have we not a solemn and important work to perform in sending the gospel to them?
3. Perhaps you are a minister, or an elder in the church? Have you ever interested yourself to lead ingenuous, prudent, and devoted young men to reflect on the duty of consecrating their lives to personal efforts for the salvation of souls? Can you recollect any golden opportunities of putting a sanctified, well-balanced mind into operation, with the sole object of doing good; opportunities which you have suffered to pass by unimproved?
Will you not now look around you, and see if there are not young men within the circle of your influence, who would be an acquisition to the effective force of the ministry, if they were educated for it? Will you not pray the Lord of the harvest to send them forth into his harvest?
How much does your church give? Has it given any men to serve Christ in the gospel ministry?