“I am usually slow to use the word ‘crisis’ to describe a situation, but it may well be apt for our day.” That was the first sentence of an article that Carson Reed wrote in a short article for the Mosaic blog titled Ministers in Short Supply. The crisis that Carson speaks of is that facing the Churches of Christ and I presume that most of the people reading this blog have some ties to this declining church tribe.
For those who don’t know who Carson Reed serves now as Dean of the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University. He also has served as Executive Director for the Siber Institute for Church Ministry. This work involves helping match ministers with congregations that are seeking ministers to serve with these congregations. But a problem has emerged. According to Carson, there “is a sheer lack of persons to serve as ministers in our churches.” That’s the crisis he is referring to. In the article, Carson notes how the number of congregations seeking a minister and ministers looking for new ministry opportunities with churches was about evenly matched. However, that has changed, with there now being about a 1:15 ratio of one minister for every Church of Christ congregation seeking a new minister.
The reasons for this problem are varied and Carson’s blog post list some of the reasons, which I encourage you to read. As a minister myself, I am not surprised in the least bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love serving as a minister of the gospel and I am very blessed to serve with a wonderful congregation. But I also know there are more than a few Churches of Christ who want (even expect) a minister to help the church grow numerically but do so with little authority to lead churches that have little desire to change. Add to that the rise of secularism, the challenges of a pandemic, the increase of Christians who seem to prioritize politics over the gospel, and the overall decline in church membership, all make serving as a minister of the gospel very difficult (and unless you have served as a minister, you don’t have any idea what this is like).
I also have concerns about the number of churches that are in decline. Churches, like any other organization, have life cycles. Sometimes churches are able to reimagine a new way of embodying the gospel that leads to renewal as participants in the mission of God but sometimes they are not. But this is why there is a great need for the mission work of planting new gospel seeds in North America.
I’m using the language of “planting new gospel seeds” intentionally. The task is to embody the gospel among a particular community of people and then begin sharing the story of the gospel with a few people. Such a task is the planting of a new gospel seed. Then, like a gardener, the task of ministry also involves cultivating the planted seed with the trust that God will bring about a new community of disciples. However, such communities will differ in some ways depending on their contexts, such as planting among a rural community, a college campus, or a marginalized urban community.
Besides helping Mission Alive, I also serve on the board of Reflect Campus Missions (currently serving as the president of the board). The vision of Reflect involves training new campus ministers through a campus ministry apprenticeship and then sending them out to plant new campus ministries. Mission Alive, as you know, has a vision of transforming marginalized communities through starting and renewing innovative churches. In fact, Mission Alive has identified one-hundred marginalized communities in North America to plant churches among
The need for new campus ministries and new church plants among marginalized communities is great, and it is the way of planting new gospel seeds. As I mentioned earlier, some established churches may find renewal as participants in the mission of God and I’m thankful for that. But my plea to the Churches of Christ is please consider supporting church planters and campus ministry planters so that new gospel seeds can be planted with new lives and communities being transformed in Christ.
For the kingdom, power, and glory of God!
K. Rex Butts, D.Min, serves as the lead minister/pastor with the Newark Church of Christ in Newark, DE, and is the author of Gospel Portraits: Reading Scripture as Participants in the Mission of God. Rex holds a Doctor of Ministry in Contextual Theology from Northern Seminary in Lisle, IL, and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology in Memphis, TN. He is married to Laura and together they have three children.