By Ed Thompson
(From left) Commissioned Pastors Terry Layton of Marsh Fork United, Emmet Rogers of Upper Glade, and Jay Nunley of Gilbert and First, Logan hear from PWV Moderator Nancy Kissinger during their commissioning at the August 19, 2021 Presbytery meeting.
It would be easy to miss one of the highlights of our first in-person Presbytery meeting since February 2020. One, it was fun to be together. Two, Cindy Kohlmann gave us a lot to think about with her sermon and presentation. Three, we had seven people sign the Book of Obligations, one of the quirky parts of this presbytery but nevertheless a wonderful sign that we had not been in hibernation since the pandemic hit. I’m not sure what normal is any more, but I’m not sure if we would normally have brought in seven new pastors in that same amount of time in the past. On top of that, we commissioned three new pastors, recent graduates of our Commissioned Pastor training program.
That is plenty to celebrate, and we should celebrate all of those things. What grabbed my attention, though, was the announcement that we will begin another round of Commissioned Pastor training in January. That’s the future of this presbytery. I think we should still encourage people to attend seminary. There are churches that need seminary-trained pastors and, just looking around, the Baby Boomer generation of pastors has already started to retire, and that trend is going to continue, if not speed up, over the next few years. (To be transparent, I am part of that generation.)
However, as more churches look at declining number of members and as the minimum salary requirements continue to grow, fewer and fewer are going to be able to afford a full-time seminary-trained pastor on their own. Churches can certainly share a pastor or a cluster of churches can join together so that they can have a pastor. My sense is that happened far more frequently in the past,- but for whatever reason became a less popular option over say the last 20 years. Those are options and really good options for churches to consider; more churches are doing that. However, that’s not always going to work.
We are going to need more Commissioned Pastors. That need becomes even more apparent when you look at the Commissioned Pastors we have now. A number of them were trained around 20 years ago. They will be retiring at some point, too. If your church has less than 50 members, I would encourage you to look around and see if there isn’t someone who might be a good pastor: someone who cares about people, who is a good listener, who loves Jesus and the scriptures, who loves to learn, who isn’t terrified about getting up in front of people, and who people respect. If you see such a person or someone who has the potential to serve in this way, encourage them to attend this training. They may not see themselves this way. They may not recognize their potential. They may not want to do this. Many times, people engage in an ongoing argument with God about entering the ministry. It can take 10 to 20 years or more before people give in and accept that God is calling them into the ministry before they seek further training.
I would also encourage you to ask your session to pay for or at least offer to pay for a significant chunk of this training. I wouldn’t want finances to be a barrier, but it could be for some people. You can think of it as an investment in the future of the church.
If your church has more than 50 members, I would also encourage you to identify people who have this potential and encourage them to take this training. Maybe they won’t serve your congregation, but maybe they could serve a nearby congregation. Maybe they would just fill in when your own pastor gets sick, goes on vacation, or takes study leave. Maybe they will never preach at all, so the training would only serve to make them a better Sunday School teacher, a better Bible Study leader, a better ruling elder. That’s still a good thing. Or maybe they won’t be able to serve as a Commissioned Pastor until 5 or 10 years after they finish the training. That’s still a good thing.
We need more Commissioned Pastors. That need is only going to grow. This presbytery has done a great job in training Commissioned Pastors for almost 30 years. We have had many wonderful pastors complete the training who have served and are serving, and hopefully many of them will continue to serve for many more years to come. Our churches and this presbytery have been blessed by their ministry.
It’s exciting to know that there will be a new round of training. If you have any questions about this, contact our Associate for Educational Ministry Susan Sharp Campbell, who leads the program; reach her at email@example.com or 304-645-4568.
I hope you’re excited about this new round of training for Commissioned Pastors as I am. It gives me hope for the future and was one of the best things about our last meeting.