I’ll get right to the point – the greatest need of Northwest Baptists is for more pastors. We need more God-called, Jesus-loving, Gospel-sharing, Bible-preaching pastors in the Northwest Baptist Convention of churches. If we are going to fill the 50-odd vacant pulpits that currently exist, we need 50 more preaching pastors. If we are going to start the hundreds, and thousands, of new churches that we need in the Northwest, we need hundreds and thousands of pastors to shepherd those churches.
The more churches we have, the more people we can disciple for Christ and deploy into ministry. Whoever has the most churches wins, meaning we will reach increasing numbers of people as we increase the number of churches. But we can’t grow the numbers of churches without pastors to plant and shepherd those churches. So calling out and training pastors is the key. I want to suggest a few things that we can do to address this need for more pastors. First, every current pastor must seek to call out new pastors from his congregation. As pastors we often think our primary responsibilities are to preach the Word, care for the people, and make disciples of the lost. I would add one more key task to that list – we need to pray for God to call pastors from our churches, and we need to “keep our eyes open” for those whom God might use as pastors.
Second, churches and pastors need to provide opportunities for potential pastors to utilize the spiritual gifts of leadership, teaching and preaching that God has given to the would-be pastors in our churches. When we provide opportunities for potential pastors to lead a small group, do missions, make prospect and hospital visits, and preach from the pulpit, these opportunities will help confirm God’s call on their lives. God’s call on my life was kindled and confirmed as I taught my first Sunday school class and led our Baptist Student Union ministry. My pastor took me under his wing and gave me opportunities to preach. He reviewed my first few sermons with me. He brought me with him to a men’s retreat so that we could talk about ministry on the drive to the camp. These were greatly important experiences for a young man seeking to clearly hear from God about a call to pastoral ministry.
Third, the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) must place a high priority on helping our churches develop pastoral leaders. Some might think our top priority is the starting of new churches. But actually our top priority is finding and developing more church planters and pastors. We could start 75 new churches each year if we had God-called men to lead them. And the most important thing we can do for our established churches is provide growth opportunities and resources to their current pastor, and to assist churches when they are without a pastor to find a pastor who is a Bible-preaching, Southern Baptist cooperating pastor.
Some things the NWBC is doing to develop pastors are: provide substantial financial support to students of Golden Gate Seminary’s Pacific Northwest Campus in Vancouver, WA. The NWBC contributes more than $3,000 per student, each year, helping them to receive a world-class education. These dollars come from the Cooperative Program contributions of our churches. Second, pastor cluster groups are conducted across the convention each year, involving about 50 pastors at any one time. Currently, we are in the process of reshaping our ministry to pastorless churches, which will include training more transitional pastors. Other opportunities for pastors include the Oasis Retreat (May 19-21) and MY316 evangelism and new believer resources for churches.
Another pastoral development ministry that we are planning to greatly expand is Contextualized Leadership Development for pastors who are not planning on receiving traditional seminary training. As previously stated, we need more pastors, and we’ll never have enough if we only rely on seminary-trained leaders. Golden Gate Baptist Seminary graduates about 50 each year who want to be a preaching pastor. Those 50 come from the entire Golden Gate system, which includes campuses in Colorado, Arizona and California, as well as Washington. In the Northwest alone we could easily use 50 more pastors each year. That means we must find ways to provide practical, effective training to men that doesn’t require four years of college and three years of seminary.
The Northwest needs churches of all sizes and types, serving various cultures and language groups. We need bi-vocational and full-time pastors to lead these churches (we need more bi-vocational pastors than full-time). More pastors is our greatest need. And our best opportunity to get more pastors is for current pastors to place a high priority on calling out and providing opportunities to potential pastors in their congregations.