What the next generation of pastors needs is a firm grounding in sound doctrine and loving pastoral care, according to a prominent evangelical leader.
In the next 10 years, nearly half of the pastors of the Southern Baptist Convention's 40,000 churches will reach retirement age, said the Rev. Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to seminary trustees on Tuesday. He challenged the trustees to mentor the next generation of ministers.
The 4,400 students of the Southern Baptist Convention's flagship seminary haven't had the same exposure to church life as many of the older generation of pastors had, acknowledged Mohler, who grew up in the church and has never been apart from it throughout his entire life.
"I've never known a moment when I wasn't in the bosom of the church," he said, according to Towers Online, the seminary's news service. "I would not know what it is to be unchurched."
Seminary students today, on the other hand, most likely did not grow up immersed in church life and some barely converted during their high school or college years, Mohler noted.
Without that lifelong exposure, many students haven't experienced the loving pastor and caring congregation that ministers in the previous generation have.
"They do not know what it is like, as we do, to have a home there (church)," said Mohler. "They do not quite know the solace of being away and knowing how satisfying it is to come back to people who know you and love you, who watched you grow up, who are proud that you have gone to seminary and are praying for you."
While one of the great challenges is to instill boldness and a sense of urgency for the lost in this generation, Mohler says the greater challenge is to inculcate in them gentleness to ministering congregations.
And while the seminary teaches students doctrine and how to interpret Scripture, the local church and pastors must help mentor future ministers.
"I don't think in a classroom you can learn what it means to love people the way the apostle Paul talks about it here," said Mohler. "I think you have to learn that in the local church. You have to learn that at the bedside of a saint who is going home to be with the Lord. You have to learn that in talking to a couple that thinks divorce is an option and you've got to tell them it isn't. You have to learn this the hard way."
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has achieved record enrollment numbers in its master of divinity program, Mohler reported in June. He said there are more young men studying at Southern Seminary in the master of divinity program than anywhere in any place at any time in the history of the Christian church.