(Taiwan Church News)
Evangelism should definitely be one of the missions of the church and many churches today are trying their best to excel in this area. Some churches try to research the local sub-culture before promoting a strategy. Others participate in mission conferences in search for the best method available to spread the gospel. Still others try to mimic successful models they have seen other organizations apply in order to invigorate local evangelism. However, regardless of how much effort churches put into the ministry of evangelism, who is the key person affecting the development of this ministry? The answer is the pastor.
Though churches may have successful evangelism strategies, as soon as the pastor moves away, everything comes to a halt. Furthermore, all the resources and experiences that the previous pastor built during his time ministering in the area are seldom passed on, so the new pastor must often start from scratch. Though this phenomenon is a major loss and a waste of resources for many local churches, it has always been prevalent among churches from past to present. Therefore, the pastor becomes an important topic of discussion when discussing evangelism ministries.
When studying this issue, one important item that cannot be ignored is the negative effect a pastor’s relocation will have on local evangelism ministries. Furthermore, the higher the rate of relocation, the more harm is inflicted. So, how do we prevent this situation and stop the harm that is being inflicted? Below are my humble suggestions.
First, we must revise the current system. We are confident that pastors are very clear about their calling and will always be faithful to their churches. They normally will not relocate based on impulse alone. However, the realities of life often tempt them to relocate and the decision to move or stay is not determined by one individual alone. Therefore, churches and pastors must first agree that pastors will not look at the relocation issue lightly. In addition, churches must endeavor to remove factors that would tempt a pastor to relocate. For example, within the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT), pastoral salary and related benefits are major temptations luring pastors away from churches they are currently serving. The reason is because a pastor’s salary and benefits are often determined by the financial situation of the church where the pastor is serving. Since salaries vary a lot depending on where one is serving, many pastors must use their skills to fight for “top jobs”. Such a system in the PCT creates an inevitable collision between a pastor’s calling and the realities of life, which is a problem we must address. The high turnover among pastors in rural churches is a well-documented fact. How can Christians have confidence their church’s evangelism ministries when top leadership at the church is constantly changing? Though overhauling the current system will be a long process, it is also a problem the PCT must address because the effects of high turnover rates are harming church evangelism as a whole. The General Assembly and local presbyteries can assist and encourage pastors by offering subsidies to financially poor churches so that they can pay for their pastors’ vocational training or increase their pastors’ income. That way, pastors won’t be distracted by looking for more salary to support his family.
Second, we must allow local churches to partner with seminaries so that seminaries can nurture the kind of pastors churches need. That way, once seminarians graduate, they can return and serve the churches that sponsored them. This would greatly improve the development and continuation of local evangelism because these graduates will already know a great deal about the local church’s history, background, and outreach ministries. They will also already possess a lot of knowledge about the needs of the locals. Though this suggestion may affect the PCT’s system determining how and where seminarians are sent upon graduation, the change would also facilitate the way church evangelism is passed down and carried on, thus worthy of some reflection.
There are many success stories today when it comes to church evangelism, and in all of them, the pastor plays a key role. Furthermore, the length of a pastor’s tenure also affects the local church’s attempts at evangelism. The more frequently a church’s pastor relocates, the harder it is for that church’s ministry to bear fruit. One reason is that church members can sense whether a pastor exhibits confidence in his daily work, which will have spillover effects in church evangelism. Therefore, the challenges facing evangelism ministries mentioned above should not be glossed over. I hope that my humble suggestions above will stir discussion on the topic as we seek to find solutions to problems and improve the way churches do missions.