The Minister Drought: A Millennial’s Perspective

I have really appreciated all the discussion under the catchphrase ‘the minister drought.’ The Pastor’s Heart along with others continue to have robust conversations with some great thinkers about the challenges facing Sydney Diocese. Getting sharp in our ministry thinking in conversation with experienced pastors is always a great thing to be involved in.

Although I wonder whether ‘drought’ is the best diagnosis.

I grew up in rural New South Wales with multiple, real droughts where dam levels would regularly be below 10%. I grew up in the strongest rural Anglican diocese that, while strong, is less resourced than Sydney and is surrounded by significantly under-resourced dioceses. So contending that Sydney Anglicans are facing a drought, when 85% of parishes currently have a senior minister, might be a little bit too dramatic.

This 85% may drop to 66% in 10 years’ time if the current trends continue. That does not sound too good, but it is still very far from declaring Sydney to be drought-stricken. More so, since there are so many immeasurable factors at play, it is impossible to confidently rely on these trends to predict a future drought.

I don’t think we’re in a drought, but there are still problems in Sydney Diocese – just as there always will be problems in our now-but-not-yet eschaton. Nevertheless they are real problems that are impacting us, and discussions about their cause and the solution have (mostly) been helpful. The unique diocese of Sydney has much to offer and so it is always worth talking about the problems in order to, under God, bring about helpful change.

But there are problems and then there are symptoms, and it’s important to distinguish between the two in order to diagnose and treat the problems, and not simply the symptoms. So, is the present number of available-but-empty ministry positions in Sydney Diocese a problem, or a symptom? I suggest it is a symptom – and locating the conversation around the symptom, especially when we use dramatic language, will likely produce inadequate solutions (e.g. “just presbyter all the deacons” or “a diploma in theology is enough of a qualification to be a rector”) and even confuse the motives of those considering becoming clergy.

That is, when I hear the tagline that we’re in a drought and when I see the numbers suggesting long-term decline, my motivations for ministry start becoming overly pragmatic, rather than theological. I think, “that decline is bad, and I need to do something about it.” There is truth to my conclusion, but it is in danger of being simply a pragmatic conclusion because the numbers have driven my motivation.

However, if we listen to the discussions about this problem instead of just taking note of the headlines or the frightening numbers, I think we find much better motivation to act. There are experienced pastors talking about the proclamation of the gospel being the fundamental activity that brings about conversion and raises up pastors, about understanding the times we live in and how that shapes what we do, about recognising that every Christian should be thoroughly involved in ministry – these are theological motivators that truly and faithfully lead to the conclusion, “I need to do something about it.”

I am convinced that if Sydney remains committed to these theological motivators for raising up ministers, Sydney will, under God, continue to thrive in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth like it has for generations. I am also convinced that the task of every Christian to both quantitatively and qualitatively build the body of Christ by speaking the truth in love remains the same, regardless of whether 100% or 90% or 70% or 30% of our parishes have a senior minister.

Since Sydney is far from being drought-stricken, let’s get on with the job of each and every one of us taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, praying to our great God that he would use us to raise up workers for his global harvest. In doing so, we might just start to solve the current minister problem in Sydney. And under God, real drought may never lie before us.