The Recruitment Problem

While I was training at Moore Theological College (2012- 2015) the constant rhetoric was that the Sydney Anglican Diocese was oversupplied with full-time gospel workers. We were warned from the very beginning of the need to be creative in funding our own Sydney Anglican positions if we were to stay in Sydney. From one perspective, this was a great win for the Kingdom! It forced many people to consider full-time gospel ministry outside Sydney and caused those who wanted to stay in Sydney to consider the cost of staying.

However, the rhetoric has quickly changed. At our Synod this year the Standing Committee provided a report entitled ‘Steps to encourage ordination’.[1] The report detailed the declining numbers of students attending Moore Theological College and the subsequent declining numbers of those putting themselves forward for ordained ministry in Sydney. The report goes as far as to say, “there is a danger of supply not keeping up with demand” and that “the situation is urgent”. How quickly the rhetoric has changed since I was at Moore.

At one level the Standing Committee’s report on ordination numbers is a concern. We don’t know the exact numbers or impact of the clergy shortage going forward, but research compiled by the Australian Church Record in 2012 showed that there will be some shortage of rectors over the next 10-15 years.[2] However, at another level the report provides for us some good reminders and should therefore drive us into action. For instance, for the report to state that “the situation is urgent” is a good reminder. The situation has always been, and will always be urgent! That’s what has been so unhelpful with the rhetoric of the last decade or so stating that Sydney is ‘oversupplied’ with full-time gospel workers. It’s just not true. The situation is urgent. We live in a pagan city of 5 million people who all need to know of the forgiveness of sins that Jesus brings. And that’s not to mention the responsibility we have to send gospel workers from Sydney into Australia and to all the nations!

We, as a diocese, have a duty to steward all that God has given us, and he has given us hundreds of reformed evangelical churches, with 55,000 adults plus youth and children attending every week. To have so many Bible believing churches within one diocese is unique and a gift of God. With that gift, we need to train up more men and women to be full-time gospel workers for the sake of the lost in our city and across the world. Thus, we can never talk about ‘oversupply’. Even the language of ‘supply not keeping up with demand’ can be unhelpful if what is meant is that we are not producing enough clergy to fill our current churches. We’re not simply interested in keeping the status quo and providing enough ordained ministers to fill current positions. We need hundreds more positions if we are going to reach those in our diocese and continue sending gospel workers to the nations.

So, how should we begin to address our recruitment problem? Here are five thoughts. Firstly, we must pray. It’s a simple one, but it’s the one we often neglect! A brother recently asked me, “how often do we pray that God might raise up gospel workers in our diocese? How often do we pray that God might raise up gospel workers from within our own church?”. These are challenging questions to ask. We must begin by praying to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field (Matt 9:38).

Secondly, we need to acknowledge that we have a recruitment issue here in Sydney. The report states that churches like EV Church on the Central Coast and Hunter Bible Church in Newcastle are the biggest sending churches to Moore. Why aren’t Sydney churches sending people? We in the Sydney Diocese need to recapture the importance of training the next generation. I know of the increasing workloads for the Rectors amongst us and how easy it is to point the finger, but we must all acknowledge that there is a problem and begin to address it anew.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we need to preach and live out sacrificial discipleship in our churches.[3] Have we been living and preaching a kind of discipleship that fails to call on all Christians to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Christ (Mark 8:34)? If we have, how can we then expect anyone to be willing to give their lives to fulltime stipendiary gospel ministry? Are our churches too comfortable and complacent and is the call being made to imitate Paul as he imitates Christ (and all that that looks like throughout 1 Cor 8-11:1)? As the report helpfully observes, “Settled, comfortable ministry does not promote the urgency of evangelism”. And for those of us who are in ordained ministry, we need to watch our lives and doctrine closely and ensure that we are being examples of sacrificial discipleship to the flock under our care (1 Tim 4:16).

Fourthly, we need to change the rhetoric. No more talk of ‘oversupply’ or being ‘well resourced’ (even if God has been very generous to Sydney). The situation is urgent. Millions (and billions around the world) are perishing without Christ and are failing to rightly give God the honour he deserves. This will always be the case until Jesus returns. Thus, the rhetoric must always be ‘there is great and urgent need’. Perhaps an argument could be made that now is an appropriate time to convince the majority to ‘stay rather than go’. Perhaps, in the short term, the rhetoric needs to be that we need to strengthen Sydney Anglican ministry so that Sydney Anglicans can continue to send people to all the nations.[4]

Fifthly, and finally, this does not mean that we should encourage anyone and everyone into stipendiary gospel ministry. That would be a disaster. Rather, we need to encourage all people to be full-time workers of the gospel (and to the sacrificial discipleship of point three), and rightly encourage those suitably gifted and able to enter full-time stipendiary ministry.

We should welcome the report presented to Synod this year. However, we need to acknowledge that the report is actually that – a report. There is a big task before us in the Sydney Diocese when it comes to recruiting. And yet, the task has always been a big one. The Pastors and congregations of this diocese need to get on with the work of training, sending, and funding the next generation of full-time stipendiary workers. Moore Theological College, Youthworks College, and MT&D all have their role to play, but the real work starts with each local Sydney Anglican church. The situation is urgent. Praise God for all the ways he has used our diocese for the sake of his Kingdom and glory. And let us pray that God might continue to bless the ministry of Sydney Anglicans to the praise of his glory.

[1] The report can be read on pages 151-158 of Book 1 2019 Session of Synod. The report is worth reading for some of the helpful insights and observations it makes.

[2] The Australian Church Record is currently undertaking research to provide up to date numbers on clergy in Sydney and give analysis on possible scenarios into the future.

[3] I say ‘sacrificial’ discipleship, but really it’s simply what the Bible calls ‘discipleship’. Biblical discipleship by definition is sacrificial.

[4] On the one hand I hesitate to make such a suggestion. We can be very quick to be inward looking and forget our duty in sending people to all nations. And yet, on the other hand, in order to keep sending missionaries through CMS, BCA, and other organisations like AFES (including funding those different organisations), we need to keep Sydney strong.

ACR Journal: This article was originally published in the ACR’s Journal for Summer 2019