Mark, Chair of the 9:38 Trustees, has been minister of Christ Church Kensington since September 2011. Mark is married to Claire and they have three children, all of whom share his passion for Chelsea FC and his angst over England’s cricket and rugby teams.
The Church of England’s full-time equivalent clergy has fallen from c9,500 in 2000 to 7,469 in 2016 and it predicts that, on current trends, it will fall further to 6,300 by 2035 and the number of incumbents will fall from 6,600 currently to 4,150 by 2035. Clearly, the advance of the gospel in the UK and across the world does not depend on the Church of England. However, if those statistics are repeated across other denominations then the need to raise up the next generation of pastors, Bible teachers and church leaders is as vital and urgent as ever.
At 9:38 we hear many encouraging reports of men and women considering how best to use the gifts God has given them to serve his church and advance the cause of the gospel in this country and overseas. More churches are recruiting ministry trainees, the number of local ministry training courses continues to expand around the UK and we hear wonderful news of new churches being planted and revitalised. There is much for which to thank God. And yet, as Richard Coekin reminds us in his recent book, Gospel DNA (Good Book Company, 2017), ‘Too many healthy gospel ministries last only one generation. Churches sometimes decline or depart from the gospel after a pastor who has been faithful and fruitful for a season has paid insufficient attention to training up leaders from the next generation.’
The Apostle Paul knew the danger of the gospel dying out in one generation. He had seen the whole of Asia turn their back on him and his gospel of Christ crucified, even Phygelus and Hermogenes, who were significant enough to merit particular mention as deserters (2 Tim 1:15). However, Paul doesn’t counsel his young troubleshooter, Timothy, to hunker down and keep his head below the parapet. Far from it, he calls on him to be unashamed of Paul and to guard the gospel by passing it on to the next generation of faithful men who will be able to teach others (2:2, cf. 1:14). Rather than guarding the gospel entrusted to him by burying it somewhere safe, Timothy is to see himself as a steward of the gospel and a link in the chain of redemption.
In our days of gospel desertion and distortion, church leaders and those engaged in gospel ministry today do well to see ourselves as links in that eternal and glorious gospel chain. We also do well to remember how sacred a trust and how significant a task is raising up the next generation of gospel ministers. Friends, we have many calls on our time and many good things to do. But the Apostle Paul is clear that guarding the gospel in our generation requires us to entrust it to those in the next generation who are able to teach others. What could you do in your local church? Who could you encourage and train up in the next generation?
The Apostle Paul is clear that guarding the gospel in our generation requires us to entrust it to those in the next generation who are able to teach others.
Some ministers host a lunch or tea for some members of their congregation, invite a local minister to come and share their story of going into gospel ministry and to answer questions. Others write personally to those in their congregations to encourage them to attend a 9:38 conference so they know they are being urged to consider full-time paid gospel ministry by their own pastor. We can all obey Jesus’ command to pray the other Lord’s Prayer, namely to ask the Lord of the harvest to raise up a new generation of gospel ministers, youth and children’s workers, evangelists and women’s workers and to send them out into his harvest field (Matt 9:38). We can all be encouraging our local churches to prioritise (and budget for!) the training up, equipping and deploying of gospel workers for Christ. What could you do to reverse the decline?
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and we may well wonder: how can this vital work of raising up the next generation can hope to succeed? Well, the Apostle Paul precedes his call to Timothy to pass on the gospel to the next generation by reminding him to be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2:1). All that God requires of us he himself plans to accomplish through us.