The Looming Cloud Over the Aging Church

by Michael D. Crane, PhD

At least once a week, I’m asked if I know of any seminary graduates or pastors available to pastor a small or medium-sized church. This week, I was asked this question three times. The reality is about to hit the Malaysian church hard––for most pastors, retirement is just around the corner. Many of the leaders in our churches today were reached as university students in the late 1970s and early 1980s during the golden age of the Malaysian church. Out of that gospel-centered student movement came many young pastors who have provided leadership during the recent decades.

My friend, Mac Pier, who has been traveling around the world meeting with church leaders, recently told me that the average age of Christians in Malaysia is 55! This should be alarming news for the church. It should be a wakeup call! The church only perpetuates itself when it has an ongoing perpetuation of leaders. It was brilliant of the New Testament church to consistently and persistently develop leaders for the church. And when the average age of our church leaders is in the 60s, it is a sign that the church needs to develop leaders.

When the average age of our church leaders is in the 60s, it is a sign that the church needs to develop leaders.

Let’s be clear what we mean by “leaders” in our church. I’m not necessarily talking about clergy, full-time pastors, or church members with lofty titles. I’m also not talking about board members chosen because of business prowess or professional status. In the New Testament, church leaders are those who exhibit the character of a Christian and are able to teach others (see 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). Church leaders aren’t intended to be the bosses or some kind of Christian version of a witch doctor. The calling to be a leader is a calling to be a servant––a servant to Christ and his church. Paul writes that being a leader in the church is an honourable calling.

As we look at the New Testament church, we see an emphasis on identifying and equipping leaders in the church. Jesus spent more time pouring into a few selected leaders than trying to gain a large following. These leaders chosen by Jesus continued this practice, always aware that it was not their status or position that made them stand out, but that they had been transformed by Jesus (Acts 4:13). Paul and his co-workers continue the practice of identifying and equipping leaders in the churches. Paul even circled back to a city where he’d been stoned and left for dead in order to identify leaders in the new church there (see Acts 14).

In the New Testament, the only skill required for leaders in the church is the ability to teach or instruct (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:9). In Ephesians, we see the primary task of church leaders is equipping the saints in the church for ministry (4:12). In Titus, we are told that being a leader involves not merely teaching or holding the attention of a congregation, but the ability to teach and correct in sound doctrine (1:9). Today, we have too few leaders in our churches who are equipped with the ability to teach in the church.

What is your church’s plan for identifying and equipping leaders of every generation?

What is your church’s plan for identifying and equipping leaders of every generation? What is your church doing to develop the best pool of potential leaders in every age group? What is your church doing to produce leaders who are able to teach and correct sound doctrine? At the most basic level, every church needs to raise the bar of discipleship in the church (informal equipping). For more advanced training, there are a number of possibilities. Seminaries and Bible colleges are vital to the training of vocational and bi-vocational pastors (formal equipping). For something in between, Gospel City Network and Redeemer City to City offer the Incubator Training, designed for church planters and church elders. As leaders (both recognized and unrecognized) in our churches, we must take our role of identifying and equipping more leaders in our churches seriously.

Michael D. Crane is a professor of urban missiology at a seminary in Southeast Asia. Michael is also co-director of RADIUS Initiatives and is currently serving as the chairman of Gospel City Network. In addition to numerous articles and book chapters, Michael has written Sowing Seeds of Change: Cultivating Transformation in the City (Urban Loft, 2015) and co-written City Shaped Churches: Planting Churches in a Global Era (Urban Loft, forthcoming).

This article was originally published at The Gospel City Network.

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We believe that true transformation comes through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the primary vehicle spreading and embodying the gospel is the church.

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We help leaders start churches in cities.

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