Good news: the changing face of Gospel ministry

Past generations would not recognise the new faces in the Presbyterian church

We live in a world that has grown accustomed to bad news. In fact, we turn on the news and scroll through social media expecting it. As a result, we’re growing to be colder and more jaded to the events surrounding us.

One bit of bad news we’ve become accustomed to is the great minister drought. The statistics are undeniable. The number of ministers retiring or leaving ministry prematurely far exceeds the number of people enrolling in theological colleges to be trained for gospel ministry.

But it’s not all bad news. In the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales (PCNSW), we are seeing a rising number of young, culturally diverse, and gospel-motivated leaders being trained and ordained as the next generation of pastors.

For example, Reverend Barry Bai was ordained as a minister of the PCNSW about a year ago and currently serves as the Mandarin speaking Pastor at GracePoint Presbyterian Church (GracePoint) which attends to the third largest group of migrants to Australia. Barry also lectures at the Chinese Theological College of Australia and equips lay Christians through their certificate programs.

Just last week, the Presbytery of West Sydney ordained Dinesh Taunk as a minister. Reverend Taunk is of Gujarat background and is a gifted evangelist. Every fortnight, he leads a group of people from GracePoint and surrounding churches – like Merrylands Anglican and Wentworthville Presbyterian – into the streets of Wentworthville and Harris Park to share the Good News of Jesus. This ministry is still in its early stages. Yet just a day after his ordination, Rev Taunk baptised a mother and a daughter who were converted under his ministry.

We are also seeing an emerging group of leaders. For example, Nathanael (Nate) Ho is a speech pathologist before training for Gospel ministry at Christ College (Presbyterian Theological Centre). Nate and his wife Sami have been serving at Campbelltown Presbyterian Church since his graduation, and he will in just a few weeks be ordained and inducted as the first non-Anglo minister in the church’s long and rich 175-year history.

These are all signs of encouragement and we’re even seeing moves within the denomination to recruit and raise more ministers who will reach a greater diversity of people.

We’re also seeing leaders like Joshua Lum Mow who completed his theological studies while leading a vibrant youth and young adults ministry at Cornerstone Presbyterian Community Church (a multi-location church spread across seven suburbs). Joshua currently serves at Beecroft Presbyterian Church and was licensed by his Presbytery a few months ago and will be ordained early in 2022.

These are all signs of encouragement and we’re even seeing moves within the denomination to recruit and raise more ministers who will reach a greater diversity of people. In August this year, the Presbytery of Western Sydney officially permitted ministry candidates from a non-English-language background to conduct their ordination examination “in the language that they will most likely minister with in the near future”. Until then, every ministry candidate had to undergo their ordination examinations in English – even if they were training for ministry to people of non-English-speaking background. But with this move, the Presbytery has recognised that the church of God consists of people from every tribe and tongue; and that many of those tribes of non-English tongues are right here in western Sydney; and we need to minister to them. I personally delight in the fact that I am currently assessing a sermon by an ordination candidate that is preached in Cantonese just a few months after this provision became available

But maybe the best news is that in amongst all of this diversity, everyone I’ve mentioned is absolutely wholeheartedly committed to unity in one thing: the ultimate Good News that Jesus Christ has come to seek and save the lost. And they are similarly committed to calling everyone from every tribe, tongue, and nation to following Jesus Christ.

Yes, the great minister drought is real and I am encouraged that churches and denominations are having robust discussions about how to alleviate this drought. For what it’s worth, I believe that we need urgent but not rushed, prayerful and planned, along with sacrificial and strategic action. We must guard ourselves from the tendency to craft pragmatic solutions to theological problems. The classical adage festina lente (“make haste slowly”) seems appropriate for this period where we need to act quickly without rushing and risk creating a different set of problems for the future. Quite simply, we need churches to disciple godly Christians, encourage those who are called and gifted to serve vocationally in the church of Jesus Christ, train them rigorously to handle God’s Word and engage with culture, and send them across our city and world so that they can reach the nations and generations. It’s a challenging and costly task.

However, the stories above, and others like it, show that Christ is indeed still building his church (Matthew 16:18). Will you join me in praying, supporting, and going for the next generation?

Elliot Ku is an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of Australia and currently serves as the Associate Pastor at GracePoint Presbyterian Church.