Retired Pastor Darell Young sits on the back pew at Hiltonia Baptist Church where he is serving in an interim role.
By ROGER ALFORD
The Christian Index
HILTONIA, Ga. – On the typical Sunday, Darell Young preaches to a congregation of about a dozen people at Hiltonia Baptist Church, fulfilling a promise he made to the Lord that he would spend his retirement years ministering as an itinerant preacher to some of Georgia’s smallest congregations.
“You can preach to 10 the same as 10,000,” the 73-year-old said on a recent Sunday at Hiltonia, a farming community in east Georgia where he’s serving as interim pastor. “Jesus preached to one lady at the well and turned the whole city upside down.”
Some of the churches where Young has preached in recent years have had fewer than 10 people in the pews, but he faithfully shares God’s word with them.
“Small churches struggle to get pastors,” he said. “They struggle with attendance. They struggle with cash flow. They can’t pay their pastors very much. But, if you get into ministry for the money, you’re in it for the wrong reason.”
Bobby Braswell Jr., interim associational missionary in the Middle Baptist Association, said he knows of one small Baptist church in east Georgia that has a Methodist pastor because of the short supply of Baptist preachers.
“Finding pastors is one of the real challenges we have,” Braswell said.
Protestant leaders have been sounding alarms about a looming pastor shortage for at least the past two decades. Southern Baptists hadn’t been as pressed as other denominations, but a number of church leaders have pointed to anecdotal evidence suggesting more vacant pulpits than qualified and willing pastors to fill them.
The Georgia Baptist Mission Board has begun reaching out to teenagers exploring a call to ministry, providing the guidance needed to help them make sense of what can be a confusing time in their lives.
The Called to Ministry initiative for high school students will be instrumental in preparing the next generation of pastors, Levi Skipper, leader of church strengthening for the Mission Board, told the Georgia Baptist Executive Committee on Tuesday.
Through the initiative, students are matched up with experienced mentors in their local communities and gather online once a month to talk with Georgia Baptist ministry leaders about what lies ahead.
“There really just hasn’t been a clear pathway for teenagers to take when they felt called to ministry,” Skipper said. “We want to change that in the state of Georgia. There are students throughout this state who feel called to ministry, but for whatever reason we have begun to pull away from challenging people to respond to that call. We want to revive that.”
Large churches typically have no problems filling vacancies, but some smaller congregations do. And with two-thirds of SBC churches numbering less than 300, and many of those under 100, rural congregations are feeling the pinch.
Young served as pastor of five churches before retiring in 2017 and settling in Statesboro to be near his children and grandchildren.
“I told the Lord if He would release me from full-time pastoring, I would preach wherever He needs me,” Young said. “He showed me the need in the small churches, and I have really enjoyed serving them. There are some of us old codgers out here who don’t mind doing what we ought to be doing, and that’s to tell everyone about Jesus, including people in the smallest of churches.”