Why This is Crucial
According to the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Research Center, only 5% of pastors world-wide have a Bible college or seminary degree — and that includes North America! Outside of North America, 85% of pastors have zero training — no Bible college or seminary, no mentoring, nothing! But this is America, right? It’s different here, right? There are seminaries and Bible colleges just up the road, right? Yes, and to their credit, many are working hard to close the gap. But the question remains — why is there such a large gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” among churches in terms of the degree of training for their ministers, right here in Reading?
Most Anglo churchgoers simply take for granted what they have, and don’t realize the study and effort that goes into what their pastors and leaders do week by week. Of course, they would (rightly) not imagine going into their own jobs (in a trade or a profession) without proper training. So, surely, the needs of the leaders of the churches serving such a needy, vulnerable community as Reading deserve a high priority.
Follow the money
The average net worth of white households remains around 10 times (not 10%, 10 times!) greater than non-white households in the US. And higher education, even with all the outreach efforts made by institutions, remains prohibitively expensive, especially considering that many of these pastors are working a full-time job in addition to their pastoring work. If they leave their ministries to pursue higher education, their vital works in the city will likely disappear. They need boots-on-the-ground service and support. That’s the unique service that TIR provides.
The Unique challenges of Reading
In 2011, the US Census of the previous year released its findings for poverty in America. And right there at the top, beating out Detroit, Flint, Brownsville and others, was Reading, the poorest city in the nation. To compound matters, because of financial problems, the city was also forced to enter Act 47, a PA program for struggling cities, a program that limits spending on crucial services (our police force is well under the maximum number of officers allowed under Act 47). Several years later the FBI launched an investigation into corruption in city government and several years after that, a mayor, council president and school board president were indicted, found guilty and faced jail and fines. The population of the city, which continues to grow, is overwhelmingly young. In addition, in 2016, a Rutgers University study identified the Reading School District (of 18,000 students) as the worst-funded district in the nation. The district also has the lowest-paid teachers in the county. These leaders are serving a struggling population living under significant stress, in addition to the normal pastoral stresses of shepherding a congregation.
Massive DEMOGRAPHIC shifts
The current census projections have the US becoming “white minority” by 2045. That happened a long time ago in Reading. In 2016, the Reading Eagle published a series of articles documenting the unprecedented shift of white churches away from the city, either closing or moving to the suburbs. Few have paid attention to the explosion of Latino churches to serve this growing population. These are gifted and passionate leaders, organizers, preachers and community leaders, and can only make the city a better place when their specific needs are addressed and served on site and in their context.