“Hundreds and perhaps thousands of churches exist today ... because early missionaries focused on training preachers who would plant churches and train other leaders,” he said.
Ministry training is just as vital in the United States, where Adair has worked in domestic missions. He helped launch the Tri-City Church of Christ in the Phoenix area.
Today he promotes mission work — domestic and overseas — through Sunset International Bible Institute, Lubbock, Texas. Launched in 1962, the school offers training in ministry and missions, even programs for sign language and women’s ministry. The school’s Adventures in Missions (AIM) program allows young people to serve as apprentices to full-time missionaries. The school has eight branch campuses and satellite schools around the world — from Ethiopia to Ecuador.
Born in Phoenix, Adair trained at Sunset and also has studied at Lubbock Christian University and Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas. He served as pulpit minister for the Boulevard church, Phoenix, before joining Sunset in 1989 to teach evangelism and missions. In 1993, he was appointed Executive Director.
Adair and his wife, Sandra Kay, have four children, all married and involved in full-time ministry, and 10 grandchildren.
How has the “market” for preachers changed? Do you agree that there is a shortage of preachers?
There is indeed a shortage of gospel preachers. More preachers are leaving the pulpit each year than are being produced in all of our brotherhood programs. Statistics show that 25 percent of pulpits among churches of Christ in the United States are empty.
However, that is but the tip of the iceberg. We must do more than simply supply preachers for existing pulpits. There is a great need for new church planting in unevangelized areas of the United States. An even greater need exists in receptive areas of the world where pioneering missionaries and church planters are desperately needed.
Why did the Sunset church take up the call to train ministers?
Cline Paden began the school of preaching in 1962, teaching classes in a barracks building on the campus of a fledgling Lubbock Christian College.
Early on, the vision was to train Spanish-speaking preachers for West Texas.
In its second year, the school expanded to include Anglo students. Shortly thereafter, the school was moved to the facilities of the Sunset church of Christ and the elders accepted the oversight of the ministry.
I’m grateful for the marvelous preacher training heritage we enjoy today because of visionary leaders like Cline Paden and because of the partnership of a church committed to the vision.
Do the students at Sunset who want to preach in the United States aim for large congregations in big cities or smaller ones in rural areas?
Because of our location in West Texas, we are surrounded by hundreds of rural, small-town congregations for 250 miles in any direction. We have had a symbiotic relationship with many of those congregations for more than 40 years. Many of our graduates find their first assignments in one of those churches.
Since more than 80 percent of brotherhood congregations have fewer than 200 members and since most of our empty pulpits are among those smaller churches, we believe we are filling a great need.
I also want to emphasize that some of the larger congregations in the brotherhood have a Sunset graduate in their pulpit. There is a need for biblically sound, ministry equipped, evangelistically minded preachers in churches of all sizes.
In the post-9/11 climate, has Sunset suffered from the contribution drop-offs and budget shortfalls that many other non-profits have confronted?
Fund raising has been challenging for all non-profits in the past three years, especially in 2003. Some fine brotherhood ministries went under in 2003.
Donations to our ministry last year were down 16 percent from the previous year. We were able to get through the year by a combination of budget cuts and tapping some available reserves. However, this year the reserves are gone and we cannot sustain similar losses without cutting essential ministries.
In January we launched a campaign to increase contributions by asking congregations to host a “Preacher Training Day” and take a special contribution. We raised over half the needed increase for 2004 in West Texas and are now expanding the effort to other areas of the country.
How have churches’ expectations of preachers changed over the years? Are there new challenges modern ministers must face?
Many congregations today, particularly larger congregations, seem to be looking for a polished, entertaining speaker who can “hit a home run” in the pulpit every Sunday and also can serve as the “CEO” of the church organization. He is expected to build and head a multi-talented staff to meet the varied needs of a consumer-culture church. This is a huge shift from a generation ago when there was greater emphasis on soundness in doctrine, Biblical knowledge and evangelism.
Though expectations have not changed as much in smaller congregations, even in that venue there seems to be more emphasis on ministering to the members’ needs than on community outreach and Kingdom growth.
The challenge for preachers today is to lead the church to focus on its mission in the world rather than on itself.
Describe the relationship between Sunset and other minister training programs. Is there cooperation on the field, or is there rivalry?
Our philosophy always has been that “lighthouses do not compete.” We cooperate in every way possible with other brotherhood ministries and training institutes. There is an annual meeting of “Ministry Trainers” in which we participate. We also are involved in several cooperative missions projects with other schools and ministries.
However, we still hear of some instances of conflict and rivalry coming from various fields. In most cases these problems are the result of doctrinal differences or personality conflicts rather than school rivalry. As our brotherhood becomes more diverse, it is likely that conflict will become more prevalent among those who have different points of view.
Is it difficult to train ministers for an increasingly diverse fellowship?
There always has been diversity in the brotherhood, but never in my lifetime has our brotherhood been more polarized by diversity. We are being pulled apart by two extremes — the ecumenical left and the ultra-conservative, exclusive right.
Both extremes have well-developed agendas to persuade the mainstream majority of our brotherhood to their views. Both have gifted spokesmen, publications to positively represent them and public forums to rally their followers.
Many of our churches and ministries, like Sunset, seem to be caught in the crossfire of those extreme views. Most of our students and the vast majority of our support comes from mainstream congregations, who, like us, seem to be catching flack from both extremes.
In all of this diversity our values have never wavered. We value the word of God, we value lost souls and we value the body of Christ. Our values drive our mission. This keeps us balanced in times of change.
How do you see churches of Christ (and their ministers) changing in the next 10 years?
In the future I see the “ecumenical left” leaving our fellowship (as many already have done) and merging with the larger evangelical community. At the same time I see the “exclusive right” continuing to fight all who disagree with their favored opinions and drawing their battle lines more sharply around themselves until their influence is marginalized.
I see the mainstream majority getting back to the biblical basics of faith, loving relationships, gospel preaching, church planting and world evangelism. I see a bright future for churches of Christ, if the majority of us reject the extremes that weaken us and get back to the heart of the message and the mission of Christ.