It's always a risky thing to look ahead and try to predict the future, especially when you are looking at churches. As I've recently tried to look 10 years down the road one of the things that I think is a pretty safe prediction is that we are going to see a lot more churches that are going to be looking for bivocational leaders. Most denominational leaders will tell you that they are already seeing more of their churches seeking bivocational ministers, and these same leaders will also tell you that they see that increasing in the future. So do I. There are many reasons for this which I won't get into in this post, but I am convinced that some churches that currently use fully-funded pastors will be taking a serious look at calling a bivocational pastor the next time they need a pastor. The challenge is going to be where do we find people who have been trained to be bivocational ministers.
Bivocational ministers come from a wise range of backgrounds and educational levels. I've known bivocational ministers who had PhDs from major universities, and I've known others who had a high school education. Some are seminary professors, and others work in a factory as I did during much of my bivocational pastorate. How do we develop these individuals who have been called by God to this specific ministry, and a second question is what kind of training do they need?
I will devote a few future postings to these questions, but let me just touch on one area of training these individuals will need. Few things are more important in a smaller, bivocational church that relationships. These churches are often called family churches for good reasons. Relationship in these churches is #1. This means that the pastors of these churches, if they want to enjoy successful ministries, must be relational people. They must be persons who can interact successfully with members of their churches. It hurts me to say this, but I see a lot of pastors who seriously need to work on their people skills.
Once again LifeWay did a study on pastor terminations and found that the top five reasons pastors were terminated by their churches were due to relationship issues. These same top five reasons may shift places from one year to the next, but they have remained the top five reasons for a decade or longer. More pastors lose their jobs each year because they cannot work well with members of their congregations than lose their jobs over doctrinal issues or any other issue. I don't know if the numbers have been broken down by size of church, but my guess is that, because smaller churches are so relationally driven, a large percentage of these terminations were in the smaller churches.
I don't remember a lot of classes in seminary that addressed relationships; in fact, I don't think I had any. If this is the number one reason why ministers are terminated it seems that this is a topic that should be addressed as we prepare persons for ministry. Until that changes it will be up to judicatories and para-church groups to develop that kind of training for their ministers, including their bivocational ministers.
Leadership is all about having people willing to follow you, and if they don't like you or respect you they aren't apt to follow you. Relationship building develops trust, and trust is the currency of leadership. As we think about helping prepare people for bivocational ministry I think we have to begin by helping them understand the importance of developing healthy relationships with persons in their church and give them the tools to do that.
What do you think?