Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Identifying bivocational ministers

Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows how concerned I am about how denominations identify and develop persons God has called to bivocational ministry.  As I've talked to leaders in various denominations it is obvious that the numbers of bivocational ministers are growing and every leader with whom I've spoken believes that growth will continue.  However, none I've spoken with tells me their denomination has a way to help identify those persons who are called to such ministry, and few have any intentional way to effectively train those who do not have formal ministerial training.  There are already many bivocational churches needing such leaders, and I predict that even more will be looking for bivocational ministers in the future.  We must find ways to identify persons called to be bivocational ministers, and we must find effective ways to train them.

When it comes to identification one of the simplest things we can do is to ask people we believe have spiritual gifts that would enable them to be bivocational ministers if they have ever felt such a call on their lives.  I remember growing up as a child and hearing the same invitation given every Sunday in the churches I attended.  The invitation was to make a first-time decision for Christ, to rededicate one's life to Christ, to move one's church membership to this church, and to yield to God's call on one's life to full-time Christian service.  I still hear the first three but seldom do I hear the fourth part of the invitation.  I think we need to include it again and add to it the possibility that God might be calling a person to bivocational ministry.

Over thirty years ago I responded to God's call on my life to enter the ministry because a pastor of mine asked me one day if I had ever thought God might be calling me to do so.  I admitted that there had been times in my life when I felt that call on my life, but no one had ever asked me about it before so I had not done anything with it.  This pastor explained why he felt that God might be wanting to use me in ministry, and then he handed me a key to his church study so I could use his library.  Shortly after that he resigned from our church, and a few months later I requested our church license me into the ministry.  Nearly every minister I've spoken to can point back to a similar experience when someone they trusted asked them if they had ever felt God's call on their lives.  I personally believe that there are people out there who are waiting for someone to challenge them in the same way.  We can't call anyone into the ministry, but we can ask them to prayerfully consider if God has placed that call on their lives.  For those who answer in the affirmative we can then encourage them to seek how God might be wanting to use them.

More and more churches today are seeking bivocational ministers, and the need is far greater than the supply.  Most people who serve a bivocational church will do so in or near the community in which he or she lives.  Few people are willing to relocate to serve a bivocational church.  Those of us in denominational work must always be on the lookout for persons who might be called to serve in those churches.  Many of the bivocational pastors in my area pastor a church in which they were a lay leader.  I have a number of former deacons now serving as pastors in the churches in which they were a deacon.  Others are serving in churches that are part of the same association in which their former church was a member.  Few of them live more than thirty minutes from their church and work.  I also know of several churches who need bivocational ministers who struggle to find one to serve their church.

As I tell church leaders in one of my workshops, I don't believe this need has caught God by surprise.  I do not believe for a minute that He is surprised at the number of bivocational churches who need pastors.  I am convinced that He has already called people to serve in those churches, but it falls on us to help people identify that call on their lives.  Are there good lay leaders in your church who might be called of God to serve as a bivocational minister?  Are there people in your church who enjoy going deep into the Scriptures in order to teach others?  Do you have leaders who enjoy a high level of trust with the people in your church and community?  Do you have leaders who seem frustrated with the level of ministry they are able to perform in their current roles?  Are there people in your church with a passion to see people come to Christ and grow as disciples?  Perhaps these are people you need to talk to about a possible call of God on their lives.  As you read this, are there people whose names immediately come to mind?  May I suggest you call them today and set a time to talk to them.  If God has indeed called them to bivocational ministry, the Kingdom of God needs them, and they need to be obedient to that call.

1 comment:

David Kletzing+ said...

Hello Dennis,

I've been reading and appreciating your blog for a long time. On this topic of identifying the bivocational minister I would think that it should be someone who has a stable secular job that won't become a burden to the ministry. The minister should have respect among peers in that job (have a good reputation), and also state that s/he is called to that secular job (at least for this stage in life) as well as to the church ministry. God calls some into ministry, some into secular professions, and some into both at the same time.

I was ordained 25 years ago and have served both as fully-funded and bivocational minister. I've seen some fully-funded ministers who would be benefited by taking a secular job for a while to learn better work habits and to gain that self confidence that seminary and church didn't give them.

Identifying a bivocational minister I would also look for a person who is ruthless in time management; strong in spiritual disciplines; who can draw solid boundaries between church, secular job, and family; who thrives as a team leader; who has close relationships with other ministers; and certainly whose spouse and children are committed to this calling.

Blessings, Dennis, in your minstry!