Monday, August 6, 2012

The growing need for bivocational ministers

As I speak to leaders from numerous denominations they all tell me the same thing.  The numbers of churches being served by bivocational ministers are growing, and these leaders expect that growth to continue.  I agree with their assessment and believe that we are likely to see those numbers increase at a faster rate.  Right now we need more bivocational ministers than we have, and I'm convinced that need will grow rapidly in the future.  There are a number of reasons for this.
  1. There are a large number of pastors and missionaries approaching retirement age.  Many have already reached retirement age and would retire if the economy was stronger.  I personally have spoken to a couple of pastors who would have retired at least a year earlier than they did, but they were hoping the economy would improve so their retirement checks would be larger.
  2. Studies have found that a percentage of pastors refuse to serve in smaller churches.  Some believe that serving in such churches would not use their gifts and training very well.  Others came out of larger, suburban churches and are not comfortable going to a smaller church.  Still others are not willing to pastor a church for the salary and benefits a smaller church often offers their pastors.
  3. Finances are certainly a factor.  Many marginally fully-funded churches that were barely able to provide a living salary find their finances have shrunk to a point that they have had to lower the salary they are paying the pastor.  Even if they do not lower the salary they are unable to provide increases which reduces the purchasing power of the pastor's salary.  Ministers with growing families find they cannot provide for them with the salaries these churches are paying, so the churches are forced to seek bivocational ministers.
  4. Several denominations have set aggressive goals for new church starts, and many of them are depending upon bivocational ministers to start these new churches.
  5. Many today are second-career ministers.  They may be well established in the workplace or have their own business.  While they do not feel led to give those up, they still feel called to the ministry. If they are settled in their other occupation they are also likely settled in the communities in which they live and may want to remain there and not have to move to lead a church.  For such persons bivocational ministry makes a lot of sense.
No doubt there are other good reasons why more churches are seeking bivocational leadership.  The challenge is finding persons to fill these ministry roles.  It is much easier today to find a pastor for a fully-funded church than to find a person willing to serve as a bivocational pastor.  I have long argued that one of the critical tasks of denominational and judicatory leaders is to identify and equip persons who have been called to be bivocational ministers.

One of the things I am certain of is that our growing need for bivocational ministers has not caught God by surprise.  I believe He has been calling men and women to such ministries to meet this need.  While no one can tell someone they have been called I do believe that those of us in leadership positions can challenge people to pray about a possible call of God on their lives.  While denominational leaders can do that, the best person to issue such a challenge is the pastor.

I want to encourage every pastor reading this post to begin thinking about possible people in their churches who might have such a call on their lives.  Are there persons who seem to have spiritual gifts that lend themselves to ministry?  Are there persons who seem to be natural leaders in your church?  Are there people who have a hunger and thirst for God and the Scriptures and who are able to share with others what they are learning?  These are the people that should be approached and asked to pray about a possible call on their lives to the ministry.  It should be explained that if such a call does exist it might be to fully-funded ministry or bivocational ministry.  I think it's important for a person with such a call to first say yes to the call and then see what doors God opens up.

The need for bivocational ministers will not shrink any time soon.  If those of us in leadership are not proactive in helping persons with a call of God on their lives recognize that call, many of our churches will soon find it difficult to find pastors and other ministry leaders.

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