Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A dangerous tendency for bivocational churches

For much of my ministry bivocational churches and their pastors were largely ignored by denominations and judicatories which focused much of their attention on their larger churches.  Suddenly, these organizations realized one day that a significant percentage of their churches were made up of smaller churches, many of which were led by bivocational ministers.  As they looked closer they found in some cases these churches were supportive of the denomination, gave a high percentage of their income to denominational mission work, and were active in their local association or district.  They then realized something they had not noticed before, the numbers of these churches were growing throughout their denomination.  One of the joys of my life has been to see denominational and judicatory leaders begin to reach out to their bivocational churches and pastors and offer them support and resources.  I've been blessed to have had the opportunity to lead numerous workshops and conferences for the bivocational leaders across numerous denominations and provide some of the resources they are using to help train them.

However, I am hearing a common concern expressed by many denominational leaders.  Their bivocational ministers are not taking advantage of the support now being offered.  My initial response to denominational leaders was to remind them that for many years they had not offered these leaders any assistance so they had grown used to being ignored by the larger organization.  They had sought out their own resources and developed their own fellowships with other bivocational ministers.  That initial response is losing traction because these resources now have been available in many judicatories for a number of years, and their bivocational churches and leaders are still not taking advantage of them.  If a denomination or judicatory plan an event specifically for bivocational ministers they are often more than mildly disappointed at the turn-out. 

One judicatory developed a two-year ministry to assist their smaller churches in seven primary areas of church life that most smaller churches frequently request help.  They intentionally kept the costs low so it would be affordable for any church.  The sessions were scheduled throughout their district to make travel easier for each church.  Less than one percent of their eligible churches enrolled in the program.  Coaches were provided for each pastor of the registered churches, but few of these pastors have ever contacted their coach despite being asked repeatedly to do so.  Although judicatory leaders report to me that it is too early to tell, it appears that some of the registered churches are doing very little with the material they've been given so far.  Unfortunately, this is too descriptive of other attempts by other denominational bodies' efforts to assist their smaller churches, and my fear is that these denominational groups who have made the effort to reach out to their small churches and had this type of response will decide to go back to ignoring these churches.

I've been involved in bivocational ministry for over 30 years so I know how difficult it is to do everything that one needs to do.  For most of those years I didn't have to worry about attending training events geared specifically for me and my church because they didn't exist.  I tried to seek out those that I felt addressed the ministry areas in which I needed to grow and then try to adapt what I learned to my small church situation.  Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't.  Today, many of you now have learning opportunities I didn't have during most of my ministry.  Events are being specifically designed with the smaller church in mind, but if more bivocational ministers do not start taking advantage of these training opportunities they will soon disappear. 

Let me speak bluntly.  If you are too busy to grow as a leader, you are not a leader, and it won't be too long before you won't have anything to lead.  If you believe you know all you need to know to pastor your church, you are doing your congregation a disservice.  (I decided to avoid the use of the word arrogant in that statement.)  God has called you to a place of service and has gifted you with the tools you need to fulfill that call, but it is up to you to keep those tools sharp.  There are more opportunities today to sharpen those tools than ever before, but you have to take advantage of those opportunities.  Our bivocational churches and pastors have a tendency to ignore the training opportunities now being offered by their denominational and para-church groups, and if that continues much longer I am afraid we will soon see those opportunities disappear and possibly never return. 

What training opportunities will you seek out in 2013?

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