Monday, January 12, 2015

How can denominations better serve their bivocational churches and pastors?

Last Friday my blog addressed the potential decline in denominational life as we now know it.  In the post I listed several reasons for this decline that came from the book Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God by Greg Ogden.  In addition to the reasons he named I suggested one additional reason: the failure of denominations to recognize and resource their bivocational churches and pastors.  You can read that blog post here.  I promised that I would suggest some ways denominations could better support their bivocational churches in a later blog, and that is what this post will address.

I frequently receive e-mails from bivocational pastors who tell me they feel lonely and ignored by their denominations.  Because of their other jobs they often cannot attend pastor gatherings held during the day time.  Many tell me they seldom, if ever, see their denominational leaders.  I once asked a bivocational pastor who was seeking a move to another church if he had told his judicatory leader of his interest in moving.  He responded that he had been in his church for five years, and his DOM wouldn't know him if he walked into his office.  I hear similar stories from bivocational pastors serving in numerous denominations.

The first thing a denomination can do to support their bivocational ministers is by simply being present.  I had two Area Ministers during my 20 year pastorate, and both of them attended at least one worship service at our church during their tenures.  One attended my mother's funeral service.  I spent time with each of them at various times in my ministry.  Some of those times they assisted with issues we had in the church.  Other times they were leading workshops in our church or preaching revivals.  I had an excellent relationship with both men and knew I could call on them at any time. Our region had three Executive Ministers during my pastorate, and all three of them preached in worship services in our church.  My church and I felt very supported even though we were a small, rural bivocational church.

I should say a word to bivocational pastors right here.  I was often asked how I got these folks to speak in our church, and the answer is quite simple.  I asked them.  We can't always place the blame on the denominational persons.  Now that I serve in that capacity I can tell you that we normally go where we are invited.  If I have a free Sunday then I will go to a church I haven't visited for awhile, but I don't have too many free Sundays. I have 133 churches in my area so I'm usually committed to going somewhere just about every Sunday.  It's not easy for me to just "drop" in on a Sunday.  I understand a pastor's frustration at never seeing or hearing from their denominational leaders, but sometimes you have not because you ask not.

Bivocational ministers run the gamut when it comes to theological education.  I've heard from some that never completed high school to others who have PhDs.  Some who have advanced degrees have them in fields other than theology or ministry.  Many bivocational ministers need practical ministry and theological training.  Few of them are going to be able to uproot their families and go off to college and/or seminary, so denominations need to find ways to offer the education and training they need.

Our region offers a program called the Church Leadership Institute (CLI) that is designed for both lay leaders and bivocational ministers.  We now have several CLI graduates pastoring some of our bivocational churches. and these individuals are doing a very good job.  CLI was never designed to replace a seminary education, but it does provide solid, practical ministry training as well as an introductory theological education.  We see the need to expand this program and have increased the number of sites where CLI is offered to make it more accessible and we're currently exploring offering it online.  Every denomination needs to look into offering something similar.

While there are many things that denominations need to do to support and encourage their bivocational ministers I will just mention one more in this post.  How often does your denomination showcase bivocational ministers?  Does your denomination ever have a bivocational minister speak at its annual meetings?  Is the good work done in some of your bivocational churches ever recognized in your denominational newsletters or at your major gatherings?  Are your bivocational ministers ever offered opportunities to serve on your regional boards or other significant denominational positions?

For a number of years our region recognized "Church of the Year" churches.  Similar size churches competed with one another for the award. The church I pastored received it twice, and that recognition did much to encourage our small church.  As a bivocational pastor I was asked to work with a number of our churches, both bivocational and fully-funded, in a major capital funds campaign our denomination conducted one year.  At our recent region biennial a bivocational pastor was asked to speak to the gathering about some ministries their church was doing and the impact it was having on its community.  These types of public recognition are not always found in every denomination, but they should be.

Bivocational churches are growing rapidly across denominations.  Many of them are providing wonderful ministry to their communities.  These churches and their pastors need support and encouragement from their denominations as well as the resources they need to take their ministries up to another level.  The denominations that offer such to their bivocational churches will flourish in the coming years.


Dustin Long said...

This is a good post. I am bi-vocational and have served with two DOM's. I have had a good relationship with both of them, for two reasons: I reached out to them and they responded. I cannot attend the weekly meetings, but I do make an effort to visit with the DOM, usually with an arranged afternoon meeting, at least 3-4 times a year. I have had several people who told me they feel ignored or indifferent about the current DOM. They mention they do not know him and he does not visit their church. I always say, "He has preached at my church several times because I have called him and asked him to come." And I also am quick to point out that he has never turned down a meeting with me, either me scheduling one, or on a few occasions when I have just dropped by the office. To make a friend, you have to be a friend . . .

Dennis Bickers said...

Dustin, Your experience has been very much like mine. I think many bivocational ministers would find the same thing to be true, but I realize that will not be the case for all. While these connections will be made at the judicatory level, too often there is very little being done at the denominational level. Unfortunately, if it's not a priority at that level it won't be a priority in some judicatory levels either.