Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pastoral leadership in the smaller church

Preacher by siervo - Preacher from the pulpit   "Why are we having so much trouble finding a new pastor?"  The question is one I hear a lot today from the pastor search committees in smaller churches.  For years many of the smaller churches in our area depended on students from a nearby seminary for their pastors.  All they had to do was call the placement office and a packet of resumes would be sent to them.  A pastoral search might only take a couple of months.  Those days are gone.

For a variety of reasons most students from that seminary won't pastor a church in our denomination so contacting the seminary is usually not helpful.  In my opinion, that's not a bad thing.  The churches that depended on these students were mostly spinning their wheels.  Every two or three years their pastor graduated and moved on to another church.  Little, if any, ministry occurred during that pastor's tenure.  The church had a person to stand in the pulpit each Sunday; the student gained experience; but little meaningful ministry ever took place.  The church grew older and smaller, and every two or three years got to repeat the cycle over again.

Now, these churches are finding it increasingly difficult to find someone willing to serve as their pastor. This is often a painful realization for many of these churches.  Many question their value to the Kingdom of God.  Some blame their denomination for not being more helpful while others question the commitment of upcoming pastors to their calling.

I try to explain to these churches why it's so difficult to find persons to serve as pastors to smaller churches.  Some of the reasons are

  • There is a growing number of ministers reaching retirement age which has made the pool of available ministers smaller.
  • One-half of all seminary graduates leave the ministry within five years after graduation making the pool even smaller.
  • Many pastors refuse to serve in smaller churches because they do not believe it is a good use of their gifts and training.
  • Some view smaller churches as being unhealthy and do not want to serve there.
  • The average seminary student completes his or her education with substantial student debt which is difficult to repay with the salaries offered by many smaller church.
  • Many enter seminary from larger, suburban churches and want to return to those types of churches upon graduation.  They would not be comfortable in the rural or small town settings where many smaller churches are located.
Just yesterday I read an article that offered another reason.  According to a study done by the Association of Theological Schools on the incoming students at 161 ATS schools in 2011-2012, 81 percent of them did not expect to serve as pastors and less than half planned to be ordained.  What does this say about the numbers of persons entering pastoral ministry in the future?

What do all of these reasons listed here suggest to smaller churches seeking pastoral leadership?  We'll try to answer that question in tomorrow's post.

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