Wednesday, June 17, 2015

But, I'm just a layperson

As I meet with the pastor search committees of smaller churches there is usually a concern that it will be difficult to find a pastor. That concern is well-founded. Most denominational leaders will tell you that one of their biggest struggles is to find pastors to serve in their smaller churches.

Pastoral churches, those who are large enough to have a fully-funded pastor, face the same problem when they seek a staff person such as a youth leader. Quite often, they are looking for a bivocational person to lead some ministry in their church. It can be quite challenging to find these persons as well.

My advice to these churches is often to look within their congregation for such persons. People who are already attending the church have bought into the ministry and vision of the church. They are known entities. It may well be that the next pastor of your small church or staff member is already sitting in your pews.

We spend too much time looking for persons with degrees and formal education. It is going to become increasingly more difficult to find seminary trained ministers to fill positions in our smaller churches. We need to seek persons who have the giftedness and passion to serve in these ministries. Once we find such persons the church can then invest in helping them obtain the training they will need to be more effective, but such training can occur while they are serving.

Of course, one of the challenges will be to convince these persons that God may have more of a call on their lives than they realize. I once challenged a lay leader in a very small church to consider that God may be calling him to pastor that church. His response was typical. "I'm just a layperson. I don't think I could do that." As we talked further he admitted that he did preach there often since their last pastor left, and he had thought about the possibility of being the pastor there, but he just didn't think he had the education or experience. Within a few weeks the church called him as pastor, he has graduated from a ministry training program, and he is enjoying a very effective ministry in that church.

Another small church was struggling to find a pastor. One of their deacons, a local farmer, called asking to meet with me. As we met he shared that he felt that God was calling him to be the pastor there, but he was a farmer, not a minister. I reminded him that he was highly respected in that church and community. He had excellent interpersonal skills. He had led Bible study in the church for years and was well-grounded in the Scriptures. I told him I had no doubt he could be a very good pastor for that church and recommended he continue to pray about it. A decade later this church has flourished under his pastoral leadership. Both of these churches have been exciting to watch.

"I'm just a lay person," is an excuse people often give, but it overlooks a very important truth. We are also children of God who have been given spiritual gifts to equip us for ministry. Each of us were ordained for ministry at our baptism. Not all of us are called to be pastors or to fill staff positions in churches, but some of us are. God has ordained us and gifted us for the roles he has given us, and to refuse those ministry roles is to deny the purpose for which we were created.

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