Monday, December 7, 2015

Denominations must do a better job of supporting their bivocational ministers

Last Friday I wrote about the need for denominations to do a better job of identifying persons who might be called to bivocational ministry and training these individuals for such ministry. Today, I want to focus on the additional need to support and resource these ministers and the churches they serve.

Several years ago I contacted a leader of our denomination and challenged him to identify ways our denomination could intentionally support bivocational ministry. A few days later I received a response from him saying that it would be brought up in an upcoming meeting, and he would get back with me. I never heard from him again. And nothing has been done at the national level.

I frequently hear from bivocational pastors who tell me they feel they are ignored by the denomination, and they are largely right. There is a big disconnect between our denomination and many of our churches, and many of them question why they bother remaining members of the denomination. With such attitudes so prevalent our denominational leaders should not be so surprised at the declining financial support they receive from their churches. They have essentially written off one-third of our churches.

At the regional level it's a different story. Many of our regions are very supportive of their bivocational pastors and churches and do work very hard to resource them. The region in which I've served for the past 15 years has been very intentional about honoring our smaller churches and those who lead them. We have developed resources and offered workshops specifically for these smaller churches. Bivocational ministers have been invited to speak at our biennial events. I know of many other regions that have been just as intentional as our region has been in supporting their smaller churches and bivocational ministers. May their tribes increase!

I singled out my denomination because it is the one with which I am most familiar. However, the same thing exists in many, if not most, denominations. How many have an individual or department specifically charged with supporting and resourcing their small churches or bivocational ministers? How much of their budget is focused on these churches? How often are their bivocational ministers invited to the big stage at their large gatherings or even asked to lead a workshop?

Some do a much better job than others, and I've been privileged to work with them. I find in these denominations a much greater connection between the denomination and their smaller churches. I also find the energy level is higher among their bivocational ministers. A few years ago I led a workshop at a national gathering for one denomination, and I was surprised at the high energy and excitement I experienced among those pastors. I was also surprised at how young many of these pastors were.

What should denominations do who have not provided a lot of support to their bivocational ministers and church in the past? Here are some quick suggestions to consider.

  • Assign a national staff person to specifically focus on the needs of these churches and pastors. Obviously, this person will need staff and a budget. This should be someone with actual experience in bivocational ministry.
  • Include the stories of these churches in your mailings and marketing material. Everyone appreciates being recognized for the good work they are doing.
  • Develop a caucus of bivocational ministers in your denomination. This caucus can help the denomination identify their specific needs.
  • Invite bivocational ministers to speak at your national gatherings. Put them on the "big" stage as well as leading workshops.
  • Honor these men and women who serve your churches so faithfully in addition to holding down other jobs. These individuals deserve to be honored and not ignored for what they do.
  • As mentioned in last Friday's post, develop training programs to help these leaders succeed. Such training in an investment in your smaller churches and must be seen as critically important to the future of your denomination.
  • Be patient. If your denomination is one that has largely ignored your bivocational leaders in the past don't expect them to come running to the first few events you offer them. It may take time for them to believe that you are serious about wanting to support them.
No doubt, there are many other things that could be done, but start here. As you begin, other things you can do will quickly become obvious. The important thing is to begin intentionally supporting these churches and their leaders. (Church may need to send this post to your denominational leaders!)

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