Bivocational ministry has made great strides in recent years. While there are exceptions, there is much greater acceptance of bivocational ministry and a greater appreciation of what these ministers are capable of doing. There have been several doctoral theses written on bivocational ministry since I wrote mine, and all of them I have seen have been very positive towards this ministry. Still, there is much more that needs to be done.
Seven years ago my sabbatical project included talking with the leaders of several denominations to learn the status of bivocational ministry in their denominations. To a person, they all admitted that bivocational ministry is growing within their denomination, and they expected that growth to continue if not increase.
On the negative side, none of them were able to tell me how they identified persons who might be a called to ministry. Also, with the exception of one denomination, they all admitted they had no unified plan to train persons who might have been called to bivocational ministry.
This seems problematic to me. If we believe that the need for bivocational ministers in our denominations will increase over the next several years then it would seem logical to seek ways to identify those persons who have been called to such ministry and ways to train those persons for the work God has given them.
Most ministers I know can remember a time when someone talked to them about the ministry. Sometimes this conversation was one-on-one as one person identifies qualities and gifts another person might have that are needed in ministry. A former pastor asked me one day if I had ever felt that God was calling me to the ministry. The answer was yes although I had never told anyone until he asked.
There was a time when an altar call often included asking people to respond if they felt called to the ministry. Many people initially responded to God's call on their lives by responding to that altar call. I seldom hear that invitation included in today's altar calls.
I see few times when persons are intentionally challenged to consider the possibility that God is calling them into bivocational ministry. We can't call anyone to become a minister. That is a call that must come from God. However, we can tell people the gifts and abilities we see in them, and we can invite them to pray about the possibility that they may have such a call on their lives.
Then, we come to the challenge of training these individuals. Many of these persons will not be interested in or able to attend seminary. Denominations, perhaps in cooperation with their seminaries, must find ways to provide quality training for these ministers. Currently, much of the training I've found has been offered by individual districts and regions, and the quality of this training varies widely.
Would it not be better if denominations could identify the core knowledge base and skills they want in their bivocational ministers and then develop a program where those things could be taught? As mentioned above, this could perhaps be done with the help of their seminaries and Bible colleges. Once such a program was developed it could then be given to their state conventions or districts who would be encouraged to offer it to their bivocational ministers and those who are considering such ministry.
This will cost time and money to develop, and I realize that many denominations are struggling right now with finances, but this must be seen as an investment in their churches. As many as one-third to one-half of the churches in many denominations are now bivocational. In some denominations the figures are much higher. Can denominations continue to ignore the needs of these churches any longer?
We simply must do a better job of identifying and training persons who will be serving in bivocational ministries.