Friday, January 8, 2016

Local church pastors in the UMC

MinistryMatters recently published an article by Ed Trimmer that looked at the growing numbers of local church pastors in the United Methodist Church. You can read the entire article here. In view of this growing trend Trimmer asked several important questions regarding education and inclusion of these pastors on national boards and agencies. These questions are similar to comments I made in this blog a few weeks ago about the need for denominations to look at how they support their bivocational ministers.

Trimmer points out that not all local pastors in the UMC are bivocational, but 60 percent of them are. He believes the number of local pastors will continue to grow which indicates that the number of bivocational pastors in that denomination will probably grow as well.  Leaders of most denominations will say this is true for them as well.

One of the interesting comments in the article for me personally was that one of the conferences that has a large number of local church pastors is East Ohio. A few years ago I led a workshop for UMC small church pastors in eastern Ohio that was very well received. The following year I was invited back to lead another workshop for a group of pastors in that conference who had been asked to serve as coaches for their growing number of bivocational ministers. This seems to me to be one way denominations can stay in touch with these pastors and provide them encouragement and assistance.

Twelve experienced pastors, most of whom were fully-funded, although a few were bivocational, had agreed to serve as coaches to the bivocational pastors in that conference. My responsibility that day was to teach them about bivocational ministry and principles of coaching and how to tie the two together.

This seems like a good example other denominations could copy especially if some form of theological training is also provided. The American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky offers the Church Leadership Institute (CLI) to provide educational opportunities to our lay leaders and bivocational pastors. CLI was originally created to offer training for the lay leaders in our churches, but some of those lay leaders went on to become bivocational pastors upon graduating. Some who were already serving as bivocational pastors began attending CLI to receive basic ministerial training to better serve their churches. CLI has proven to be an asset to our churches and church leaders, not only in our region but in all places where similar training opportunities exist.

Our next term begins tomorrow, and the class I teach is one of those offered this term. I teach "Personal and Family Health" which looks at how people can best manage their time, set realistic goals for their churches, themselves, and their families, and how to live life in according to their core values and priorities rather than letting others determine how they will live. We also look at how to set up a salary and benefit package in a small church. Such practical classes along with biblical and theological classes provide a good base for lay leaders and bivocational ministers.

If a district or region offered some combination of formal training and coaching from experienced pastors it could help resolve some of the educational challenges faced by their bivocational and local church pastors.

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