Many smaller churches struggle to find pastors today. More than once while working with the pastor search committee of a smaller church I've asked them if there was anyone in their congregation who might be able to serve as pastor. I'm convinced that is where more and more small church pastors are going to be found in the future.
Most smaller churches are going to be calling bivocational ministers for the foreseeable future. Bivocational ministry is very geographical. It's unlikely someone from New Jersey is going to relocate to Iowa to serve as a bivocational pastor. These pastors are going to be found within about a 50 mile radius of the church, and often much closer.
A rural church seeking a pastor was having problems finding their next pastor. A deacon in the church called asking to meet with me. In that meeting he shared that he felt that God was leading him to serve as the pastor of the church, but he wasn't sure he would be capable of doing that. I responded that he was actually the perfect candidate. He was spiritually mature. He had lived in that community his entire life and was well respected by both the church and community. He would begin his ministry with a trust level that a new person might take years to earn. I offered to submit his name, the church called him as their pastor, and he continues to provide excellent ministry in the church. After beginning as pastor he enrolled in our region's Church Leadership Institute to gain more knowledge and increase his ministry skills.
A few years ago I visited one of the smaller churches in our region and learned that the pastor had left a few months earlier. No one thought to tell me! This was a very small church, and two of the laymen were taking turns preaching on Sunday. One of them was taking his last class in our Church Leadership Institute. I approached him about serving the church as their pastor. He admitted he had been considering it, but would only do so if the church asked him. I explained they weren't going to ask because they already considered him their pastor. I just wanted to see it become official. He's been the pastor there now for three or four years and the church has seen very steady growth throughout that time.
Not every leader we help develop will become a bivocational minister. The vast majority will serve in their current church as a lay leader, and that is vital for the long-term health of our churches.
What are some ways to develop the leaders in your congregation?
- Identify who these folks are. Until you recognize potential leaders you can't develop them.
- Talk to them about their interest in being developed as a leader. What do they sense God calling them to do in the church? This may be the first time anyone has talked to them about this.
- Invest time and resources in them. When I first shared with my pastor that I felt God might be calling me into ministry he gave me the keys to his church study and invited me to use it. He began to take me with him to various events and when he was ministering to our congregation.
- Offer leadership training in the church. Many small church leaders have never received training of any kind. Be intentional about training. You may find people you never thought of as leaders excited about receiving this training.
- Invite potential leaders to go with you to events and visits when appropriate. Use these times as training opportunities.
- Give people opportunities to serve in leadership positions. My pastor started a new Sunday school class which our church needed and asked me to teach it. It was great preparation for the pastorate as I had to prepare each week for the next Sunday's lesson. As pastor I had two laymen regularly preach when I was away on vacation. One of them has since served as the pastor of a church and regularly does interim ministry work. We gave other people leadership opportunities as they were ready for them.
- Regularly remind your congregation that God has given each of us spiritual gifts that are to be used in ministry. Help them identify those gifts and how they might be used to serve others.