Friday, March 4, 2016

The leadership crisis in the small church

For the past fourteen years I served as a Resource Minister in our region. My role was to assist the churches in the region with whatever they needed, A good portion of my work was with pastor search committees. I would meet with these committees, help them through our process of searching for a pastor, and give them information on persons that might meet their criteria. Finding qualified persons for the smaller churches was often a struggle.

Studies tell us that many pastors refuse to serve smaller churches for a variety of reasons. That is very unfortunate. Having served as a bivocational pastor of one church for 20 years I can tell those pastors that they are missing the opportunity to be blessed and to be a blessing. However, I am realistic enough to know that this is not going to change. In fact, it's going to get worse.

We are already seeing some churches that used to have no trouble attracting a fully-funded, seminary trained pastor struggle to find their next pastor. They are finding that they can no longer pay the salary and benefits needed to attract these pastors. Other factors can also result in them struggling to fill their pulpits with pastors who meet their historic requirements.

Since I retired at the end of 2015 I've stayed busy preaching in various churches, many of them small churches who are seeking new pastors. These churches are looking for bivocational pastors but are struggling to find someone who can serve their churches. My heart breaks for these churches because these are precious people who just want a pastor who will love them and lead their church.

I know I write on this problem fairly often, but it's one I think is important to keep before our churches and our denominational leaders. Small churches need to continually look for persons who have pastoral and leadership gifts and challenge them to consider if God might be calling them to pastoral ministry. I'm convinced that many of the future pastors in smaller churches will come from within the church they will serve. We need to keep such people in leadership pipelines so they will be ready when called upon to serve.

Denominations must seek new ways to train these persons for ministry in the smaller church. Very few of them will seek a traditional seminary education. Denominational and church leaders need to determine what education and training is needed for such pastors and find ways to make that available to them. Seminaries can be a great help here as well. Some now offer certificate programs to persons who feel called to ministry but cannot pursue a traditional degree program. We need more to make such training available.

Many of these smaller churches also need to change the way they think about their pastors. In some denominations it's not unusual for a pastor to serve 2-4 congregations. In my Baptist tradition few churches are willing to share a pastor with another church. I've tried to convince several that this might be their best option to find a quality pastor, but I was never able to make my case. Each church wanted their "own" pastor. In my opinion, many of them might have enjoyed a better pastor by sharing one with another church than the one they called to be "their" pastor.

This is not a problem with an easy fix. Pastors, churches, denominations, and seminaries are all going to have to accept changes if we are going to have pastors for our smaller churches.

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