While serving as a judicatory minister in our region for 14 years I saw it become increasingly more difficult to find pastors for our churches. Smaller churches often seek bivocational ministers to serve in their churches, and these tend to be found primarily near the location of the church. Few pastors are going to move from New Jersey to serve a small, bivocational church in Indiana. Our search for a pastor for these churches was usually limited to within about a 20 or so mile radius of the church. That really limits the number of potential candidates for these churches.
It wasn't much easier to find fully-funded pastors for our larger churches. A typical pastor search process for these churches often took 18 months or more. This was often frustrating to the church members who can't understand why it takes so long to find a pastor who then begins to put pressure on the search team, and this can result in calling someone the church really doesn't want.
This problem is not going to get better any time soon. We continue to have large numbers of pastors approaching retirement age. I recently read that around 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month for various reasons. Many denominations are pushing the planting of new churches, and this is often attractive to younger ministers who prefer doing that to dealing with the sacred traditions found in many existing churches. All of this means that we are going to see more churches fishing in a shrinking pastoral pool trying to find the right pastor for their church.
While this has long troubled me, one thing continues to encourage me. This has not caught God by surprise. I believe He is calling individuals to the ministry to meet the needs of both our existing churches and the new ones being planted. The problem is that some are not hearing that call. This is where we who now serve in ministry come in.
I cannot call anyone into the ministry. That is God's work. What I can do is to talk to persons I believe have ministry gifts and ask them if they have ever felt God might be calling them to use those gifts in a pastoral role. I'm in the ministry today because my pastor asked me that question back in the 1970s. That led to discussions between him and my wife and I which, two years later, led me to say yes to the call I had felt off and on for many years. Chances are, if you are serving in ministry today, it's because someone once challenged you to pray and consider that God might be calling you. We now have the obligation to do that for the next generation of ministers God is calling.
Growing up in Baptist churches I heard the same invitation every week at the end of the worship service. People were invited to come forward if they wanted to be saved, if they wanted to rededicate their lives to Christ, if they wanted to move their membership to this church, or if they felt the call to "full-time Christian service." I almost never hear the fourth one any more, and I wonder if that is one reason we are not seeing more people respond to God's call on their lives. Of course, today we need to add "bivocational ministry" to "full-time Christian service" because God is calling many specifically to serve Him in a bivocational role.
I want to encourage pastors reading this post to consider making that part of your invitation. In addition, we need to identify persons God might be calling to ministry and just ask if they have ever sensed such a call on their lives. As I said earlier, we cannot call someone into the ministry, but we can encourage people to pray about and consider such a call on their lives.
For those of you not currently in a ministry role, have you ever felt God might be calling you to serve Him in that capacity? If so, I encourage you to begin praying about that and talking to people who can give you Godly counsel. Feel free to contact me if you have questions. Our churches need individuals who have God's call on their lives to serve them in various ministerial roles. You might be one of those individuals.