Religion News Service recently posted a surprising story suggesting that there’s a glut of available ministers. That goes against popular wisdom for the past few years, which has argued that there’s an impending shortage of ministers. What’s that about?

It turns out that there’s some truth to both statements. Many pastors saw their retirement funds go in the tank along with the economy a couple of years ago. As a result, some ministers are hanging on to their positions longer than they intended. Meanwhile, the financial downturn has led to a drop in contributions, leading some churches to cut the number of available staff positions. Both trends have led to a slower turnover than expected.

The perceived lack of opportunity, however, seems limited mainly to larger churches, where many ministers would prefer to serve. But most churches in America are small congregations with limited budgets whose struggle to find a qualified pastor they can afford is, if anything, more than it has been. So while there may be a surplus of ministers wanting a shrinking pool of big-church jobs, there remain many small churches who have difficulty attracting a decent pastor.

Sadly, the problem often is not a lack of available ministers, but an unwillingness on the part of many churches to consider opening their pulpits to women as well as men. I personally know several qualified women who feel called to the pastorate and who have prepared themselves well for the task, but they can’t get a hearing. Meanwhile, many small churches suffer from no leadership, or from poor leadership, because they eliminate half the population from consideration.

I’m convinced that the time will come when that will begin to change, and a growing number of small churches will dare to expand their horizons. When they do, they’ll recognize what a treasure they’ve been overlooking, and they’ll be glad they did.

Tony Cartledge is associate professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School and contributing editor to Baptists Today, where he blogs.

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