I worked regularly with pastor search committees in Indiana and Kentucky during the last 14 years as an American Baptist Churches resource minister.
My role was to help them through our process of searching for a pastor and to give them information on persons that might meet their criteria. Finding qualified persons for smaller churches was often a struggle.
Unfortunately, many pastors refuse to serve smaller churches for a variety of reasons. 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 smaller congregations 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’ve written often about this ongoing trend because it is important to keep before our churches and our denominational leaders.
One way that smaller churches need to respond is by continually looking for persons among their membership who have pastoral and leadership gifts and challenging 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 smaller churches also need to change the way they think about their pastors. In some denominations, such as the Methodists, it’s not unusual for a pastor to serve two to four 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.
Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years followed by a 14-year ministry as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. He blogs at Bivocational Ministry, where a version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.
Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years followed by a 14-year ministry as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky.