I was watching a video in which Rob Bell explained the significance of Jesus calling his disciples. Bell described the process of education for Jewish children, which involved rigorous study and memorization of Torah. Jewish rabbis would gradually “weed out” the less promising while the rest continued their education.
Eventually a youth would request to become the disciple of a rabbi. If the rabbi thought they were capable, he would call them to follow. Only the best and the brightest qualified.
This is significant when you consider the youths that Jesus called to be his disciples. They weren’t learning Torah, hoping that they would be good enough anymore. Simon Peter and Andrew were at work fishing when Jesus showed up.
They failed to qualify for a rabbinic education and had taken up their family business, which means that Jesus didn’t call the best and the brightest. He called the overlooked. He summoned those who didn’t make the cut. He saw potential where others didn’t and knew he could help train and equip them.
It seems to me that churches can learn a lot from this story when they are looking for their next pastor, because the search process – in the Baptist tradition at least – is comparable to what Bell describes.
The local church appoints a committee to select the desired minister. They advertise the opening through their denominational channels and begin reading resumes, eliminating those that don’t meet the wants and needs of the church. Only the best and the brightest – those of the right age, right gender, right number of years of experience – qualify.
What I find interesting – and troubling – is that this process focuses mostly on what the minister can offer the church, with little consideration of what the church can offer the minister. When I consider Jesus calling his first disciples in light of Bell’s insights, I think that many churches may be misguided in how they conduct their search for ministers.
I’ve been privileged to participate in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s ministerial residency program, which helps recent seminary graduates transition to vocational ministry in healthy churches. Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga., caught sight of a vision in which local churches focus on being a community that trains and mentors young ministers instead of always seeking the “ideal” minister, age 35-40, with 10-15 years of experience.
Several churches across the country have partnered with CBF in this program as well: Hendricks Avenue Baptist in Jacksonville, Fla.; First Baptist in Austin, Texas; Peachtree Baptist and Northside Baptist in Atlanta; First Baptist in Pensacola, Fla.; Calvary Baptist in Washington, D.C.; Cullowhee Baptist in Cullowhee, N.C.; Tabernacle Baptist in Richmond, Va.; Providence Baptist in Charlotte, N.C.; First Baptist in Richmond, Va.; Hillcrest Baptist in Mobile, Ala.; and Trinity Baptist in Madison, Ala.
Each of these churches made a commitment to mentor young ministers while they served on staff as full-time employees for a two-year period. They realized that age and years of experience are sometimes overvalued commodities and decided to help young men and women begin their ministerial careers in positive, affirming environments.
They decided that they could help recent graduates form their identities as ministers, and that they would benefit from being teaching congregations rather than places that only focused on how they would be ministered to and served by those whom they called to lead their churches.
That being said, I imagine the churches in the residency program would share their surprise about the gifts and abilities of these young men and women, and how well they ministered to the congregation even as the congregation ministered to them.
I am grateful that Trinity decided to be a congregation who focused on what they had to offer a young minister rather than fixating solely on what a prospective minister had to offer them. And I am pleased that there are other churches that have made the same commitment.
However, the churches willing to mentor, train and equip young ministers are few compared to the number of seminary graduates each year – many of whom are given little (if any) consideration for pastoral roles by search committees mostly because of their age, gender or years of experience.
We need more churches willing to be teaching congregations. We need more churches that will not remove young ministers from consideration solely because of their age, gender or lack of experience. We need more churches willing to catch hold of a new vision in which they see themselves as congregations that are healthy and loving enough to call young ministers as pastors and to help them grow into their ministerial identity.
I hope that more churches will establish residency programs. And I hope that more churches will call the often-overlooked young ministers instead of always trying to find the “super pastor” who doesn’t really exist but who every church hopes to find.
If they don’t, I fear the future of the Church looks rather bleak because if young ministers cannot find places to serve in pastoral roles they may have to consider other vocations.