Celebrating the “big moments” in the life of a local church or a pastor’s ministerial journey is part of my work as a regional denominational leader.
I was asked recently to represent the American Baptist Churches New York State Region at two installations of local church pastors.
One pastor is in the midst of our lay study program and serving in a rural central New York congregation where he grew up.
Another pastor attended seminary as a second career student and was called in recent months to serve as a pastor shared by two congregations in the Adirondacks.
During the installations, we celebrated the call of these new ministers and the commitment such work takes for the part-time pastor and the many called to be “church.”
Often, we talk about ministry as a vocation, a calling to sacred work, particularly in the case of a minister who is ordained and spends her life serving the needs of Christ and the church.
The word “vocation” was not meant only for the ordained pastor. Every Christian is called to be a minister, and Baptists affirm the priesthood of all believers.
Yet, in practice, many churches become accustomed to the priesthood of one believer – the pastor who is implicitly or outright told, “do the ministry for us.”
Understanding that pastors suffer from a habit of taking on more than they should (or taking on everything but Sabbath and rest), the pattern becomes problematic.
Very little ministry gets done, as it is left increasingly to the “one” rather than the “many” working together.
When we talk of God’s call in our midst, it is not just to those who go and study to be a minister of the gospel.
This vocation is for the whole people of God, for we are all gifted uniquely and particularly for furthering the gospel.
Each of us has something to add to the work of the ministry. From the pulpit to the person in the back pew, each of us has a vocation, a calling, to serve God and make the gospel known.
So, a sense of call for all congregants is especially important as a church involved with a bivocational pastor – that is, one who is part-time in active ministry and the other part is a matter of earning income elsewhere to help make ends meet for their household.
The call of God on each member’s life does not go away once the pastor arrives on the scene.
Our gifts to help the ministry and mission of our churches flourish are still needed, and the church cannot reach its higher potential if it is left up to the “priesthood of the one.”
When a church calls a minister, it is not only affirming their gifts for ministry but also affirming a churchwide commitment to its ongoing work and witness.
Calling a new pastor who will care, teach and lead is cause for celebration, yet also a time to celebrate learning to live in a way that harkens back to the earliest days of Baptists.
Our earliest generations of forebears did not have a largely well-heeled, educated clergy.
No, the early Baptist preachers, hymn writers and missionaries may have been closer to “bivocational pastors” in training and a sense of vocation.
The bivocational ministry is not a matter of one doing what they can part-time (or being at least paid a part-time wage with full-time service given to them).
Rather, it requires members to claim the congregational identity as a partner in ministry with the pastor.
Installing a new pastor is a time to recommit ourselves to be more involved in the life of the church, even as active attendance, financial resources and volunteer time to serve are at a thinner margin than most can remember.
Bivocational ministry is about calling. What is God calling you to do with your pastor and one another?
Bivocational ministry is about commitment. Are you really ready to live within a model of ministry that asks for “believers” than “a believer” being that priesthood?
Bivocational ministry is about collaboration. Are you ready to share of your own unique giftedness to help others learn and grow so that they too may join you in discovering the gospel in all its fullness?
Jerrod H. Hugenot is the associate executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of New York State. He blogs at Preaching and Pondering, where a longer version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission.