A story about a seminary-trained pastor who had applied to nearly 100 churches and was unable to find a position as a fully funded pastor was prominent on social media recently.
Some pastors "confess that they really don't know what else they could do because the only thing they've ever been trained to do is ministry," Bickers says. (Image courtesy of Gualberto107/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
He asked a question that many recent seminary graduates are now asking: Why didn't someone explain this new reality before he incurred so much student loan debt preparing for ministry?
The reality is that bivocational ministry is growing across denominational lines, which means that finding a fully-funded position is becoming more difficult.
Four years ago I was on sabbatical. For my project, I contacted leaders from nine different denominations. I asked each of them a series of questions:
− What was happening with bivocational ministry in their denomination?
− What did they believe would happen in the future?
− How were they training these bivocational ministers?
− What were they doing to help persons recognize they were called to this ministry?
Every person reported that the numbers of bivocational ministers were growing in their denomination, that they each believed those numbers would continue to grow, that most had some forms of training available, and that they really didn't have a way to help people identify this call on their lives.
More and more, I receive calls and emails from fully funded pastors who are concerned, telling me they believe they will soon have to become bivocational or find another church to serve.
In some cases, they recognize that there are not a lot of fully funded churches looking for pastors.
Others confess that they really don't know what else they could do because the only thing they've ever been trained to do is ministry.
Some are carrying large amounts of debt they aren't sure how they will pay off. Virtually all of them are concerned how this transition would impact their families.
Denominations and seminaries need to recognize this new reality and begin addressing the changes they need to make to prepare these new leaders.
Many denominations still focus most of their attention on their larger churches and often overlook their smaller, bivocational churches.
For some of these denominations, that means they will neglect up to a third of their churches, and that number is going to grow.
Many seminaries are still training clergy as if every graduate is going to be the pastor of a fully funded church.
Too many seminaries, denominations and churches still believe that the master of divinity degree is a necessity for every pastor.
Many of the master of arts in theology programs now offered by some seminaries will often be much more practical for the average bivocational minister, requiring less time and money.
Of course, many bivocational ministers will never pursue a seminary degree.
If we believe that a trained clergy is important, then denominations and seminaries must work together to develop training opportunities for these folks and to educate churches about the benefits of bivocational ministry.
These courses must be offered at times and locations convenient to the schedule of the bivocational minister. Some of these can be online for maximum convenience.
We are not entering a new time of church leadership; we are already there.
We need to admit that the number of fully funded ministry positions is declining and more churches are looking for bivocational leadership and begin to make the adjustments needed to reflect this reality.
Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Bivocational Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.