“After a while there was a need to have clear leadership”

Baptist churches face shortage of pastors

Larger Baptist churches are having difficulty filling senior pastor roles meaning nearly half the pastor vacancies in Baptist churches are either for congregations of 300 or more or in multi-staffed churches.

There are 25 sole or senior pastor vacancies available now. Lindsay Jones, national consultant for the Baptist Churches of New Zealand, says it is unusual to have nine senior pastor positions vacant, and that is why there is an increase in the total number of vacancies. Historically there have always been between 10 and 20 senior or sole pastor vacancies available at any one time

In the last 12 months, 48 of the 251 Baptist churches were without a senior or sole pastor for some of that time. Seventeen of those 48 positions have been filled, 25 are available, and six churches – mainly smaller ones –  are not looking because they can’t afford to or are taking a different approach to leadership and ministry. Mr Jones cites as the reasons for the higher than usual number of vacancies the demands of larger churches, loss of senior pastors to other ministry contexts or leaving ministry, the increasing length of stay of pastors in incumbent positions and a shift towards multiple-staffed churches.

“The average size of our churches has increased over the last decade. A greater number have moved into multiple staff or are a bit larger in number,” he said. “Nearly half of those [vacant positions] are [in] what we would consider larger churches, 200 or 300 in size or bigger on average attendance, or multi-staffed, and in that sense needs someone who can handle being a team leader.”

Because experience was important in finding a suitable person, and experience usually came with age, losses of senior pastors left a gap between those in the 45 to 60 age group and the next group of pastors coming through.

Some senior pastors had shifted to other positions of ministry, such as into Bible teaching, or secular work. This year, 15 Baptist pastors had local church ministry and did not want to take up another ministry position.

Today, younger pastors were tending to stay long term in their first or second pastorate if they were doing well and their churches were growing and did not want to move to larger churches. Since Baptist churches were autonomous in calling pastors the Baptist Union could not force anyone to shift.

Mr Jones said that although pastoral graduates are strong in number, it was not the norm for a new person to go straight from training into a big church. However, there had been some exceptions to this in recent years, partly because of the shortage.

He said churches often coped well with not having a senior Pastor for a time if the church had got good local people. But after a while there was a need to have clear leadership, especially if the church was run mainly on a voluntary basis.

“Unless there is clear leadership and vision from the senior person, the church does struggle to move ahead. It would struggle with consistency, the preaching, the kind of team leadership skills, team equipping and clarity of vision. You can maintain some of those but after a while you need more than maintenance, you need to significantly move on,” Mr Jones said.

Associate-pastor of Lower Hutt Baptist Church, Mark Boyce, agrees. He says his church has been without a senior pastor for four years – an “unusually” long time.

Mr Jones said Lower Hutt was considered a church of reasonable size and was only just below being a large Baptist church, with a congregation of 300 or more. Usually, senior positions are filled within six-eighteen months but there are also interim pastoral options.

But Mr Boyce says that Lower Hutt is in “good health” and has not required an interim pastor. Many of the responsibilities held by a senior pastor were shared by church members, and he was the only leader being paid for his part-time position.

He said that since the senior pastor vacancy opened four years ago the opportunity had caused “on-going discussions”, including two huis, on what models of leadership, style, nature of church, ministry, and location they could use, while open to what God is saying and the possibilities of change.

“We will be receptive to challenging the status quo,” Mr Boyce said.

By Peter Veugelaers.

Published 2006, Challenge Weekly.

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