Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reflecting on the decrease in placement

Graduates of several seminaries—including Matt Seilback, who is a member of our Advisory Council—were recently featured in a video piece by PBS's Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. Here's the video:

(If you're not the video-watching sort, you can read a transcript here.)

The bottom line for everyone in the video is: the ratio of available candidates to available opportunities continues to be less favorable for candidates. (An argument could be made that a glut on the "market" of many qualified candidates is, in some ways, less favorable for churches seeking a pastor, as well.) Or at least, the number of seminary graduates that are finding placement into pastoral ministry is at a low—not an all-time low, as the video pointed out, but a low point nevertheless.

One candidate, Brian Brown (a graduate of
Covenant Theological Seminary) comments at one point: "I was always thinking there’s going to be a job at the end of this, you know. That was the hope and that was—and that’s the desire. It’s still the desire." He later comments on how he is following a call from God, and that demands a certain faith and faithfulness. Another CTS grad, Allen Sipe, talks about how being a pastor isn't just what he does, but it's who he is.

I think these are sentiments shared by most seminarians—certainly most of those who plan to become pastors (rather than matriculating from seminary into PhD study, say, or simply planning to re-enter the secular workforce). But clearly many otherwise called and qualified candidates are coming out of seminary and not finding a particular call to a ministry position. What can be done?

If you've read much of what has been written on this blog, you will know that I/we believe strongly that
simply "sending out resumes" is not enough. There is a certain work-ethic that must accompany any placement, and especially an effective one. And part of that work must include exercising one's network as much as possible. I continue to find that, more and more, the "network" of the Body of Christ is vital to the search and transition process, from both sides of the equation: more churches are simply not "casting a wide net" by using the various lists and services, but utilizing the network that they have to find candidates.

disclaimer here: the PBS video presented many of the featured graduates as having "sent out a bunch of resumes" and did not represent any further efforts on their parts. I am in no way either assuming that this is all they did, nor trying to cast these folks as being to blame for the struggles they have each had to find placement. I do not know, nor can I know, what the reasons are for why they have not found placement; I assume that each of them has faithfully explored every possible avenue toward finding placement, and that for reasons that remain mysteries to us God has not seen fit to put them into a pastoral call.)

Another change that I believe will be increasingly present in the climate of pastoral transition is
the need for bi-vocational and non-traditional pastoral calls. While the traditional pastorate will prevail for the foreseeable future, I think it will continue to decline in frequency in lieu of more non-typical options. I already see and read about this occurring in church planting situations, especially outside of the denominational mainstream; I'm convinced that we will see it increase and expand into other areas of pastoral ministry, too. (I'm not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, so don't stone me if I'm wrong!)

Of course, one thing that is off the radar for many Christians—even seminary-trained ones—in the U.S. is that Christianity is on the rise in Africa, Asia, and South America in unprecedented levels. Dr. Bryan Chapell (President Emeritus of Covenant Seminary) has said that "we are in the midst of the greatest expansion of the church in history." What many don't realize, even if they are aware of this growth, is that this represents an opportunity for pastoral ministry. Those who believe that, without a doubt, they are called to pastoral ministry
could consider moving to a place where there is a great shortage of pastors and taking up their calling there. The problem is that there are no mechanisms (that I know of) to do this at present—maybe a major ministry opportunity for Doulos Resources (or a ministry like ours) could be connecting candidates with international opportunities to serve as pastors.

Another direction that this conversation could go is this: perhaps the reason that both seminary attendance AND pastoral placement out of seminary are in decline is because more churches are exploring "non-traditional" ways to recruit and train their future pastors. There is a sense among some (mainly those who aren't "company men" but are outside of the traditional seminary model) that the existing model for pastors-to-be to move away from their homes and jobs for 3–4 years, then flounder about looking for a call, is going to die (or all but die) in the next couple of decades, in favor of more localized, organic training in "on the job" arrangements. Probably bi-vocationally. I think this makes a lot of sense, and the institutional church (locally, denominationally, and otherwise)
must begin to plan and prepare for accommodating this.

I don't have a lot of answers, but I think the questions this kind of discussion raises (and
should raise) are important. What do YOU think?


robbie said...

Hey Ed, thanks for these thoughts. I agree with each of the substantive points in this post, so I'll add a few reflections and observations from my own perspective and experience.

As candidates chairmen of our presbytery for five years, I noticed that too many candidates coming out of seminary equated their pastoral calling with paid vocational ministry of the 'traditional' kind, which is a major category mistake, in my view. Pastoral calling does not equal job. Related to this, I do think that there will be a major increase in bi-vocational pastorates in North America in the years to come, mainly because of increasing secularization and the resulting decline of institutional churches as a result. There will not be the same level of 'demand' for churches and pastors because the number of churches is decreasing, and the economic pressure on existing churches is increasing. The latter could change, but I don't see the former changing. if that is the case, then we will increasingly be in a situation of evangelizing the culture and planting new churches, which demands flexibility in ministry models and funding, as even a cursory acquaintance with Acts and Paul's letters should demonstrate.

If the above change is in fact coming and if it will be in fact be wide-ranging, then the training of pastors will necessarily have to be more distributed and flexible and less centralized. I too agree that this could be a very good thing.

These issues are important to me as a churchman and as a pastor who is facing a transition either into training of ministers or back into the pastorate in the next year. With challenges and change come opportunities, though, so I appreciate the forum to think through issues.

Anyway, all the best to you.


Ed Eubanks said...

Robbie, great thoughts. Thanks for weighing in with your perspective.