As we have indicated, the move to a part time pastoral leadership model involves a significant degree of reinterpretation for many local church communities. It is not something that necessarily comes easily, especially to those that have come to expect the full time leadership of a pastor. In my view, it is imperative that denominational officials and seminaries address this growing reality in our churches in deliberate and systematic ways. In doing so, they will make a major contribution to the church of both present and future.
First a word about seminaries. Traditionally, seminaries have prepared candidates through their M. Div programs so that they might pursue careers as full time clergy. While this SHOULD continue and be done well, seminaries should be encouraged to explore ways in which they can both contribute to the training of part time local ministers and also provide opportunities for future full and part time clergy both to study together and to engage in dialogue about the unique pastoral needs present in both the full and part time setting.
In practical terms, this would include in depth exploration of part time and bivocational ministry in both denominational polity courses and in the workshops and conferences a seminary will offer. Polity course curricula should be revisited so as to insure this takes place. In addition, seminaries might look at insuring that they provide adequate and updated resources for the study of the small church and ministry within it. This should include exposure to the growing phenomenon of new church starts among mainline church communities. I would strongly suggest the Center for Progressive Renewal and the work of Cameron Trimble as excellent resources in this area. I wish to make note of the importance of exposing those who are opting for full time ministry to the role and importance of the part time option.
Likewise, denominational officials should consider what they do both to expose their pastoral leadership to issues surrounding part time ministry as well as the resources they make available to local search committees considering the possibility of calling a part time pastor. In my book, Part-Time Pastor, Full-Time Church (Pilgrim Press, 2010), I provide an extensive series of questions for such committees to reflect upon as well as issues that part time and bivocational candidates should strongly consider.
In addition, training programs for ordination must be reevaluated. Is the traditional three year Master of Divinity model the only viable one for training in part time ministry? This issue must be dealt with carefully as one must insure the quality of theological, homiletic and pastoral training required to be an effective mainline clergyperson in this, the 21st century. Having said this, I suggest openness to the possibility that the model which has worked over all of these years may not necessarily be either the only or the best one available for the contemporary church with all of its different needs.
A final word: I have heard concern expressed by pastors in small churches that small churches and their needs get neither the attention nor the respect they deserve. Many individuals are convinced that the energy of seminaries and denominations is tilted toward the larger churches. I am less concerned with engaging in that debate and more in contending that the contemporary church needs BOTH. Different kinds of churches serve different communities and individuals as well. By strengthening our attention to the reality of part time pastoral leadership, we can contribute to the effectiveness of the church in its varied local settings in our country and in our world.