Five years, what is the big deal?

As you may or may not know, I recently graduated from seminary in May 2010 and I am currently searching for a full-time ministry opportunity.  I have been searching now for almost 10 months and the results have been less than stellar.  One thing that I have noticed was that most churches for some strange unknown reason, have a requirement for someone to serve on the pastoral staff of their particular church (senior pastor and/or assistant pastor) that one must have at minimum five years of ministry experience in order to be considered for the position.

Personally, I have a problem with this.  I have been a believer for 23 years and have served in three Baptist churches since 1987.   I have two Masters degrees (M.A. & MDiv).  So I am not necessarily a novice.  I guess that my 20 + years of Christian service are not enough for those churches to consider.  The only difference is that my service has been done as a layperson and not as a paid staff member with a title and a paycheck.

I have lamented about this unfair requirement, but could not say much because who I am in the grand scheme of things.  Recently, I have been reading a book that I have thoroughly enjoyed.  Shannon O’Dell has written a book entitled “Transforming Church in Rural America”  (I will write a review here when I have finished the book, you can read more about it here)

In chapter 6 on Leadership, Shannon makes the following statement that resonated with me

When I was interviewing at a church in Oklahoma, the leadership gave three requirements for any potential candidate: (1) seminary education, (2) five years of ministry experience, and (3) must be married.  I didn’t question it at the time because that’s the way everybody always does it.  It later dawned on me that Jesus couldn’t get a job at that church!  He would have flunked every single requirement (pg. 103 – Transforming Church in Rural America)

When I read this, I was stunned because he was telling the truth.  Thanks Shannon, for writing what I have been thinking for a while now. I am not against having standards, but we have always been told, “Do not run the church like a business” Unfortunately, some have not listened and we see that some churches look more like corporate America than a New Testament church.  I am not against structure and requirements, but when someone has been called of God, and their gifts and calling have been validated by a local church (ordination), they have received solid biblical training not only at the college level, but the seminary level as well, why would a church then foist additional requirements upon potential candidates?

Recently, I was involved in a conversation with some individuals (one of them was a pastor) and we were talking about mentoring and how the 30-40’s age group is begging for mentors and mentoring relationships.  He shared a story about how a colleague of mine from seminary was begging for the opportunity to be mentored.  This pastor said that he learned to mentor this man by being willing to participate in the process and pour his life into this man and now this man is pouring his life into others.  The pastor said that he came from a generation where mentoring consisted of “attending a staff meeting weekly”

Here is the bigger question:  How can someone get five years of experience if no one is willing to give an individual a chance?  This is definitely a Catch-22 that I have not heard a good answer for.  A lot of excuses but no real substantial answers.  Before you comment, please understand, I do not believe in hiring people who have not been trained adequately (educationally) or people who have not been validated or affirmed by a local church (ordination, licensure, etc).

As always, I am interested to your contributions to this discussion.  Comment away!

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One response to “Five years, what is the big deal?

  1. Not quite on topic but my experience.

    When I went to seminary, many seminarians attended a large successful church. Because they all clumped together and while there was something for each of them to do, their responsibilities were light.

    We found and joined a church some miles away that offered real opportunities. In a year I was elected a deacon, directed the youth group, visited with the Pastor, preached, etc. Upon graduation I was offered a job as assistant Pastor.

    The long Sunday drive was worth it.

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