Over the past several months, I have been researching trends and developments which I believe will result in an explosion of cross vocational ministry across the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in the coming years.
I would like to identify six (6) issues which I believe will culminate in a huge increase in cross vocational ministry leaders across the convention.
1. Church planting. As the SBC continues to start, launch, plant, and multiple new churches, the ministry staff of these new churches usually begin as individual church planters or part of a church planting team. There are no full-time ministry leaders in the new church plant for a period of time, therefore, everyone is cross vocational. Once the church is more established, I believe some leaders might want to remain as they started.
2. Health insurance premiums. The cost of health insurance for self-employed individuals (such as church staff members) is outrageous. Many pastors and ministry leaders will need another job in order to help pay the healthcare bills or to have an employer who can provide health insurance for their family. Family self-employed insurance can reach $10,000 to $12,000 per year.
3. Decline in cultural Christianity. As the American culture becomes more secular, more post-Christian, even anti-Christian, ministry leaders will need to access multiple avenues in the marketplace to meet and engage with unbelieving people. Much like cross cultural missionaries in an international context use work platforms, church ministry leaders are seeing less and less unbelieving people seeking out the Gospel or a church on their own. They are not banging down the doors to get into church. Therefore the cross vocational ministry leader has more opportunity for evangelism and outreach if they are in the workplace than if they are isolated in the church office.
4. Smaller budgets, smaller full time staffs. While giving to the IMB & NAMB missions offerings are up, overall church giving and budgets are continuing to decline. Builders, who are the most generous and faithful, are passing away. Boomers are moving toward their retirement fixed income and struggling to pay for rising healthcare costs. Gen. X’ers are saddled with consumer debt and are not very generous as a generation in general. The Millennials, who are very generous, feel more compelled to give to social causes than local churches. The result is smaller church budgets which results in less funding for personnel.
5. Accessibility of online theological education. More and more ministry leader are exploring online theological education. The cost is affordable. The availability is endless. The flexibility is tremendous. Decades ago, theological education required relocating to a seminary, finding a new job, new church, new place to live. None of those are required now.
Cross vocational ministry leaders who are presenting serving in a company and a church who thought they would never have the opportunity to study and learn can take online courses from anywhere.
I had an online Master of Theology student who was a full-time Bible teacher at a Christian high school and served as a part-time youth pastor in his church. The thought of leaving both the job and the church did not sit well with him, nor his wife. He decided online theological education was the way to go and it worked very well for him. His high school and church both chipped in for his tuition, which made the cost very reasonable.
6. Threat of tax-exempt tax status removal. There has been recent discussion about the ending of the tax exempt status for churches and non-profit ministries. If this does come down in the coming decade, churches will have to position themselves to work with less funding due to the tax liability.
In my humble opinion, the way around these issues is to bring on more cross vocational ministry leaders in a variety of positions or roles.
What if the whole church staff was cross vocational? What if your church had the funding for two full-time positions and instead of two FT’ers, you moved toward four cross vocational leaders. You double your ministry staff in one swoop.
I once suggested to a church that was seeking to bring on a FT senior pastor for 90k annually to consider bringing on three or four cross vocational staff instead. If they took the senior pastor job description and broke it into three parts – preaching/teaching, administration, and pastoral care – they could fill all three roles with part-time leaders for 25k each and still have enough funds to add a ministry assistant or intern using the same 90k package. Four staff for the price of one.
Certainly the look and feel of the ministry staff would be different, but consider the benefits: more numeric staff, more connections to various groups within the community, more relevance in the marketplace, and more innovation to break the traditional staffing mold with a new structure that looks more missional. The church choose to not take my suggestion. It was simply too radical for their liking.
Cross vocational ministry has always been present in the SBC, but I believe it is about to gain momentum out of necessity and innovative thinking.