2010. június 10., csütörtök

Protestant pastor on the job hunt?

Protestant pastor on the job hunt? Good luck in this market

USA Today
Bob Smietana
The (Nashville) Tennessean


The Rev. Mark Proctor of Columbia, Tenn., said he has been searching for a pastorate for about two years. "It's hard for any man who is called to preach to sit in the pew," he said.
By Dipti Vaidya, The Tennessean

By the time she graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School in May 2009, the Rev. Kara Hildebrandt could translate a passage from the Greek New Testament with relative ease and write a sermon like a pro.

Then she hit the clergy glut.

Too many preachers, too many small churches and a bad economy make this one of the worst job markets for Protestant ministers in decades.

According to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, there are more than 600,000 ministers in the United States but only 338,000 churches. Many of those are small churches that can't afford a full-time preacher. Among Presbyterians, there are four pastors looking for work for every one job opening. It took Hildebrandt six months to land a spot.

Even when seminary graduates find work, they're paid less than other professionals, with starting salaries in the $30,000 range, according to the Fund for Theological Education. The fund is sponsoring a conference in Boston next week for seminary students and graduates to brainstorm about their calling and their economic future.

The glut affects veteran pastors, too.

"There's lots of really good pastors out there who are having a terrible time," says Phil Leftwich, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee.

The Rev. Mark Proctor of Columbia, Tenn., served at churches in Texas for about eight years before moving to the Nashville area in 2006 for his wife's work. He has interviewed at local churches but, so far, hasn't been offered a job.

For now, he consults with churches on building projects. But, says Proctor, "It's hard for any man who is called to preach to sit in the pew."

Tough job markets for clergy are nothing new, but this is one of the worst, says James Hudnut-Beumler, dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School.

Small churches, which were hit hard by the recession, can't expand or replace staff.

The average church in the United States has 75 people, according to the National Congregations Study from Duke University. In good economic times, small churches can still afford a full-time minister. When times are bad, donations fall off, so churches either pay their minister less or use part-time clergy.

"There are churches in need of a pastor who don't happen to be in the places where clergy want to go," Leftwich says. "A small church that can barely afford a pastor of any kind and it's in the middle of nowhere, and the candidates look at that and say, 'We don't want to go out there.' "

Currently, about 10% of churches in the Tennessee Baptist Convention — or about 300 congregations — are without a pastor, says Bill Northcott, director of the church-minister relations office for the convention.

Northcott's office maintains a database of churches looking for pastors and minister résumés. His office has about 700 résumés from pastors on file. The database software matches candidates who seem compatible, and those résumés are then sent to churches.

That's only the first step, Northcott says. Each Baptist church selects and hires a pastor, unlike Catholics or Methodists, where the local bishop appoints a pastor. Finding a pastor is a little bit like getting married, Northcott says. There's a long process to find the right pastor to fit the right spot, which can't be rushed.

For larger churches, the current clergy glut can be a benefit. They can take their time looking for a new minister.

Bob Whitesel, associate professor of Christian ministry and missional leadership at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, says churches are under tremendous pressure to attract new members. That means they are looking for pastors who excel at attracting newcomers.

"Churches want to grow," he says. "And the pastors who get jobs are the ones who've shown they can grow churches."

But Jack Carroll, an emeritus professor of sociology from Duke Divinity School who has studied the clergy job market for decades, warns against too much focus on growth. He says outside factors like a community's demographics or economy affect church membership.

"Most of the time, church growth or decline have very little to do with the pastor," he says.

The current job market also is good for retired ministers, who are willing to serve at small churches to supplement their income. Many of those pastors can help small churches keep their doors open, says the Rev. Rosemary Brown.

Brown, 73, retired three years ago to start drawing her pension. But she still works full time as pastor of two United Methodist churches in Nashville. Each congregation has about 85 members, and between them, the two can afford to pay Brown's modest salary.

"I haven't had a raise in 10 years," she says. "And that's all right with me. But if I were a new person starting out, I wouldn't be able to deal with that."

All these factors may be depressing seminary enrollment, down about 6.4% since 2005, according to the Association of Theological Schools.

That, however, could ease the clergy glut in years to come.

Contributing: Stephanie Steinberg

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