A sustaining local church has a biblical order to it. At a foundational level, this order begins with a biblically qualified elder/pastor (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, 1 Peter 5:1-5) who is surrendered to Christ and to biblical accountability (1 Timothy 5:19-22). This understanding is clear through the writing of Paul to Titus when he said, “This is why I left you in Crete, so you might put what remained in order and appoint elders in every town as I have directed you” (Titus 1:5). Notice that Paul did not tell Titus to appoint elders/pastors to every church, but rather to every town. The presence of this biblical pastoral leadership is foundational to the very existence of a local church. Faithfully sustaining local churches are planted by, developed by, and are spiritually led by biblically qualified elders/pastors. Many church movements around the world consider that congregations without biblically qualified pastoral leadership are not yet a sustaining local church, but rather are a developing group of Christ-followers aspiring to be a church. Having a biblically qualified pastor(s) is a blessing worthy of intentional honor and felt appreciation!
Sustaining Pastoral Leadership When it’s a Struggle
Though it is not the same around the world, the American understanding of a sustainable church often includes releasing a pastor (vocational elder) for the work of the ministry by means of a compensation package. Though many churches are financially sustaining, other church budgets have declined, making pastoral compensation a challenging tension. If your church or a gospel-centered church you know of is financially struggling to sustain a biblically qualified elder/pastor for the full-time work of the ministry, then consider contacting Converge Heartland to discuss a variety of options. Furthermore, if you are the only congregation committed to gospel-centered mission in your area, it is imperative that you exist, grow in health, and have biblically qualified leadership!
Consider these increasingly utilized pastoral options:
Bi-Vocational Pastor: This is when a pastor seeks external earnings to augment his part-time church compensation until the church can financially release him for a full-time focus on the work of the ministry.
Co-Vocational Pastor: This is when a pastor earns income in the community as part of his ministry in the community. Though it looks like a bi-vocational role, the difference is that the pastor is not looking for full-time church employment, but rather to both minister in the church and work in the community.
Circuit-Riding Pastor: Though it’s an old concept, churches are increasingly sharing pastors and especially in rural regions. If a two or more like-minded churches, within reasonable proximity, are unable to compensate their own pastor then they may partner together to support one pastor who splits his time between all of them.
Missionary-Supported Pastor: The Heartland is quickly becoming a homeland mission field! As such, biblically qualified elder/pastors are raising full or partial support from other churches and individuals to serve Heartland churches in need of biblical leadership. Converge Heartland serves as this type of homeland mission agency.
If you have a church of like faith and practice in your vicinity, then consider contacting Converge Heartland to discuss one of the following as an option for addressing and sustaining your church’s pastoral need.
A Joint-Ministry Agreement: Sometimes a better resourced church will partner with a revitalizing church to provide a biblically qualified elder/pastor either temporarily or permanently. This is what recently happened when Overland Hills Church in Papillion sacrificially provided a pastor to Center Baptist Church in Omaha, NE. In this circumstance, both churches humbly gave and received from one another.
A Merger: Consider bringing your congregation under the oversight of a church with qualified biblical leadership. A church merger occurs when one church dissolves and joins the life of another church either directly or as a campus. This is what recently happened in Jamestown, ND, when First Baptist Church merged into Buffalo City Church. A struggling church with a great building but no pastoral leadership merged into a healthier church with strong biblical leadership but no building.
A Consolidation: If there is another church of like faith and practice with a similar situation or lack of pastoral leadership, then both churches may dissolve, join their resources, form one new church, and financially afford to release a full-time pastor. This is what recently happened in Polk, NE, when the former First Baptist Church and Polk Evangelical Free Church consolidated and formed High Prairie Community Church.
Jim Capaldo, Regional President
Jim Capaldo is Converge Heartland Regional President.