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‘Tentmaking’ ministers predicted to become Southern Baptist nor


GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–If present trends continue, bivocational Southern Baptist pastors will outnumber full-time pastors within 10 years.
Or, to use a biblical term, tentmaking is strongest in areas such as major cities outside the Bible Belt where Southern Baptists are weakest, said Carl Barrington, national missionary for tentmaking ministries for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.
Barrington led a conference, “Ministry in the 21st Century,” during the Aug. 8-13 Student Conference at Glorieta (N.M.), a LifeWay Conference Center.
He noted that 2.6 persons are graduating from seminaries today for every one existing full-time ministry position. “The greatest challenge we face in the 21st century is the connecting of every person to their God-called ministry.”
Only since 1948 has full-time ministry been the dominant Southern Baptist model, Barrington said. In 1972, only 32 percent of Southern Baptist pastors were tentmakers, but in 1999 it has risen to 39 percent and is still climbing. By 2008, he predicted more than half of pastors serving Southern Baptist churches will be supporting themselves and their families through a marketplace vocation.
Barrington called on campus and church student leaders to challenge today’s collegians to prepare themselves both for a vocation in the marketplace and for ministry in the major cities of the United States.
“We need to be graduating people who consider themselves to be lifetime tentmaker ministers,” he said.
Barrington emphasized that the traditional 20th-century model of starting a church by buying land, building a building and calling a full-time pastor will continue. However, he said additional ministry paradigms must be added, in part due to a disparity in where trained leaders are located.
He noted that 80 percent of trained Southern Baptist leaders live south of the Mason-Dixon line and east of New Mexico. He cited a small Atlanta church that received 130 resumes to fill its pastorate while churches in Nebraska, Pennsylvania and other places outside the Bible Belt may go leaderless for one or more years.
In addition to tentmaker pastors and church staff members, Barrington said “we’ve got to have new ways of taking the church to the people. It is no longer true that just doing ministry well enough at the local church will eventually reach people.
“We must get more of us involved in ministry where we work, where we play and get to know people in many different ways,” he said.
As examples, Barrington cited an Atlanta tentmaker who leads a Tuesday night Bible study for taxi drivers. The study is held at the end of a subway line where drivers congregate to pick up passengers. A professional fisherman ministers to persons participating in fishing tournaments. A medical doctor leads a Thursday night Bible study for his colleagues.
“If we can find people who love to play golf, we can help them see they can lead Bible studies on golf courses on Sunday afternoon,” he said.
Barrington called on student ministers to consider sponsoring innovative ministry conferences to acquaint students, especially freshmen and sophomores, with the ministry opportunities available to persons willing to consider tentmaking.
Emphasizing that no one can predict the future, he listed nine factors that, if present trends continue, likely will characterize Southern Baptist ministry in the 21st century:
— The perceived differences between ordained and lay ministers will decrease as additional ministry models are adopted.
— A decrease in financial support of churches because Christians under 50 have had less exposure to the concepts of biblical stewardship and sacrificial giving. “We will have to become creative at doing more with less financially,” he said, unless increasing emphasis is given to the importance of stewardship.
— An increase in spiritual and biblical ignorance among Americans. An estimated 40 percent of Americans have no “Christian memory,” exposure to biblical or Christian principles.
— A decrease in denominational loyalty, unless there is increased focus on Southern Baptist distinctives.
— An increase in the number of Christians accepting God’s call to ministry at all ages of life.
— An increase in the numbers of younger, college- and seminary-educated tentmakers.
— Increasing awareness among Southern Baptists of ministry needs that can be met by tentmakers.
— Increasing involvement of Southern Baptists in volunteer, short-term and tentmaking missions.