Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Academy for bi-vocational pastors concludes initial year


For the 2013-14 academy term, classes will be held in Woodward. Deadline to enroll is Sept. 10, and classes start Sept. 21.

Even before its pilot year concluded, the Academy for Part-Time Local Pastors showed its impact in the Conference.

Twelve people attended the academy, held in McAlester. Most were from the state’s southeast. They were recruited, and their district superintendents had to approve their enrollment.

The academy aligns with the Strategic Plan goal to recruit, equip, and send spiritual leaders. The course seeks specifically to disciple bi-vocational pastors — those willing to lead churches part-time, with limited itinerancy.

In mid-March, Pastor Chuck Rettig of Holdenville wrote a letter affirming the academy to its dean, Diana Northcutt. Rev. Rettig has served six years on the McAlester District Committee on Ministry.

At the committee’s February meeting, "I noted that the level of preparedness for ministry had risen dramatically by those who are participating in the Academy," Rettig wrote.

"These women and men praised the quality of the instruction. They noted an extended, once-a-month format allowed them maximum flexibility with their other job and their families. They also noted that they were able to process what they learned more deeply by being able to test the validity and then go back and talk it over with the trainers a month later."

He concluded, "It is my hope that the Academy becomes a model for the gifts and graces of many who could serve as bi-vocational ministers."

Several who attended the academy serve as Supply Pastors. They also work in other jobs or have retired from secular careers. A registered nurse, Lois Bartley became pastor at Stratford UMC in June. Also, Bob Brooke, who leads OKC-Capitol Hill; Joseph Cochran, at Rocky Point; Alan Lumpkins, Tuskahoma; Brandon Parker, Alderson; Marsha Salazar, Weleetka; and R. Michael Wood, Soper and Boswell.

Among others attending was Tracy Hoskins, a teacher in Tulsa who recently became director of Children and Family Ministries at the Poteau church. Her home church is Leonard UMC.

Warren Peck, from Ochelata UMC, has been a Certified Lay Servant since 1994. He co-owns an aircraft business. Mimi Kelly, the lay leader at Krebs-Grace UMC, is employed at Eastern Oklahoma State College. Andy Byte of Pocasset UMC and Cyvil Burks Sr. of OKC-First are both counselors.

The group met one Saturday each month, September through May, and in a two-day January retreat, which spouses were invited to join. Participants read 12 books, including "Invitation to the New Testament" and "Invitation to the Old Testament" from the Disciple Bible Study series.

McAlester District Superintendent Darrell Cates said the vision for the academy "grew out of a convergence of awareness and need." He explained further:

  • The awareness: Half of Oklahoma’s more than 500 churches average fewer than 50 people in worship weekly. In Cates’ district, more than half of the churches report fewer than 25 worshippers weekly.

  • Research by a Conference task force found that a small church exhibited greater strength separately when served by an indigenous Part-Time Local Pastor, than when two or more churches were coupled to provide compensation for a Full-Time Local Pastor or Elder. "By indigenous, I mean a person from the area, not necessarily that church, who understands and appreciates the culture of the small-membership church and community," said Rev. Cates. The need: Current trends of aging membership and membership decline in Oklahoma portend fewer churches able to afford the total expense of a Full Connection appointment with pension and insurance benefits.

Rev. Cates noted, "One of the surprises of the academy is how many participants shared they felt called by God to ministry, but knew they were not able to pursue full-time ministry. The most effective bi-vocational pastors bring a passion and commitment to Christ and ministry that emerges from their daily walk as a disciple."

The educational program seeks to build on that commitment, meet denominational requirements, and be practical for bi-vocational people.

"A three-tiered approach emerged," said Cates.

  • Teaching the Bible so as to make disciples;

  • Preaching to make disciples; and

  • Being and Doing Church to make disciples.

Cates said, "It seemed that participants emerged from the process handling the Scriptures more responsibly and with a deeper appreciation of group process they could use in their church and community. Preaching is emphasized in every session, with members preparing, sharing, and receiving feedback. United Methodist ethos, doctrine, polity, caregiving, sacraments, mission, and self-care comprise the third element."

He concluded, "This is definitely a work in progress, but I am encouraged by this initial effort to respond to the changing realities facing the Church and the ongoing need for effective leadership."

For more information, contact your district superintendent.

— Holly McCray


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