Will I Find a Pastoral Position after My Studies?

February 20, 2020

When considering postsecondary education in Canada, prospective students often have one question in mind: will I find a job when I graduate? Those considering a degree or diploma in pastoral ministry are no exception. As they think about their future, they want to know whether their hard work in school will truly open doors for service in the church.

The question can be a troubling one. It is no secret that across Canada many who complete postsecondary degrees have a difficult time finding work in their field of study. However, some current trends give reason to be optimistic about the amount of opportunities that will be available to those who are pursuing, or will soon pursue, a career in pastoral ministry.

Late in 2018, Faith Today published an article stating that evangelical churches may face a “clergy crisis” in the future. Writer Patricia Paddey, drawing on an earlier study, stated that within ten years, half of the senior pastors serving at that time would be of retirement age.[1] The departure of these pastors from the workforce will open up positions within evangelical churches, making room for students and recent graduates.

The flow of new pastors may be too weak to meet the growing demand. Paddey reported that even though enrollment at evangelical seminaries (i.e., theological institutions offering master-level education) was remaining roughly consistent, fewer seminarians were planning to become church pastors. Also, people were entering seminary later in life than they had in the past, meaning that some of the new pastors would have relatively short careers and may be less willing to move for work.[2] While the article did not address bachelor-level education, it did give reason to consider the possibility that even in evangelical denominations where there is some numerical decline, there may be an increase in available pastoral positions during the next ten years or so.

In some quarters, the shift from older to younger pastors has already begun. John Cressman, a regional minister in the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada, says that he is observing a “changing of the guard,” with experienced pastors retiring and often being replaced by young ones, some of whom have never held a senior-pastor position before. But that doesn’t mean the denomination is only interested in twenty-somethings, excluding more experienced pastors or those who enter vocational ministry in their thirties and beyond. He also notes an interest in having middle-aged pastors serve in the churches that he supervises.

Among the young Emmanuel graduates now serving in pastoral ministry is Stephen Veerasaamy. After completing a Bachelor of Theology in 2013, he went on to study at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, where he was deliberate about finding good internship opportunities that would help prepare him for further ministry. His involvement in one internship helped him acquire a position as the student & worship pastor at Pioneer Park Church in Kitchener, which is affiliated with the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana). He continues to serve there today.

The generational shift, however, is not the only important trend in local-church ministry. Paddey’s article noted that some churches were moving away from the traditional model of pastoral ministry and were trying out other approaches. For example, some churches have become interested in having “bi-vocational” leaders—that is, leaders involved part-time in ministry and part-time in another kind of work.[3] Thus, instead of having one full-time pastor, a church might have one half-time bi-vocational pastor and a team of trained volunteer leaders, or perhaps two half-time bi-vocational pastors. This trend could lead to a decrease in full-time pastoral jobs overall, but even so, it will be welcome to some who are entering ministry.  It may mean, for instance, more paid opportunities for Bible-college students who want to work in ministry part-time as they complete their education. It could also create more options for those who already have careers but want to serve as pastors. An entrepreneur could become a half-time pastor and still maintain control of the business he or she worked so hard to build.

It appears, then, that there will likely be many varying opportunities for those pursuing a career in pastoral ministry. An upcoming post will offer several directives for preparing for these opportunities.

[1] Patricia Paddey, “Is a Clergy Crisis Coming? How to Prepare for the Coming Shortage of Pastors,” Faith Today (November/December 2018): 45.

[2] Paddey, “Is a Clergy Crisis Coming?,” 45–46.

[3] Paddey, “Is a Clergy Crisis Coming?,” 46–47.