The case of Oxford's Grace Baptist Church is a good example. According to associate pastor Stacey Boutwell, the congregation's search for a new pastor is at 14 months and counting.
The 900-member church's pastoral search committee has received a large number of resumes seeking to replace the Rev. Wayne Woods, who left after 12 years.
Boutwell said, "It is not hard to find people interested. There are a lot of people who, judging from the number of resumes that our pastor search team has sorted through, well over 300." The search committee's real quest, he said, is to find the right pastor for the congregation among the hundreds of applicants.
It's not untypical for congregations like Grace Baptist to sift through hundreds of resumes to fill a vacancy. While that suggests a clergy glut instead of a shortage, the challenge is fitting the right pastor to the right church.
Dr. Sid Nichols, director of missions for the Calhoun County Baptist Association, is not certain that there is a clergy shortage. "I don't know that there is a shortage," he said "disinterest more likely, in my opinion." Out of 89 churches in the Calhoun County Baptist Association, 13 have vacancies, not a particularly high number, according to Nichols. Interim pastors are serving five of those churches, while the others are relying on other pastors to fill their pulpits weekly.
Most of the 13 congregations are "bi-vocational," meaning the pastor is employed elsewhere with what might be called a day job, according to Nichols. Half of the association's churches are bi-vocational. Juggling a church, work and family is tough on those pastors, he said.
While the numbers suggest that there are more than enough clergy members to fill the empty pulpits in this area, other factors play a role.
The nature of the clergy has also changed in recent decades. In most cases one pastor was once the lone person responsible for a congregation.
Today, some congregations rely on multiple clergy members to fulfill different needs of the congregation. It is common, especially in larger congregations to see both a senior pastor and an associate pastor, along with staffers responsible for youth, seniors and music.
Nichols also acknowledges that many of those who are called to ministry now are called to ministries other than becoming a pastor. "They may not have the comfort level of preaching but they have administrative skills so they may choose to go into the ministry of education, or they prefer to work with senior adult ministry," he said.
Boutwell doesn't feel that there is a shortage of clergy within the Southern Baptist Convention. He thinks that there "seems to be a greater number of ministers who would feel more inclined and more led to urban areas rather than to rural areas. So rural churches will tend to find it harder to find a pastor."
Nichols also thinks that part of the issue is that "society has grown and the religious community has diversified many of our churches," and where in the past there was a staff of one there is now a staff of three or more.
The job of a pastor in recent years has become more complex as well. Nichols calls it the "CEO mentality" where "they try to do church like the world does business and it doesn't work. We have got to do church like God does business." In many churches now a pastor is also responsible for the finances and day to day running of the church, which takes away from their pastoral duties.
Nichols found that based on the interest in vacant positions there is not a shortage of pastors. "In my full-time churches if the pastor resigns Sunday by the next Sunday the church will probably receive no less than 70 to 75 resumes of pastors who are interested in becoming a pastor there. That tells us that there is not a shortage. It tells us that finding the right fit is the problem and that is God's thing, and it should be."
Almost all of the churches currently without a pastor are considered small congregations, but Nichols said that it is not always the case, large congregations end up without pastors sometimes as well. Smaller congregations tend to be rural and have a harder time attracting and paying a pastor.
Nationally, a study conducted Pulpit and Pew Research Reports found that around 10 percent of pulpits are without a pastor at any given time.
The research found that in 1950 there were 0.8 clergy for each Southern Baptist church. The number of clergy for each church has continued to rise. By 2000 there were 2.4 clergy members for each church within the denomination.
Nichols is not worried about the future of clergy though, "there may be fewer of them, but they may be better because God is going to groom them and bring them."
Contact Shea Zirlott at firstname.lastname@example.org.