Bivocational ministry can’t become an excuse to underpay our ministers

Dana Cassell is looking for a full-time job. I met Dana a decade ago, in her first year as part-time pastor of the Church of the Brethren congregation in our city. Ten years on, she has found that cobbling together full-time pay out of multiple part-time jobs is no longer financially sustainable. Dana, who is single, has also struggled to find a part-time role that will cover her health insurance.

I think of Dana each time I see an emerging consensus among church professionals that bivocational ministry is “the future.” As congregations and their budgets dwindle, I understand why ministry is moving in the direction of a clergyperson with one or more jobs beyond the pulpit. For some pastors, that’s a welcome revision of a role that can be isolating and insular. Ministry “beyond the walls” can offer possibility and hope.

But the turn to bivocational ministry as an answer to clergy shortage and budget woes is often shortsighted. Dana, as a bivocational pastor who directed a program to support people in bivocational roles, saw this firsthand.

In her denomination, many pastors classified as bivocational have supplemented their income with retirement benefits and savings. Others have served churches in a limited capacity while holding full-time jobs outside the church. But what about people with families? And can bivocational ministry support single people sustainably?

Responsible models of bivocational ministry require churches and denominations to consider factors of age, race, family size, location and marital status in policies for salary and health care benefits.

For unmarried people who receive no health care benefits from a spouse’s job, paying full or partial premiums cuts deep into a paycheck. Unlike married bivocational clergy, whose family units often have a second income, single bivocational pastors are on their own to negotiate the shortfalls of their lower salaries. Even in connectional polities, the decision to provide health care benefits to pastors working up to 20 hours a week remains voluntary on the part of the congregation.

And then there’s the issue of debt. The majority of clergy incur graduate school debt from a seminary or divinity school, but for Black pastors, the economics are even more stark.

Black seminary graduates are burdened with significantly more debt than their white colleagues. In congregational polities, Black pastors are less likely than their white peers to receive retirement benefits or health insurance through their congregational roles. For many pastors of color, bivocational ministry isn’t an option but a requirement to make ends meet. That can mean managing a 40-hour work week and a solo pastorate simultaneously.

Another friend, Heidi, reminds me that this scenario of bivocational is different from a call to two vocations. “I would not choose to work in multiple settings,” she tells me, “but I have done it out of necessity.”

This distinction — between bivocational ministry and multiple jobs — is often left out when I hear bivocational ministry lifted up as a model. How can congregations and denominations support clergy in finding meaningful and mission-driven work? If that work requires returning to school for further training, are institutions and churches prepared to offer financial support?

I know the struggles of part-time pastoring firsthand. I once served in a part-time ministry role, cobbling together a full-time salary from other jobs. I received a stipend toward half of my health insurance premiums but nothing for my spouse and children.

My contract included no retirement benefits or dental insurance. During those years, one of my cavities rotted so badly that I eventually had to receive a crown. The cost was astronomical, and the pain was constant. I relied on public dental clinics and dental schools for my care, often waiting months for treatment.

Part-time roles meant absorbing not only financial precarity but also the psychological burden of risk. This reality affected my relationship to the church. If we could not care for the health of our clergy, what did this mean about our commitment to laborers outside the church? How could we proclaim good news for workers when our church workers barely got by?

My denomination, Mennonite Church USA, has recognized the health care inequity for part-time pastors and pastors of color. In response, the Mennonite Church in 2010 launched The Corinthian Plan. Congregations, area conferences and agencies that choose to enroll in The Corinthian Plan contribute to a Fair Balance Fund.

Wealthier congregations and constituents pay more into the fund to support congregations that struggle to pay the full premium. This form of economic redistribution addresses the needs of small churches and of bivocational pastors.

That plan was lifesaving for Pastor Tomas Ramírez of Luz y Vida Mennonite Church in Orlando, Florida. In 2017, he was diagnosed with leukemia. The Fair Balance Fund provided additional financial support for his expensive and extensive cancer care, including a bone marrow transplant. Because the costs were shared across The Corinthian Plan holders, he also did not see a spike in his premiums.

Other denominations are looking for new and innovative ways to provide their part-time pastors secure and healthy futures. My friend Dana’s denomination, the Church of the Brethren, recently announced new guidelines for pastoral compensation. These include a minimum salary suggestion that takes into account inflation. They also look at housing costs with respect to ZIP code as well as calculating hours per week in a contract only after housing and pension costs are covered.

The church can’t turn to bivocational language as an excuse to underpay or underinsure employees. If we aren’t intentional about setting structures to support bivocational ministers, we can anticipate exploitation, exhaustion and failure.

The future of ministry may be bivocational, but it will be healthy, just and whole only if congregations and institutions work creatively and intentionally to redistribute funds, offer robust benefits and attend to the long-term stability of these roles.

Kelly Latimore is a St. Louis-based artist who specializes in painting icons. Some of his images have attracted widespread attention, as when he faced death threats over “Mama,” his Pieta-style image of a Black Mary cradling the body of Jesus, who resembles George Floyd. Others depict figures such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pauli Murray and Mahalia Jackson. One, “La Sagrada Familia,” shows the holy family as modern immigrants walking in the desert.

Latimore spoke to Faith & Leadership’s Aleta Payne about his work. The following is edited for length and clarity.

Faith & Leadership: Can you talk about how iconography grew out of your collective work for connectedness as a member of a monastic community?

Kelly Latimore: I’m a PK, a pastor’s kid, and I grew up in a small Protestant denomination. It was very much about transcendence. Later in life, after graduating [from college], I ended up in Athens, Ohio, and was a part of this small monastic farming community. The main mission of that place was growing vegetables and food for food pantries. Volunteers would come to the farm and help in that work, but also people who were poor and living in shelters, coming and joining us in that work as well.

Putting your hands in the soil and weeding a bed of carrots across from a complete stranger, and the conversations that came out of that — I really learned that the way we use things in the world is of spiritual significance. It was a transition away from transcendence. It was more about engaging God in a physical incarnation in the world.

It was less about transcendence and more about engagement, embodiment and communion, connection. And so it was a very profound time. The first icon that I painted was called “Christ: Consider the Lilies,” and that stemmed out of my relationship with my best friend, Paul. We used to talk about a lot as we were growing food: How do we as farmers have a right relationship with the earth, and how do we, as Jesus would say, consider the lilies of the field? What does that mean?

I had done a lot of traditional icons; I started how all iconographers start, going over these old images and tracing them as best I could. But then when I got to a point where I wanted to try my first original icon, it was that idea of “Christ: Consider the Lilies,” and it focused on our common work. And what was interesting — it wasn’t a great first. It was a good first try. Christ, if you see it, he’s almost surprised that the lilies are in his hands, and the lines are shaky.

But what was interesting about it, and I think what was beautiful, was that the community embraced it, because it was a part of our common experience. It showed me how art can be a focal point for focusing and seeing in a new way how we want to live in the world. As time’s gone on, this has been the theme of the work that my partner, Evie, and I collaborate on.

Trying to find the holy family that is among us here and now or Christ that is in our own neighborhood, and bringing these modern images of people that are struggling or in pain right in front of us but inherently have the image of God within them: the refugee, the immigrant, those in prison, those suffering from living in tent cities.

There’s another icon I did called “Cloud of Unknowing.” In my early days in iconography, I had started an icon called “Christ the Pantocrator” or “Christ the Teacher,” which is a pretty traditional icon where Christ is holding the Gospels and holding a blessing hand. I got really frustrated. His face was fine, but his hands weren’t right. And I ended up putting it up on a shelf, where it sat for two years.

And then at one point I had gotten some new gold leaf in, and I was looking for something to try it on, and I found that icon and was like, “Ah, I didn’t really like this anyway,” so I just started gold-leafing over it. But I realized that because I had reworked that icon so much, the paint stood up, even with the gold leaf [over it]. It looked like a gold leaf board, but if you got up close, you saw the raised face of Christ.

I had two priests that are friends of mine, and I was showing them what I was working on, and they saw it and both said at the same time, “That’s ‘The Cloud of Unknowing.’”

The 14th-century work is about [our] potential for knowledge, or knowing God — that the more we put God under a cloud of unknowing, or a cloud of forgetting, the closer we’ll be to God through our hearts and through our experience.

My friends, those priests, named what that image was, and therefore it became a new gift. I think that’s what art can do for us in our communities. It should teach us how to see in new ways, not only to show how similar we are, but also [to name] the racism that might be within me or to name the ways that I’m not loving my neighbor well or other ways that maybe I’m not seeing God as clearly in my neighbor and around me.

An artist’s life is to be more present. For my partner, Evie, and I — and Evie is a big part of the work — we’re just trying to be present to what is going on around us. But for me, all of this artwork doesn’t really mean much without the relationships that make life worth living. And I think that’s so beautiful about iconography; it’s a very communal art.

As an artist, I’m entering into this improvisation or this dialogue, which I think doesn’t happen in a lot of artists’ work. Working on this artwork with churches can be very hard. But what is so gratifying and is a gift to me is that part of the work: the communality, the conversations about images that mean something to them and that want to push them toward communities and push them toward new ways of being in the world and new ways of relating to one another. I wouldn’t be able to enter into that if I wasn’t doing specifically this work, and so I think it’s just about receiving those gifts and doing the best I can to translate that gift [of communality] into the work.

We are just constantly inundated with images. What happens, especially with the social media world, TikTok, Instagram, whatever, is that we can be so quick to speak into something. I hope my art has this potential to teach us to not speak into something but just to learn how to observe, to be still and observe something. And that’s my hope for these images, that they can potentially create dialogue. Not only an internal dialogue but also a dialogue between each other. And that just observing and not speaking into something, I think, is the first part of connecting to the piece of art, whether it’s art in churches, in this iconography or elsewhere.

What is our church art for? Is it glorified wallpaper, or can it be something that can help us see each other, see in new ways and see God in new ways?

When Daniel J. Bernardo took over as interim president of Washington State University in 2015, he had to handle multiple crises — fast.

He and the university community were already grieving the death of their beloved president. FBI agents showed up in his office to tell him that the campus computer network had been infiltrated. A forest fire shut down the airport and threatened to delay the start of the semester. And a Fox News segment about online syllabi prompted a deluge of complaints.

“It’s amazing, as you probably know, what a firestorm that type of coverage can cause,” he said. “So we just had a whole convergence of things going on in that first month, and it was a trial by fire for sure.”

Bernardo portrait

After surviving that initial trial, Bernardo went on to serve the university for the next year, until Kirk Schulz assumed the permanent role in 2016. Bernardo’s experience — and other interim roles he’s filled — inspired him to write a handbook for others stepping into such a position.

The book, “The Interim: A Guide to Transition Leadership in Higher Education,” offers a five-stage plan, structured chronologically from positioning yourself for success to the handoff. Drawn from his own experience and research as well as more than 30 interviews with other interim leaders, it also includes specific advice about things from budget management to time management to developing a 30-day plan.

Bernardo, who now serves as a senior adviser to his successor, spoke with Faith & Leadership’s Sally Hicks about his experience as an interim leader and why he thinks that job can make a difference in the life of an institution. The following is an edited transcript.

Faith & Leadership: Explain a little bit about how you became interim president of WSU.

Daniel J. Bernardo: I had been in a couple of interim roles prior to that, but the interim presidency was truly unique. It was an interesting time, a difficult time. We’d had a really charismatic leader — a native of North Carolina.

Elson S. Floyd was president of the University of Missouri System prior to us. [Before that], he was president of Western Michigan. He was a Tar Heel — went up the ranks [at UNC] and also got all his degrees there. Anyway, he was a dynamic guy. Really, really fun to work for. He really elevated us in terms of reputation.

Unfortunately, he contracted colon cancer while he was in office and died rather suddenly. The kind of leader he was, he didn’t really take time away from his position to treat his illness. There was only a two-week period between when he stepped down temporarily and when he passed, so there was little preparation. It caught a lot of people by surprise. So it was a very, very fast transition.

F&L: I know you had a rough start. In the end, what did you enjoy about serving in the role of interim president?

DJB: This is my alma mater, so to be interim president of a place that’s really special to me, that’s truly what I enjoyed most. And I particularly enjoyed the external relations role. And being an alumnus was a huge advantage.

I did ask that question of most people I interviewed for the book. Their answers weren’t about things like, “Oh, we restructured this” or, “We introduced this new program.” It was really about service to the organization and advancing the culture and moving the organization forward. I think that the challenge of interim positions is fun.

It’s exciting. It’s exciting and gratifying, because you can really get a lot done.

I look back on each of those organizations that I led in an interim way and I think we set the table nicely. And that’s a really important thing — the interim has to set the table for the next person. Even to the extent of, what kind of written documents do you want to hand over?

I feel like I handed over an organization that was much better organized, at least, than the one I inherited. Even though I revered Dr. Floyd, one thing he wasn’t particularly good at was annual reviews. He was a relationship guy, right?

Dr. Floyd had 35 direct reports, which he could manage, but no mere mortal could do that. So we got it down to 17, and we did some restructuring in that way.

I think it’s gratifying to hand it over to somebody. And in every case, they really appreciated what had been done.

The Interim

F&L: The central message of your book is that one should not view an interim leadership position as being a caretaker. Talk a little bit about leading with a “bias toward action.”

DJB: What I’ve noticed over the years is that you’re asked either officially or informally to be a placeholder. If you adopt that philosophy, it’s going to be a significant time of treading water and missed opportunity for an institution. It’s not uncommon for institutions to have as much as a quarter of their leadership team led by interims.

And if you just carry that out and think about it just mathematically, if you will, that’s a lot of administrative years of opportunity risks, if it’s just the status quo.

It really does require that the person appointing the interim make it clear that that person has authority to move forward. That will be challenged by faculty, because they’re indoctrinated to the role of the status quo interim. You can quickly render that person ineffective by not being supportive.

Another thing about these interim roles that I found interesting was we think of them as six months to a year. But they can sometimes be indefinite. A good half of the people I interviewed had no time frame provided to them for their appointment. Even those that had a year time frame identified, for the majority of them, their appointments lasted longer than a year.

F&L: You also talk about how it’s a unique opportunity and that interim leaders can do things that are needed because they’re time-limited. What can an interim do that a permanent replacement couldn’t do as easily or as effectively?

DJB: An interim that is not pursuing the job permanently certainly has the ability to make some changes that perhaps somebody coming into the role might be averse to.

Unfortunately, more and more circumstances prevail where interims are in the role of what I call the clean-up-the-mess interim. Those are scenarios in which there are very large problems to address within the college or the vice presidential unit.

And in those circumstances, the interim has the advantage of being able to address those issues aggressively, where a new person might be reluctant to do that. The interim typically comes from that same institution, so they tend to have a much better perspective on the institutional norms.

F&L: What are some examples?

DJB: The most common from the people I talked to and that I’ve encountered were personnel or culture issues. So certainly, those personnel issues and changing the culture of an organization are areas that an interim can plug into and make some significant progress.

It can be organizational. Some of the people that I talked with were involved in reshaping organizational structure. Interims are often used in establishing new organizations. For example, in a new college or new vice presidential area, there might be an interim there to try to set this organization up.

That can be a really productive use of an interim, because some of those things require people with the institutional knowledge, and also making some tough decisions that allow them to hand off the organization to a more permanent person.

F&L: You lay out five stages of an interim leadership position. There are two things that run through all of them. One is relationships, and the other is communication. Why are those two things important in particular for an interim?

DJB: Those are probably the two critical elements of any leadership position. I think, first of all, with respect to communications, one of the real challenges with an interim position is the time frame and the fact that everything is compressed.

I suggest creating a 30-day plan instead of what’s typically thought of as a 100-day plan. So everything is compressed, and that makes it even more important that you invest in relationships and that you invest in communication.

It’s very important to prioritize, and it’s very important to stop and build relationships along the way, and invest in those relationships on the front end. It’s important so that you have your team with you along the way. Some of the challenges an interim has are because of the impermanence with that team.

It’s important to be strategic with your communication — not only what you say but what you don’t say, because everything you do will be interpreted. In most of these interim situations, there is an information void inherent in the situation. And if people don’t know what’s going on or don’t have the necessary information, they’ll make it up, as you know, right?

F&L: One of the things you talk about is diversity, equity and inclusion as being a vital part of an interim leader’s work. And you point out that even if there is a DEI plan, it might not really make a difference in the culture. How do you figure that out?

DJB: Again, it’s communicating that that’s important and talking to people about it, people who might have a perspective on that. The only way to do that is to talk to people who may be affected by that culture.

When I first became a dean, I inherited a place that had real culture problems, especially around women in the workplace. And once I opened that up as an issue and began to talk to people about it, I was pleasantly surprised how many people, once they figured out that we were going to take it seriously, came quickly forward to help identify the issue and help develop some real action steps.

We identified three tenured faculty in the college. We developed a case against each of them where either they were going to resign or we were going to be in court with them, and they opted out. But yeah, it probably will involve some tough personnel actions, because these things don’t happen by themselves.

F&L: Another step you advise is making a learning plan. Why?

DJB: This [role] is not only something that’s good for the organization; it needs to be good for you, right? So you need to be very conscious upfront about, “What is it that I want to learn from this experience, and how am I going to go about doing that?”

Sometimes you think you don’t have time to learn, but if you want to maximize the benefits to yourself in terms of professional development, you need to invest in yourself through this process as well.

For example, one thing that I wish I had done was to keep a daily journal. First of all, to make this book a lot easier! But also, it would remind you of all of those learning opportunities that you went through along the way.

For example, the budget can be a challenge for some interim leaders. Well, this is a chance to learn, “How do I go about taking a budget and implementing it and holding people to that budget?” Those are great skills that a lot of deans and vice presidents have to develop on the fly.

F&L: You have really detailed suggestions, templates for all kinds of actions. And when I read it, I thought, “My gosh, for a person who probably is already overwhelmed by the job, that seems like a lot.” But you have also a specific strategy for freeing up time. What do you recommend?

DJB: Time management is one of the real keys to being a successful interim, and I make some very specific suggestions. The first one is don’t accept the predecessor’s schedule as your own. You have different priorities, and there’s a tendency for some interims to go in and keep all the same meetings and try to run the same schedule.

Spend some time analyzing, where does your time go? One of the key suggestions is don’t try to have 100% of your 8-to-5 time committed to doing meetings and donor visits and all of the specific activities of the job, and not budget out time for things like email, phone conversations, etc.

That is a ticket to burnout. Many of the people I interviewed suffered that way. They just tried to outwork the job. We all do that.

It’s my bias, but I use my administrative staff quite differently than many of my peers. I require a really outstanding administrative assistant — or what I would call chief of staff — and a really outstanding CFO.

And I’d always find it interesting that when people would come to interview, they would talk about the faculty and everybody else but they wouldn’t talk about the most important person to me. And that is my chief of staff, my go-to person. You can delegate a lot to that person. And I just think that delegation is absolutely the requirement.

But that burnout is significant. There were four or five people I interviewed that had significant adverse health reactions to their interim positions. They weren’t ready for the time demands that they imposed on themselves or the stress of that job. Fortunately, they were able to get out of it in time and get back to some normalcy.

F&L: And when you say use administrative staff differently, you mean invest them with real responsibilities so that your workload is reduced?

DJB: Part of that is that the CFO, for example, and that executive assistant are in every leadership meeting you’ve got, because they have to know what you’re trying to accomplish so that you can trust them to make decisions based upon your goals.

Not everybody treats their CFO that way. They just go in and talk to him or her as needed. I think that an HR person’s the same way. A real time sink for administrators is personnel, as you mentioned. And if you have an HR person who is in sync with you, he or she can buy you a lot of time.

F&L: Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you would want to add to our conversation?

DJB: A key recommendation that many people should adhere to is do not keep your previous job. Do not try to do two jobs, because you will do two jobs poorly.

I regularly saw that as a significant issue. Either the interim stayed in the former role or they mentally couldn’t disconnect from the former role. So you’ve got to have confidence in the [replacement] and let them do their thing.

And that goes back to the theme that these people have to be empowered. If they’re all doing nothing proactive, that’s a pretty significant tread-water time for the university.

Tito Madrazo spent four years visiting Hispanic/Latinx churches for his research on preaching in North Carolina immigrant churches.

He visited various congregations, using semi-structured interviews, focus groups and participant observation to understand the lives and practices of immigrants in Hispanic/Latinx Protestant churches.

The approach, called collaborative ethnography, allowed him to gather information and understand the culture of the churches while being transparent and working with the people he was studying — his collaborators — to ensure accuracy and to decenter himself.

In particular, he developed an ongoing relationship with “Iglesia Agua Viva,” a Pentecostal congregation in the Raleigh-Durham area. (Madrazo uses pseudonyms for the individuals and churches to protect his collaborators.)

His findings have been published in a new book, “Predicadores: Hispanic Preaching and Immigrant Identity.” In it, he argues that although there is great variation within and among Latino congregations, the experience of migration itself shapes the pastors’ preaching.

“The God they came to know in that time was the God they proclaimed. The aspects of the divine that they found most compelling in their own migration journey became the focus of their preaching,” Madrazo said.

He noted that their “ministries are shaped less by perceptions we might have of Hispanic/Latinx evangelicalism and are much more deeply shaped by their own experiences with God in the crucible of migration.”

Madrazo, himself an immigrant from Venezuela, a fluent Spanish speaker and an ordained Baptist pastor, conducted this research as part of his doctorate of theology work at Duke Divinity School.

He also earned a master’s degree in English from Baylor University and an M.Div. from Gardner-Webb University. Madrazo serves as a program director in the religion division of Lilly Endowment Inc.

Madrazo spoke to Faith & Leadership’s Sally Hicks about his research and its implications for the broader church. The following is an edited transcript.

Faith & Leadership: What is your takeaway from your experience of visiting these congregations and hearing the preaching?

Tito Madrazo: Ultimately, it is really the formative experiences of migration and, for many of these individuals, coming to faith through their migration journeys or during their migration journeys.

Tito Madrazo portrait

Many of the ministers here experienced conversion. Sometimes that conversion was from a secular background. Sometimes they described it as a conversion from Catholic upbringing to Protestant or Pentecostal identity. But it was almost always connected to their migration journeys as well.

It was the way that they experienced God’s deliverance or redemption or help in the midst of that process, or the way that they experienced new community within a church family when they arrived in what for them was an alien landscape.

In that sense as well, their preaching always resonated with the lived experiences of their first-generation congregations. Because of the recency of migration in North Carolina, these were first-generation pastors preaching to first-generation adults and their children — some of whom were native, born in the United States, some of whom were in the situation of DACA recipients.

All of them were still closely connected to this migration experience. For instance, some of them had dramatic stories of God delivering them — sometimes from ICE, sometimes miraculously allowing them to come into the United States against all odds.

When they preached about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, there was also this echo of the alienation that they had experienced as a result of migration — the importance of knowing and being known by Christ in a situation in which they felt themselves entirely unknown, in which some of them were denying themselves, using different names.

Church was a place where they could use their real names and they could be known for who they were. There was significant preaching about the role of the community of the church, God regathering God’s people in this new place, and that was a strong factor in their preaching.

But along with that, there was also a lot of moralistic preaching, in terms of behavior and sexual ethics, all of these kinds of things.

The way in which I understood that connecting with this experience of migration is when you’re forming a new community in a new place — and we see this in Scripture as well, throughout the Hebrew Bible — one of the first things God does is to provide new laws and moral codes to hold together these people that have just come together.

We think monolithically, sometimes, of a Hispanic church. [But] for instance, Iglesia Agua Viva, in which I did most of my participant observation, had members of seven different nationalities. And even from the seven different countries of origin, some were from urban centers and some were from the countryside, and they had had different experiences and different levels of education.

You have just this wild diversity within a church that from the outside just looks like, “Oh, they’re all speaking Spanish.” Right, but aside from that, so much diversity.

Gerardo Marti writes about the danger of “ethnoracial essentialization” — that sometimes we paint with too broad a brushstroke and we lose sight of the variety that exists within these communities.

F&L: One of the phrases I noticed is that you describe both the preachers and the congregation as “recovering from wounds.” What do you mean by recovering from wounds?

TM: I owe gratitude to Mary McClintock Fulkerson, who identifies this in “Places of Redemption.”

I focus on the wounds of migration. Again, they’re going to connect with some of these preaching themes, because the wound is alienation. The wound is loss of family. In some cases, the wound is a physical one.

There are several preachers in here — one is a paraplegic who was injured because he was thrust into this adult migrant worker world at far too young an age. One young man came to the United States because a family member was wounded in an agricultural operation and they were just looking for someone else to fill his spot.

There’s this woundedness, and there are stories of dramatic healing that both inform faith and sometimes authorize ministry.

But the key here is not just the woundedness; Fulkerson talks about these wounds being the site of theological discernment and thinking. So these wounds became places where they were not just damaged by the wound but ultimately they experienced the healing of God in some way.

Sometimes this was physical healing. Sometimes it addressed the social needs in their lives. It always incorporated some spiritual dimension. But it was because their wounds had been healed that they were then able to go into ministry and speak to these particular wounds that they understood.

Again, it was this close connection between the lived experiences of the preachers and the lived experiences of the hearers that made such a powerful dynamic in this preaching.

F&L: You sort of touched on this, but in what ways is the vocational discernment of these preachers particular to their experience in community?

TM: Some of the literature that talks about vocational discernment really centers a predominantly white, graduate school experience.

That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with that or that people don’t experience calls in those ways. But there’s almost this sense of ennui, this, “I’m not doing what I should be doing with my life; I’m looking for meaning; perhaps God is calling me to ministry” that becomes the spark in that direction.

Whereas for some of these ministers, it was much more tangible and much more rooted in lived experience and even exigency. For one minister: “I’ve experienced dramatic healing, and now they’re inviting me to share my testimony. And as I share my testimony about this dramatic healing, I begin to take on the role of a preacher; I can seriously imagine this vocation for myself.”

For another: “I’ve been dramatically delivered from deportation, and this becomes my platform to begin sharing a story.”

For others — and this was really interesting — in many of these churches, because pastors are very rarely full time in first-generation immigrant congregations, they are transient to a much greater degree.

I mean, they really are, many of them, itinerant ministers. If their secular job requires a move or if it falls through and they have to find another job, that congregation is looking for a new pastor.

Many ministers from the very beginning start to train their laypeople in pastoral functions. One minister talked about being thrown in the fire. His minister, as soon as he converted him, began teaching him how to preach, along with a few others in the congregation.

They took preaching classes the way that others might take Sunday school classes or Bible studies. Then suddenly when the preacher was gone, moved out of state, the congregation kind of looked at him, and they said, “Well, it’s got to be you. You’ve got the most experience preaching.”

Which was terrifying for him, and I imagine it would be terrifying for most of us. But there’s nowhere else to turn. There’s no pipeline of well-educated ministers who have already discerned this to be their vocation.

Now, I would say that this is becoming more and more the case, not just for first-gen immigrant Hispanic and Latinx churches, but this is happening more and more in lots of churches. So the need for churches to really think about being spaces of vocational discernment for future members — both their own and for wider networks — is important.

F&L: Are the ministers worried about the future of the Hispanic/Latinx church as the second and third generations mature?

TM: It depends. I think that many of them see their own ministry largely as being to the first generation and their families — because in the United States, there has been continuous migration. It’s not just one wave. It is an ongoing wave.

But the other thing is, when you look at the growth of the Hispanic population of the United States from 2000 to 2015, only 25% of that is due to continued migration.

Seventy-five percent of that growth reflects a native-born population. So all of [the pastors] were aware, and all of them dealt with the tension of trying to make sure that they were a place where first-generation people could put down roots and grow in faith, but also where they were continuing to be relevant and meet the needs of Generation 1.5 and Generation 2. This was a challenge for them.

Iglesia Agua Viva had its main services in Spanish, but it conducted all of its youth and children’s Sunday school and ministry activities in English. Because as children went to school, they became more familiar with English and more comfortable communicating in English, although then those same youth would get up and lead worship in Spanish.

All of them also understood that the church was going to change moving forward. So part of investing in youth was investing in people who, because of their bicultural and bilingual formation, would have that similarly close connection to congregants that they as preachers had to Generation 1 congregants.

You might consider it as new wineskins and new wine as they were moving forward, but with the same spirit of ministry.

They were less concerned that future generations carried the same culture that they did from their countries of origin and more concerned that they carried this culture of Christian faith in which they’d been formed in a congregation.

From the very beginning, churches aren’t trying to specifically make a community of faith Hispanic in a particular way or Latinx in a particular way. They’re trying to form Christian faith in a particular way while still honoring and giving space for these expressions that more closely reflect Hispanic and Latinx origins.

F&L: As we close, I usually ask people, is there anything I didn’t ask about that you would want to add?

TM: There is a feeling that Latin American liberation theology and the tenets of Latin American liberation theology are — or should be — present in this preaching.

I went in, having read much Latin American liberation theology, expecting to find some of it. I did not find it in large part, except among those preachers who had had the benefit of study in Anglo theological schools.

But I think that one of the distinctions here is even though the preaching might be traditional in many ways, it is also still really liberative within these contexts — spiritually liberative, but also liberative in terms of giving Hispanic and Latinx congregants a place to appear and to be valued in the sight of one another and in the sight of God.

That in and of itself is an act of resistance for a population that is experiencing vulnerability and marginalization in many ways. There’s a chapter here specifically about female preachers in this context.

There is much liberative work being done by these preachers, even when they’re preaching in somewhat traditional ways. I mean, just standing in the pulpit in some of these places is liberative, and naming the worth of women both within the congregation and in the role of preacher and minster.

I think that there’s this balance that preaching and ministry can be liberative, even if it is not always liberative according to certain ideals, that there are many ways in which it can be liberative and life giving.