At the conclusion of Group’s Future of the Church summit, someone asked me, “What struck you most this week?” My answer surprised even me.
The summit participants had explored several major trends that will affect the future of the church. We considered the implications of the growing population of Dones–those who have left the organized church, but not their faith. We explored non-traditional forms of church–house churches, dinner churches, even a surfer ministry. We experienced new and developing forms of corporate worship.
But what struck me most wasn’t even on the agenda. It came from the crowd. I was struck by the number of church leaders who quietly expressed their deep distress with their life in the church. After summit panelist and author Josh Packard described the Almost Dones–active church people who are ready to walk away–murmurs spread across the room. “He’s describing me,” a pastor said.
These leaders reflected a growing sense of desperation that is becoming palpable across the country. They’re seriously considering an exodus from congregational ministry. I don’t believe they represent the majority of ministry professionals, but their numbers and their angst seem to be growing.
Why are we seeing this malignant dissatisfaction? There are many factors. For some people, it’s the bleak reality of being a part of a shrinking institution. It’s true, the majority of American churches are stuck or in decline. One pastor said, “I’m presiding over a dying organization. I’ve realized I’m in the church hospice business. That’s not a business I want to be in.”
Others have become disillusioned with the job of minister. “I started with a passion to help people grow in faith,” one leader said. “But I spend most of my time administering things, putting out fires, and stocking toilet paper in the rest rooms. This isn’t what I signed up for.”
And some leaders have been so wounded by church fights and personal attacks, they’re no longer willing to make the emotional investment needed to knit a healthy family of God. “They call it family,” one said. “But I’m not considered part of the family. I’m treated like a dispensable hired hand.”
I ache for these fellow servants. With few exceptions, they sincerely wish to serve the Lord and make a difference in the lives of those around them.
But, while some feel dejected and rejected, many others seem to ride above these draining factors and find true and sustaining joy. What’s the difference? Some observations and recommendations:
Measure the right stuff. Focus on the stories, not the statistics. Don’t fixate on the ABCs–attendance, buildings, and cash. Remind yourself and your congregation of the miraculous things that God is doing through you and your people.
Beware of the pedestal–and the hamster wheel. Help everyone see “we’re all in this together.” Ministry, doing the work of the Lord, making spiritual discoveries, and loving the community are not the exclusive assignments of the paid professionals. Reclaim the priesthood of all believers.
Invest in friendships. Get past the fear of being betrayed or hurt. Develop true friendships with positive people–inside and outside the congregation. Build a personal support system–beyond your spouse or family members.
Stay Jesus-centered. Make time to nurture your own relationship with Christ. Do what works for you to enjoy and grow your most important friendship.
As we consider the future of the church, we will need joy-filled, humble, healthy, Jesus-centered servants to lead us.
Great stuff! Timely encouragement!!!
Great post. “Reclaim the priesthood of all believers.” I can see this as being tricky for full-time staff. You almost always need volunteers, but even at the elder level, there would be a tendency to “manage and control” volunteers to keep them going in a direction that supports full-time leadership’s “vision.” I keep seeing these words vision and culture in worship leader forums I follow, and it seems often the idea is that only full-time leadership has vision and only they can determine what the church’s culture should be and which local un-churched demographic ( culture ) they should be focused on. But to really get volunteers engaged ( thinking ones anyway ) they need to be involved mind, body and soul — not just a widget plugged into somebody else’s vision.
A lot of the things you write can be applied the workplaces outside church. I don’t go to church any more but know that church is much like work.
If church leaders are just no longer taking on church ministries, it could be that they are finding the ministries they were doing were not all that value-added and worth the headache or they are just tired of doing the same thing for so long and need a break. Some ministries are never ending such as sound board or computer screen duty and even teaching. You can’t expect someone to ‘get saved’ and now they are forever to be stuck in some ministry for the rest of their lives. For example, just because a person can play the piano doesn’t mean once they get saved they are now a slave to play the piano 24/7 or maybe I should say 52/life. Becoming a Christian should not be a lifetime sentence of slavery to church.
I feel the pain. But having stepped out of the boat after 38 years of denominational pastoring, I feel the joy again. My wife and I have seen the Lord provide for our material needs again and again for over nine years now. We have discovered new ways of being ‘church.’ I’ll never go back.
Some excellent comments above.
Excellent – I agree!!
We’re often told that we, the people, the believers ARE the Church (and we are). Yet, Sundays in America reflect the belief that it’s all about going to church, the Sunday Event, and how do we get more folks to attend (and maybe even participate).
Our words speak of the Body but our actions speak of the institution. It is no wonder that we are experiencing the rise of the Dones, the Almost Dones and the burnt out or discouraged pastor.
A house divided cannot stand. It is time to live the Life by our actions, our pocketbooks, our overall focus. When 95% of the time, energy, resources and dollars go to what is properly only 5% of our Christian life, it becomes readily apparent that we have missed the point.
I’ve been an Episcopal priest for thirty years. About five years ago, I got deeply involved in theatre. The generosity and kindness that people in the arts community have shown me in that time is utterly unlike anything I ever experienced in the Church. Now that I’ve retired, I am happy to spend my time with people who actually love me and who I can love freely. And I keep thinking, “What is wrong with this picture?”
This resonates deeply with me … why is there more acceptance outside of the very place that is supposed to welcome all? I guess even Jesus found more honesty outside of the established church.
I am one of those pastors that decided to leave the ministry of word and sacrament, but have not abandoned the future of church, just now serving as an adult educator in my home congregation. I feel as if I am doing much better and effective work teaching seminary level Bible study and focusing on the development of the early church.
I would add that the growing polarisation movements in politics, court circles, local government and issues such as gun control and race disallow ministers to take the nice, high road, wwjd approach. When even the assembled now draw a line in the sand at sermon time, rarely can the preacher come away from Sunday unscathed. Even Solomon struggled with picking sides.
This is a really interesting, and intuitive point, and one that I had not reflected on from the pulpit. Makes one think…
What REALLY are we motivated by?
Thom: Dern great/sad/true article. >
Don’t forget the lay employees as well, such as musicians. These sorts of articles, while well-meaning, almost always focus exclusively on the clergy and leave lay employees twisting in the wind while despairing that it’s all about the clergy. Again.
sorry, but i sent article to all my “lay” staff, church worker friends, with the reminder that they, too, are “ministers” in this very same church
Thom, you make some excellent observations about those of us clergy who have become disaffected by the church. We are disillusioned by the incongruity between what we felt called to and the reality in the pews and pulpit. We do see the church dying, and many of us are unintentional hospice chaplains when we would like to be coaches and teachers. We have most certainly been wounded again and again and again by angry and frustrated parishioners who see us as their personal punching bags.
But here’s where you’re wrong. It’s not about us. It’s not about whether we are measuring the right stuff, getting off our pedestals, or staying Jesus-centered. We are striving to do all those things, and we are still failing. Not because we are poor pastors, but because the church is dying. And the culture that surrounds the church has taught it to reward the wrong things and punish the right ones.
Here’s an excerpt from a post just this morning, commenting on this blog article. It’s from a Facebook clergy group I belong to: “Right now there is a sense that there are “winners and losers” in ministry. The “winners” get the right jobs in the right order and make a comfortable living. It must be easy for them to assume that those who do not do these things are just not as skilled at ministry, or that they have a “bad attitude” about ministry. People are not leaving Pastoral ministry because they wanted a pony for Christmas and they didn’t get it. They’re leaving because the institutional church as we know it is coming apart brick by brick.”
It’s not about what those of us on the front lines are failing to do. We are doing our damnedest to measure the right things, get off our pedestals (if we were ever on them to begin with), and stay faithful and Jesus-centered. But we are trying to hang on in an environment that is seeing the church coming apart brick by brick and blaming, not all of the forces that are pulling it apart, but the pastor who is trying his/her best to cement those bricks back together. Attitudes like yours, evidenced by the list of “Do’s”, only buttress such scapegoating of the clergy. And while your intention may be the good of the church, your unchecked and unscrutinized assumptions actually achieve the opposite.
I’ve been a reader of your blog for awhile, and have noticed in recent months a rather unsettling theme. It unsettles me, at least. The theme is this: “We at Group are doing it right–asking the right questions, finding the right solutions, exploring the right strategies. And all of you pastors out there, especially those of you who fit the “loser” category mentioned above, are doing it wrong. So, come learn from us at Group, because your 4 year M.Div and 15, 20, or 30 years of experience aren’t worth what we have to teach you.”
I object to such arrogance, and think it needs to be called out. I also think the exclusive focus on a very narrow slice of American Christianity–namely, Protestant nondenominational evangelicalism–also needs to be identified in your blog. The church is not simply made up of congregations that have nonliturgical worship, praise teams, and orchestrated parking lots. It’s made up of lots of tiny churches with minuscule budgets, maudlin worries about roofs and malfunctioning boilers, and characterized more often that not by an over attachment to those buildings as opposed to the Gospel and a deep love of the Lord.
We denominational clergy are indeed struggling and we are struggling for the reasons you identify here. Our worship services are often stale to the modern Christian. We struggle to get our people to see beyond their walls of lazy self-interest. But that doesn’t mean we are doing things wrong, or that you are doing things right.
It does mean that there are no easy answers or solutions to the puzzle of why Christianity is on its deathbed in North America. It does mean that we need to search for those answers together in humility. It does mean valuing tradition, and closely examining where tradition does or does not fit the current culture, and inquiring as to what has changed in that culture and what needs yet to change in the church. That comes down to a lot more than a few “Do’s” directed at disillusioned, damaged, and deeply hurting pastors.
So, while I acknowledge the validity and importance of these ideas in this blog, I also think that you, as a journalist, need to look into the wider world of the church. You’re right, and you’re wrong. There are plenty of us out here who are, and have been trying faithfully to do all these things right, and our churches are still floundering.
And eventually, we get tired of it, and leave.
Eric, thanks for your thoughts. Wow, you covered a lot of ground. I’ll reply to your major points.
You wrote, “the list of ‘Do’s’ only buttress such scapegoating of the clergy.” My list of “Do’s” is intended not to scapegoat but to suggest some practical ways church leaders can recapture some joy in ministry. These suggestions are not THE answer to a complex problem. They’re merely simple, practical things to consider.
In this article, as well as many others I’ve written, I don’t focus on all the surrounding cultural influences and people who have contributed to the situation that is making contemporary American church ministry more difficult. Why? Because blaming “them” will accomplish nothing. They won’t change because we complain. Instead, I typically focus on someone we can change. That’s us. You and me. Individually. If church leaders desire an improved picture, we as leaders will have much better results focusing on those things WITHIN our control, not those things or people outside our control. That’s not saying that clergy and church leaders are the problem. It is saying they can be part of the solution, if they’re willing to make some changes. Waiting for others to change is a hopeless pipe dream.
You created your own “We at Group” quote, then called the quote “arrogance.” I’d agree your quote drips with arrogance. I’ve never said or written anything like it. And I would certainly not ascribe to this “theme” you created.
You wrote that this blog has an “exclusive focus on a very narrow slice of American Christianity–namely, Protestant nondenominational evangelicalism.” I don’t know where you’re picking that up. I’m very aware of the diverse scope of the American church.
Sometimes people “read between the lines” of my articles. That only breeds misunderstanding. There’s plenty to discuss about what I say “in the lines,” without speculating about what I did not say.
Your final line, Eric, sums up your comment–and sums up the point of my article. Thanks for your candor.
Thom, I’m afraid that Eric is not the only person to perceive the theme that he articulated so well in his response to your post. Your defensive response to his excellent right-on-target comments seemed to miss the point he was making about the dysfunctionality of the institutional church that is driving faithful clergy to leave the parish. While your stated purpose of focusing on the things that we clergy can change is valid, I’m afraid that the recommendations you offer in the article are insultingly inadequate for those of us in the “trenches” of parish ministry. The suggestions offered are little more than ways to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, and fail to address the real problems that we clergy face. The uncomfortable truth is that it is because many disillusioned clergy ARE Christ-centered that they are leaving the church in order to follow their Lord in ways that are no longer possible within the institutional church. Clergy who are struggling to remain in the church need more than the kind of superficial bromides you offered in your post.
Thanks, Duane. My suggestions are, as I mentioned, based on observations of those who are finding true and sustaining joy. But, I’m curious, if these “bromides” are inadequate, what are your recommendations for ministry staff?
I agree with many of Eric Alm’s points. As a “late vocation” Episcopal priest, having been ordained and in congregational ministry 8 years, I came to ministry after vocations as a CPA and small business owner. Fresh out of seminary, I thought I’d be a spiritual leader that taught, inspired, and led people in spiritual growth and the church in mission. Except that’s not what happens, because it’s not what most congregations want or what the larger church rewards. Most Christians in the pews don’t really want to serve God through the church (despite what they might say), they want God and church to serve them. They aren’t really open to Godly transformation, they want God to sanction the life they have chosen to live. They are “Church Shoppers” and “Holy Consumers.”
After a difficult stint of 4-1/2 years of pastoring a slowly disappearing congregation who had no vision of evangelism and mission, I’m now engaged in a church plant and the new hope and challenges this endeavor brings. While I have been sorely discouraged in my brief time in ordained ministry, I have not lost my hope that we can be different. I ‘ve come to the conclusion that much of the mainline institutional church’s long decline has to do with the church’s failure to make disciples and to inspire people to follow Christ. As a very wise person once said to me, “we (Episcopalians) aren’t very well discipled.” I’m afraid we are now paying the price for our Biblical illiteracy. We’re reaping the strong decades-long over-focus on issues that cause division within, and the over-emphasis on pastoral care and comfort programs that serve the church’s membership instead of Christ’s Great Commission.
What’s the answer to arresting our decline? I don’t know for sure. It’s a very complex issue without obvious or simple solutions. Real cultural and social factors and anti-establishment attitudes are working against the institution of the church that we have little control over. I do believe it’s vital we don’t sit back and wring our hands though. Let’s do something. Start with discipleship formation. Have good programs of Bible study for all ages and establish expectations that parishioners participate. Pastors, lead by example. Make sure you live out the gospel in your own lives and encourage other to do the same. Focus the church’s mission and ministry outward towards the people in our communities that don’t know Christ. Be bold in our faith. Be prophetic in our preaching. Be visible in the communities where we are. Help people who are hurting. Tell our stories of faith. Provide opportunities for people to encounter God in worship. Be truly inclusive and suspend judgment. Give people a safe place to explore God. Love those you shepherd. Pray and share with God your desires to serve Him and invite Him to lead and guide you.
Do these things, and with faith and patience let’s see where God leads the church.
Having pastored a church for eight years of my “career,” I would counsel in 3 words:: Get over it! Most churches out there will stretch you to the breaking point. That’s when you get on your knees to pray for them, pray for your family’s endurance and pray for yourself. Every week I took one morning to walk through the church and pray for the people who would be in each row come Sunday. That practice gave me a new heart for my people.
Pastor Doug, your comment actually rings to an earlier blog placed on this site(Shaming them to Church, and Good Riddance). I’ve served in traditional pastoral ministry for 16 years total. I love God’s people, His Church, however – the organization and undercover agenda… I can do without.
I still pastor – as a mentor. No building, no secular agenda, no membership roles, no offering plates either. You say who do you pastor? Any one that God allows me to mentor – and they have other pastors as well.
It has become much easier to pastor without the business side of “western ministry”. You say “get over it”, but when you look at your spouse and she’s crying, or your children recognize the abuse…you have to take a step back and say – God – where is my first pastorate….it’s the home. Every thing that you are currently doing (praying for people, ministering to them, communing with them hopefully) I currently do. However at the end of the day – they know that they have a personal fellowship with Christ themselves, and can’t use me as a crutch or an excuse – they must learn to walk with God also. My family is intact, we still love the Lord…and people know, that we still carry out the ministry of Love that God called us to.
So, before you say “get over it” take a look and see if what we are getting over is something that’s important to God in the first place. Love is wanting exactly what God wants for an individual….only God can place that there.
This is painfully true. After 35 yrs of pastoral ministry and too many times to count, we were handed our torn hearts on a piece of trash. We were told “preachers are a dime a dozen. We can get rid of you and get someone who’ll do what WE want just like (snap of fingers) that!” My husband retired and is in law enforcement now, after the last church we pastored accused me of adultery (I found this out in Oct, and it had supposedly been going on since June of that yr). I went through 6 mos of clinical depression and still take an antidepression med because the episode was so frightening I can’t bear the thought of going through it again.
People don’t want a “Pastor” as in some who hears from God and delivers the message, encouraging them in their walk with God and daily lives, or even carries them before the Throne of God on a daily basis.
So my husband, spirit broken by those he most loved and wanted to help, finally just gave up. Do we doubt the call? Never. We haven’t turned our backs on God-we love and follow Him. But I remember thinking how I could finally breathe.
And how sad I am that despite our teaching, prayers, devotions, and NOT talking church at home, only one of our three daughters serves the Lord. That’s the worst pain of all. Our middle daughter told us a few yes ago (she is in her late 30’s now), she’d never go to church again after watching how so called “Christians” treated her mom and dad through the yrs.
Thanks for your articles.
I left the ministry a number of years ago. I was pastor of a very small rural church consisting of 22 people mainly in their 60’s and up. I was in my early 40’s at that point with my wife and our 3 year old daughter.
One Sunday we went to a church that was celebrating it’s 150 year old celebration where I had been a youth pastor. While I was gone-the first time in 3 years that I was not there, a survey was passed around that was weighted to make me look bad. So, the next Sunday this was shared with me. It was all very petty and they seemed almost gleeful sharing these items.
I left with my head held high because before I left I baptized 5 people including my now 6 year old daughter. And I had led 1 guy that the church was praying for, to the Lord. But that was not important enough.
Just was wounded enough to pack it in. If doing the ministry was secondary to petty things, then goodbye.
Do I miss ministry? Of course! But, it is the secondary things I do not miss.
joe you are waaaaaaay cool, still alive, doing the mighty, better thing!
Joe, you don’t have to miss ministry – you have a testimony of baptizing your own daughter. Your ministry should continue in the very life you live. I’ve learned that ministry isn’t about the platforms you are given, its about redeeming the most precious commodity with the exception of souls – and that’s time. A small investment with a great return (grain of muster seed, etc) – God has a way of making the things done through His strength matter much! Be encouraged Pastor Joe!!!!
Thanks for your response, Thom. I definitely get that you are trying to offer constructive ideas and suggestions for people on the front lines to do some critical self-reflection and self-growth. And I agree–that’s absolutely essential to renewing a congregation’s ministry. The problem, as I see it, is that there are plenty of us out there who have been striving as hard as we can to “be the future that we seek” but our efforts don’t translate into revitalization among the people. I serve a couple of Lutheran congregations, both declining, and have found that whatever happens, it’s my fault. People don’t attend–it’s my fault. People attend for awhile and then stop coming–it’s my fault. No new people are visiting–again, my fault. Those of us on the front lines of small declining churches know how discouraging, frustrating, exhausting and soul-depleting it is to be harangued again and again about how you’re not visiting enough of the old/young/families, not preaching good enough sermons, not getting enough visitors to come, etc.
I’ve been in ministry for nearly 15 years and every congregation I’ve served has been on the far side of the life cycle curve. I think the consumerist demand “give us what we want or we’ll get rid of you” is an outgrowth of this desperation over a deepening sense of doom. I agree–our own attitudes are central to how we function. And in some cases, a change of attitude in the leadership can indeed bring about renewal. But for those of us in situations where things are too far gone, the change in attitude may often go along with a departure from the ministry and even from the church. Sometimes the healthiest thing one can do is leave and not look back.
Thanks, Eric. I understand your discouragement and dismay. Unfortunately, your situation has become commonplace. And yes, church members can often be terribly unfair and brutal in their blame-casting toward clergy. I think you’re right in sensing that congregation members often act out of a “desperation over a deepening sense of doom.”
And yes, for many, the healthiest response may be to leave congregational ministry. Our research shows that thousands have done just that.
I pray that you, and many more, find joy and satisfaction in serving–in whatever form of ministry the Lord desires for you.
Well said Eric. We were classmates at LSTC (2003). Blessings, Jim Paulson
Hi Jim! Was just thinking about you the other day, wondering where/how you were. Would love to connect.
I find your article long on description but short on prescription. From my 32 years of experience and the experience that others have shared with me, your “Some observations and recommendations” area idea that would apply to only a few for a great majority of those who are leaving are already doing those things.
From where I sit, our problem is both theological and spiritual. The church world in America and other places has bought into the culture’s business model of doing church plus the related entitlement outlook of investors who want their investment’s worth from the church.
We are leaning on the weak arm of the flesh in things like family systems theory and more business 101 techniques covered with enough Christianity to make them taste good. We are avoiding the hard question of what does doctrine like ecclesiology and spiritual formation have to do with forming a healthy church?
For me, I call it the hard question because I don’t separate doctrine from spirituality. They are two sides of the same coin if our theology and spirituality is going to go beyond skin deep and bring us closer to being like the NT church.
Here’s my article about why I think doctrine and spirituality has everything to say about church health. I really believe that in dealing with these church health issues from a doctrinal/spiritual perspective that many of the clergy health issues and clergy leaving issues will get healed as well.
Here’s my other article that goes with this one which fleshes it out more.
It is very sad and strange that there are only about 4 published books that say doctrine has a lot to say about church health.
Thom, I wish I had better answers to offer. I’ve served churches for 43 years, and I’ve tried all your recommendations, and they weren’t enough. That’s why I reluctantly retired.
May I interpose a heretical thought here? It often seems to me that good people I know, both clerical and lay, have an attachment to, and dependence on, institutional “congregations” that is not healthy for them. The Church needs some parishes, of course, but also seminaries, monasteries, cathedrals, family services orgaizations, soup kitchens, bible studies, itinerant preachers, chaplaincies, etc that are no less the Body of Christ. What is actually dying out there is the habit of identifying buildings for worship groups defined by socioeconomic status and zip code as the Church. The happiest clergy reading this are most likely the ones nodding their heads that, yes, parish ministry has had its magic moments, but some of the best hours of ministry that they have had has been in some non-congregational setting. The least happy clergy reading this are the ones who cannot see a viable way to separate their personal faith from the institutional “overhead” of a “congregation” that has not yet learned to “number our days that our hearts may be inclined to wisdom.” As a mere heretic, I myself do not have any of the answers, of course, but I suspect that the answers that the saints have chiefly involve, not further attitude adjustment to *make* congregations thrive despite themselves, but recognition of (a) the dignity of helping weak parishes come to terms with their limits, (b) the wisdom of reorganizing denominations and ministeria to recognize the non-congregational Body of Christ, and (c) the good that an experienced pastor can do in some unconventional settings. Must run– the Inquisition is knocking at my door already… 😉
I have heard the same words of discouragement in my church. Your final remarks and suggestions for improving ministry in the local church were encouraging and hopeful and helpful!
There seems to be so much contentiousness among church factions which makes ministry and mission almost impossible. I believe part of the answer lies in the spirituality or lack thereof in the members of our churches. Communing with God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit is essential if we are to be THE CHURCH. There is also a need for discipleship and discipline in Bible study, prayer, and reaching those outside the church.
Thom, I wanted to thank you again for inviting me to The Future of the Church Summit. I very much enjoyed meeting the others who were there and hearing what the various panel speakers had to offer. I thought you did a great job of moderating all of that. I thought I might share here the blog post and video that I made based on what I experienced. http://www.lk10.com/why-i-broke-down-in-tears-at-the-future-of-the-church-summit/
Thom, one more comment in response to your blog post here. You wrote: “Why are we seeing this malignant dissatisfaction?” What if the dissatisfaction isn’t “malignant”? That’s not to say that what these church leaders are experiencing isn’t often terribly painful and confusing. However, what if, in the larger picture of things, God is once again doing a new thing?
The Reformation was birthed out of the dissatisfaction of Luther (and others) with the church as it was. The Methodist movement was birthed out of the dissatisfaction of Wesley (and others) with the church as it was. Is it possible that God is doing something similar in our day?
Duane Brown. I know that name and the pastor behind it. Note I said, “pastor” and not minister. There are plenty of ministers still standing but far fewer pastors. The piece that makes Thom’s suggestions futile is the fact that Jesus himself never bothered to change the heart and minds of people who did not to be changed. Even some of the so-called successful Christo- political organizations of today are able to claim success because Jesus does not show up at one of their rallies. If he did, we would scatter like roaches. Some of you have made mention of hospice as being not what you wanted for yourselves. Well, hospice chaplaincy has given me the opportunity to grow spiritually in a way that most of the churches I’ve been in never will. After all that heartbreak and disappointment I am ready to send “thank you” cards to every church that ever said no. When it comes to following Jesus, our commitment to Jesus should include the understanding that if you do what Jesus did, you might just get what Jesus got. Personally, I can live with that.
Hi Elizabeth! Thanks for the kind word. I totally understand what you are saying here. Drop me an email and let’s catch up. — Duane
I have read this posting and all the replies; I cannot help feeling that this is one of the saddest topics covered.
This is not meant as a criticism at all, just a confession of my feelings and reactions to the subject. In fact I bumped into an ex Pastor just today on a back street in another city. I was dropping off an amplifier to get the “pots” renewed and serviced, I am a Christian musician.
We chatted for a bit and discovered that he had nearly died from a heart issue and yes he was quite worn out by the Pastoring and active church responsibilities.
This story is quite common to my ears; yes on many fronts the Church seems to be certainly dying.
The thing is this that Christ said that he will build his church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I am of the mind that this is the issue at the heart of it all. If the church is under stress at this time then it may well be in God’s great plan. This does not mean that we will understand this at all!!
Consider Job’s questions to God; the answers never addressed Job’s questions at all. In fact God simply went on with verse after verse of his greatness and self promotion. This is not a disrespectful comment but just a theological observation made by myself and various other Biblical commentators.
There seems to be only a hollow response to this issue. Many Priests and Ministers are making a fabulous income and lifestyle from Christian religion; others are scrapping along in sheer despair!!
I have given long and deep thought to the issue of the DONES.
I do not criticise or blame anyone at all. In fact I am of the opinion that we are not seeing the power of God at hand in the areas of healing and mending the broken hearted.
If I look back over 55 years in intentional Christian pilgrimage then I have seen maybe 2-3 healings!! Not a great innings. Put on a CV this is a very slight return.
Prayers like “Bless the surgeon’s hands.” spring to mind. Why????? Can not we see God heal his children???
I believe that the whole issue is so much deeper than we are accepting. We seem to be genuinely alone and abandoned as Gods children. No criticism meant, just observations and questions.
We really are at the mercy of God weather we like it or not. We may need a new Reformation and a time of genuine global renewal.
If this does not occur in our time frame we will need to adopt Job’s attitude; “Though he slay me yet shall I trust Him”.
In the late 80’s, as I was developing into a church leader, I had always felt that I didn’t fit. I wanted to serve, but there just wasn’t a good fit. I simply did not qualify in my own eyes.
The 90’s came with more and more church sponsored training and more ways for me to discover my gifts and learn to serve better, but still I couldn’t reconcile being in a service that led me to sing, listen to a short lecture of valued, but not necessarily needed information, and I shook a few hands without making a whole lot of friends. It just didn’t fit. The small groups were great, but that big “churchy” thing just didn’t seem like it belonged.
The 2000’s came and finally I am licensed and ordained as a pastor. All my service desires would be fulfilled and I would finally find my place, right? Still not satisfied. Even with being the guy in the front of the auditorium, it still doesn’t seem right.
I was mentoring a band of hooligans transitioning from high school into life. They wanted me to teach but they did not want to “go” to church! I knew that I was going to lose them…and I was tired of losing young Christians to the world once they moved on to college. So, I quit church and gathered them together to form a “house church.” Only a few years later I discovered these things were already everywhere! I didn’t know how to do one or most of the time even know what I was doing, but these kids grew in the Lord!
Now we have 3 house churches meeting every week. There’s a church that just lost their building across town who asked me to speak to their congregation about house churches or churches without walls as I like to call them. Now they are breaking from tradition and are reforming as a house church themselves.
When someone wants to sing, we sing. When someone is moved to pray, we pray. But we always engage in deep spiritual discussion and have great inductive Bible study. And we work to serve our community. Our little house church ministered weekly to over 70 middle school youth at the local school last year. We saw about 15 kids accept Jesus through that work.
Not a one of us go to church, but we meet frequently and together, we are the church. We love it so much, we can’t wait until the next time we see each other to discuss what else God is doing in our lives. That’s church.
Think about what Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like , and as an heir to it, devote your time and effort to that, not your “church”. It’s truly amazing what happens when you do.
[…] material I tend to skip or skim. I’ ve just finished reading Thom Schulz’s latest blog post, “The Pending Exit of the Clergy”. He reflects on his experience at Group’s Future of the Church Summit. He heard sociologist Josh […]
[…] material I tend to skip or skim. I’ ve just finished reading Thom Schulz’s latest blog post, “The Pending Exit of the Clergy”. He reflects on his experience at Group’s Future of the Church Summit. He heard sociologist Josh […]
In reading this article and the comments, as well as experiencing similar things in my own ministry and church, I just want to piggyback on something Kevin P wrote. He said “The thing is this, that Christ said that he will build his church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
I am new to ministry and admittedly naive and idealistic. But it breaks my heart to see the disillusionment in the ministers around me. I hurt to see those who are so very clearly wounded, as they respond (both positively and negatively) to this blog. And my prayer is that this comment will be just a tiny bit of encouragement to those who have been broken by a broken system.
The church, as an institution, may be flawed. It may very well be dying. But it’s not a new phenomenon. Elijah, the prophets, and even Jesus were all deeply concerned about a lot of the same things we are seeing, now. But God promised Elijah that he would always leave a remnant. Ezekiel saw an army rise out of the valley of dry bones. And Jesus knew that there is nothing dead that cannot be brought to life again.
Maybe the church is dying, but in the economy of God’s kingdom, “death” has been defeated. God is a God of miracles. The words Kevin P quoted have not changed. And the truth God has spoken cannot ever cease to be truth. If God said he would build the church, he will not cease to keep that promise. If he said that hell and death and the grave would not overcome it, then it will not die. So, for those who are hurt, for those who want to quit and walk away from a sinking ship, for those who are reaching for answers, please, don’t quit. Don’t give up.
I’m not advocating for anyone to bolster a system that may be broken or tainted. But please, don’t leave. Those of us who are young and new to this still need those who have gone before to help us learn, no matter how often we bring our “new” ideas in and tell you you’re outdated. We need the wisdom from those with experience. I understand your hurt and your brokenness, but please don’t leave us fatherless. Just point us back to the God who cannot lie, who heals the broken, and who raises the dead. Lead us back to the God whose foolishness is still wiser than any blog, sermon or survey. And teach us to cling, for our very lives, to that hope.
I am impassioned by this plea. But. The church is not dying! There is an assumption that because Christians are leaving from the walls of the buildings that hold pulpit traditions that the church is dying. Far from the truth. The church are the followers of Christ! We are not “leaving” the church. Traditional church wanted us to be spectators when we wanted to be the church. As a minister, your responsibility is to equip the saints to also minister! Go (not stay here in this building) and make disciples and teach these new disciples all the commands I have taught you! I am telling you, minister, GO and make disciples. Teach them in their homes. Teach them in coffee shops and in the market. Teach them in the schools. GO and teach them to do what you do. Do not make them sit side by side in a pew and watch you talk. GO and show them and teach them to do what you do. Please! If you do that, the church will not die.