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.