Pastoral ministry has become immensely more complex and difficult than ever before. Some pastors seem oblivious to this, and wonder why things don’t “feel right.” Others know it is harder, but are puzzled as to what to do about it.
Ministry is always difficult in the sense of being hard work. But much of the difficulty being experienced today is because the setting for ministry has changed. Since ministry is always contextual, any change in context requires a commensurate change in ministry. The context in America at the threshold of the 21st Century is radically different from the context of America following World War II. If we continue to do ministry today like we did then, it will be more difficult because the ministry doesn’t fit the context.
Because the ministry context changes, pastors must change. That is the thrust of a new book by William Hobgood—The Once and Future Pastor: The Changing Role of Religious Leaders, published by Alban.
I gathered about a dozen key learnings from this book:
1. Pastoral ministry has become extraordinarily difficult. Many of these difficulties are cultural. Pastors need a clear understanding of American culture, and particularly the culture of their ministry setting. Do not presume that just because the Gospel is unchanging that the ministry of the Gospel is also fixed and unchanging.
2. There are three major factors affecting pastoral ministry today. These are demographics, finances, and status. By “status” Hobgood means the way the church and its ministers are regarded by American culture. He describes this as a “culture of disregard.” This means that pastors and churches probably will not receive the affirmation they long for from the surrounding culture.
3. Pastoral leadership is still absolutely essential if the church is to move through these changes. Pastoral initiative and competence is at a premium. As a pastor, if you haven’t learned a new skill or insight in the last two years, you are falling behind.
4. Pastors are burdened by the “culture of disregard,” conflicting demands from their churches, as well as personal pains. They must care for themselves! Pastors are bad about caring for themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Who are your “soul-mates?” When did you last experience spiritual renewal?
5. The traditional “life-cycle” of churches has been dramatically truncated. New churches don’t have as long to get established, mature churches don’t has as long to strategize. Twenty years ago, the “five year strategic plan” was the stock-in-trade for both business and church. Now two years is pushing it. That also means you can’t spend two years polishing a strategic plan!
6. The church of tomorrow must have spiritual vitality, a face to the world, and spiritually-gifted pastoral leadership.
7. Pastoral leadership is based on trust. Pastors must learn to embody and cultivate trust if they are going to lead through these turbulent times. Pastors complain about the lack of trust, and know that it is a roadblock to ministry. But they seem unaware of how to build trust or how fragile it is.
8. Pastors must take the initiative to retool, adapt, and learn the skills necessary for changing times and roles. Continuing education is not optional! Don’t complain about what “seminary didn’t teach.” Seminary can’t teach some of the things pastors need to learn.
9. Pastors must be deliberate in self-care and spiritual disciplines. No one else will do it for you.
10. Denominational leaders must cultivate congregational networks, understand church life cycles, and partner with pastors. It is our goal to be a resource for you for ministry in difficult times.
11. Seminaries must adapt their curricula to changing times, and alert students to the realities of ministry. That “first pastorate” is usually a shock.
I highly recommend the book. If you can’t afford it, or don’t think you have the time to read 110 pages, call the Regional Office and we will send you my typewritten synopsis (less than 20 pages)—FREE.
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of the Great Rivers Region
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