I was recently talking with a spouse of a fellow minister. We were discussing different ministries within our respective churches and talking about what the future of those ministries might be in the follow years. This conversation led to the overall future of the Church. During our discussion she made the comment, “You know I believe Michael (not husband’s real name…those have been changed to protect the innocent) will be part of the last generation of people to actually retire from what we know as full time ministry. I mean for those going to into it (congregational ministry) now…I just don’t think the same financial support will be there.” She stopped there and immediately said, “I don’t say that to discourage you, but it’s just gonna be different for you.”
Having been in congregational ministry now for the past several years, I am all too aware of the declining numbers in the big main line denominations. While churches are still being planted, most are closing their doors. The faithful Baby Boomers are being replaced at a rapid rate by the “Nones” (those that hold no religious affiliation).
So in the words of the prophet MLK, “Where do we go from here?”
The following is my addition to Luther’s 95 Thesis. I figure it’s been 500 years and the institutional church could use a few more…
1) The new generation of preachers, theologians, leaders, Christ followers are going to have to let what we know of church die. The saying that “we don’t go to church because we are the church” should be more than just an empty statement. It should be the new mantra. Maybe the problem the modern church has is its people have been going to it for too long. Asking them to be it is going take a different approach.
2) Co-Pastor Churches. I was dreaming with some fellow “30 something” year old pastors not long ago about church leadership positions. All present were in some form of associate role, and while we did have one person say they had a desire to be a head pastor, the group was in agreement and spoke with excitement on the idea of co-pastorships. The idea of sharing equal responsibility with one or more church leader. And yes, before you think “well, isn’t that what the church does now?” Yes and no. While pastoral duties are broken up in modern churches, the intentionality behind co-pastorships is not a practiced norm. There are some churches where this is taking place, but these are outliers and are small in number. Sharing equal responsibility allows pastors the ability to be involved and support different causes/movements. However, if the future of the church is to embrace co-pastorships than future clergy will need to…
3) Embracing Bi-Vocationalism. Ministry is a burnout waiting to happen. Just speaking from my own perspective, the average career of those in youth ministry is around 18 months. That’s not even two years. Most pastors don’t know what a 40 hour work week looks like. The old joke of the pastor only working on Sunday is still around, but the reality of 60+ hour work weeks and limited boundaries are what pastors and their families often experience. With or without co-pastorship positions, the ability for small churches to afford a full time staff member is dwindling. Being able to work in something besides congregational ministry will soon be a necessity for many future church leaders. I myself have worked two sometimes three jobs in order to do ministry since I began working in the church. For those called to congregational ministry I believe the drive is there to make this work, but this is a two way street.
4) Denominations and/or Independent Churches will have to look for different ways to support. Whether Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, United Church of Christ, Universalist Unitarian…churches want degrees and those degrees are not cheap. In 2014-2015 the average cost of seminary training from an ATS (Association of Theological Schools) was around $14,700 per year (the cost as you might expect has gone up). That’s roughly $45,000 for a three year program. The average pay for a pastor in 2012 was $28,000 (of course denominational affiliation, experience, and location play a factor). If I personally did not receive scholarships and financial aid, my school debt would be closer to $60,000 at the end of three years. Being expected to obtain a high level of education while being promised a salary close to the Federal Poverty Level is daunting. While I would love to see seminary charging less in tuition, my attention and call will be for denominations and churches to look for alternative incentives to employ clergy. Perhaps a part time position is the only option for a church, so why not produce financial support in other ways, i.e. insurance and retirement options instead of bottom dollar salaries? Again using myself as an example, I would happily look into pastoring a church where I was required to be there on average 25 hours a week and receive pay that reflected that sort of time commitment while receiving medical insurance for me and my family. Denominational resources could be used and partnered with resources of local churches to pull this off. Ah, but you ask…”if you’re only going to be there 25hrs a week and we are paying for your insurance, what are you going to be doing when you’re not working for the church?”
5) Community Pastor: I mentioned bi-vocationalism earlier and being a community pastor ties in with that concept. Even when I’m “off” I’m never truly off. I find myself at least once a day sharing with someone what I do and where I serve. Often I do this while working at another job. People have known me as the “pastor who works at the t-shirt company attending all the local festivals” or “the pastor who works at the local bottle shop.” I’m out and about working, engaging people in my community, and intentionally sharing with them my faith and passions (sometimes that happens in the first conversations, sometimes it happens in the 20th one).
For years the institutional church has asked younger clergy to trust it, now we are asking the same. Pour into us the way we have poured into you.
This is but one person’s observation and opinion. In order to see action happen future clergy, churches, and dominations are going to have to have a “come to Jesus meeting” with one another. As a pastor, these are my thoughts…
What are yours?