Church(es), Connection(s) and Community

   The church (local organization of believers) that survives through the next two decades will be the church that helps its present membership make connections and form community with persons just now outside the covenant community. Do not scoff at the accomplishment of survival. Many will not survive and others will barely scrape by on their past donations.

   We do not do well and the leaders set in front of us scarcely ask us to try.

   Remember that the church, on its way either to dying or joining the Church now tries to minister to three generational metaphors; Traditionalists (Conformity); Moderns (business Controls); Millenials (Connections and Community). No one is superior to the other. That is not my argument. I do argue that this is the way it is and that it is what it is. The great danger of the three generational metaphors converging in the church (as it does in culture) is that the generations do not blend in their convergence so much as they land with a thump, usually on the pastor, who has not attracted enough young people to his old folk's church, or who has made needed changes in the old folk's church, not enough to grow much, but more than enough to get his throat cut in all Christian love.

  Younger folks may feel about church the way they feel about going to grandma's for Thanksgiving. It is a family tradition and they can take it about once a year, if there is a lot of food.

   This is what the pastor-at-the-three-streams must confront. He must solace the conformists, who desperately need 1955  to come one more time, the controllers, who need a form and some way to track results and the connectionals, who need to see what good it will do to seek some form of spirituality.

   He may be equally blessed with some retired ministers who remember how it used to be and share their previous successes with all around them. "The older I get," might be their motto, "the better I was."

   The seminary trained, God called pastor, who has moved family and sacrificed fortune to be a stranger in a strange place, is just about to take it in the neck.

   Forced terminations are at an all-time high in ministerial life, according to all reporting agencies. In the Free Church (congregational autonomy) this means congregations are doing a very poor job of calling ministerial staff. God cannot be this confused, can He?

   Some of the folks forcefully terminated richly deserve their termination because they never really merited a call. That is scarcely the point. A church charged with finding its own leadership from outside the body should certainly exercise its due diligence. Frankly, after any time of living, if you cannot find three fellows to go on your bio as references, you do not need a church, you need a therapist. Churches ought to know this.

   In fact, forced termination in a congregational system is so professionally devastating, a minister of average temperament will go to great lengths to avoid losing his place. Imagine a system, for it is a system, wherein the "leader" so fears the ravages of the "followers" he/she will scarcely dare to move. There is not a lot happening in that system one could call "healthy."

   What to do? The Free Church will probably have to cede some of its congregational authority, if not its autonomy. The old method of soliciting bios, making a few calls, hearing a sermon or two and placing a person in our pulpit (and in our boardroom) is a relic of the Pioneer past. The present system in no way allows for the sociological pressures of Post-Modern Western culture.

   If you think getting a pastor in these clergy-poor times is hard, try getting rid of one. You can do it but all involved are going to lose some skin on the way out the door. We need a better way.

   "In a couple of my stops," a recently terminated pastor told me, "I did a pretty good job of reaching into the community. There was some definite penetration of the culture in our area as I helped lead in making connections between the church and the community. It was too late before I realized this was not sitting well with our Traditonals and Moderns. The Traditionals needed to see people walking the aisle, bittersweet salvation with teary eyes. The Moderns needed office hours, reports, statistics, lots of paper and lots of controls. The younger people I was told I was brought in to reach got swept away because they don't go in for the drama."

   Remember he started to accomplish what he was asked to do. He failed to do it in a way that emotionally satisfied the image required by the generational groups represented in the congregation. No one involved intended to do harm to any other one but great harm was done all around.

    The operation was a complete success but the surgeon died during the procedure.

   In fact, we have to turn to our friends in the medical profession to see how to fix this mess.

   Who decides who gets to be a doctor?

   Who decides who gets to remain a doctor?


   Other doctors.

   It is a guild, like in the ancient times. They are really strict on their guild members. They are willing to go through the farce of state licensing but no one really wants to have a mid-level bureaucrat decide who gets to perform surgery on their mother. Doctors decide.

   Preachers could help decide who gets to be a preacher. Yes, ordained persons go through the charade of ordination in the Free Church but it is so bland as to be useless. I mean the preachers can help decide who gets to be a preacher, a real one, and coach and help him/her get in his 10,000 hours of practice so he/she can be a functional minister. 

   Associations do not get this done. The Associational Exec is caught in between the churches and the pastors, as do the state and national convention workers. The congregations are doing a very poor job of helping pastors be pastors.

    Churches are dying, pastors are dying and no one is stepping forward to offer a new way. Please do not tell me about the forms (Modern approach) that candidates fill out or the poor Traditionals who call the candidate and ask if his wife plays the piano because they just lost their last instrumentalist to arthritis.

  In the proposed ministerial guild, there would be coaches who can put a pastor in the best position to use his/her gifts. The coaches help engage the local minister in 10,000 hours of practice as a minister; preaching, preparation, meditation, penetration of the community around him, energizing the laity of his congregation and the ten thousand other things that go into making a pastor effective.

   Or, you can just read aintsobad for free and I can tell you how to do all this but without any ability to provide anything for the guy who gets let go with nothing to go to by wonderful Christian people who do not want to hurt him.

   Or, we can go on the way we are going and it will all fall in on its own pretty quickly.

Tomorrow: Church(es). Evangelism as Product Placement and Why This is Not Working.


6 thoughts on “Church(es), Connection(s) and Community”

  1. Knowing, or at least hoping most preachers are called, some of that 10g-hrs needs to be devoted to leaving a church with the ability to continue in the tradition of the departing…
    although leaving a church seems to be a recent characteristic, and perhaps more Baptist than anything else, but perhaps just contemporary.
    Paul, an evangelist, moved around, Timothy akin to the Association Missionary, seemed to stay pretty much put, and the pastors and deacons he selected we never hear of them roaming that I recall at all.
    Or maybe that was then(a more gemeinschaft society) and this is now(a more gesellschaft society).

  2. I don’t believe preachers should get to decide who gets to be a preacher…if so, the stuttering Moses or the insecure Gideon or the timid Kim Norwood would have never passed muster. However, I do believe we need more preachers training preachers…rather than merely trained theologians training preachers. In looking back at my HPU and Seminary professors, VERY few had deep practical experience in pastoral ministry. But they were the ones charged with preparing me for ministry. Very few had pastored churches that averaged more than a couple hundred in attendance. Their theological knowledge base had depth, but their practical experience was shallow. I remember Dr. Shields making a very transparent remark one day as an eager group of potential pastors grilled him about life in the local church. He finally replied, “Look guys, you are listening to a man who never pastored a church that ran more than 100 in Sunday School. I have 25 years of pastoral experience, but it is all at the same level.” At least he was honest about his limited vantage point. We need some preacher/trainers with depth of experience. Very few of our pastors are being terminated for heretical theology. The fact is, our pastors are being terminated over the interpersonal issues and leadership issues in ministry rather than theological issues. Our young preachers need older preachers who can help them navigate through the local church minefields.
    You make a great point though about the Free Church needing to give up congregational authority and autonomy. I would say more, but that is another soapbox for another time.

  3. I would agree with this idea, providing that those who would be in this “guild” or committee:
    1-Affirmed the verbal plenary inspiration of scripture.
    2-Affirmed that homosexuality is always a sin. There are no exceptions or situations where someone could claim “I was born this way” and be allowed to continue to live in that perverse, anti-God lifestyle.
    3-Affirmed that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven and that all other religions are false.
    Of course, there are other doctrinal truths taught in the Bible but these three points would keep liberals out of the pulpit.

  4. Rick,
    Thank you for sharing your heart. I agree with you that the ordination process today has its limitations especially since our relationships tend to be shallow at best between pastors and other local churches. We sit in a room for a couple of hours asking the obvious questions to which the candidate “knows” the answers (we don’t know if he really lives them) and we voted to recommend him to the church. The church then trusts us and votes to affirm our decision. We lay on hands, and toss him into the pool to learn to swim on his own.
    Clearly a flawed system at best, and the results speak for themselves.
    In Baptist life, it could be that we need to narrow the ordination council to only those who know the candidate on a deep personal level. Instead of one questioning there should be the submission of his/her personal statements of faith (not affirming some document like the Baptist Faith and Message of any year). In addition we should go and do reference checks on those who have worked closely with him or her. If there are none that he or she has touched in ministry yet, tell the candidate to come back when they have taught a Sunday School class, lead a small group, worked in a caring ministry etc… Third, the council should set up a series of one on one meetings followed by a private soul searching conversation. After this process has run its course, then let the church know someone has risen up among us “called” to the ministry and schedule the celebration of this rite of passage.
    I must confess I have been part of too many of the other kinds of ordinations, and sadly many of these pastors released into the wild world of ministry have stumbled and fallen, a few right out of the gate.
    David Lowrie

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