For so many of the church leaders who contact me here there is the deep frustration of knowing their church is not well set for growth. Their congregation has aged. The community moved away from them in large numbers. There is not much hope to do more than hold steady for a few more years, until attrition takes the congregation down to the kinds of numbers you would dread.
Along the way the congregation can bless certain missions sending organizations with prayer and financial resources. Isolated ministries make life better for some individuals around the congregation but there is little chance to include large numbers of persons in the life of the congregation in a way that nurtures congregational life.
For a time, the pastor of the flock can curb his innate desire for progress. He/she can settle for satisfying worship experiences, chaplaincy duties with the congregation and can be contented with time to work on himself/herself. This will not last forever.
The pastor (to whom I will refer in the masculine now) is not intended to be what he is becoming; artist in residence. He is intended to be a growth agent of the Kingdom, certainly, and of the local Church, secondly. He can work faithfully on sermon research and presentation, trying to discern the needs of the congregation and predict the needs of any guests who might wander in from time to time. He is like the fellow who once played on the main stage, now consigned to an empty hall off Broadway. He has his fans, who remember their own high water days, who love to hear the old melodies and wish others loved them too. They feel pushed aside by time and so push him aside, at least as to his pleas for progress.
The pastor as artist in residence will probably experience depression, lonliness and a growing resentment in spirit. He may be forcefully relocated more than one time. If the team loses you fire the coach, not the team. The team continues as always, making the same roster moves, with the usual bursts of initial enthusiasm, soon immersed in the inevitable tidal wave of defeatism. Poor policies with no natural constituency outside the small cabal of leadership, apathetic and dependent followers, no clear means of decision making and the common external pressures incumbent on an antiquated religious organization in a post-modern world, all gather in the hall to besiege the pastor's study.
Naturally, a person taken out of his common role and placed in a reliquary will tend to speak in hushed tones. He will find himself with less reason to get up every morning, more enthusiasm for time away than for time on the job. There will be occassional moments of satisfaction that make his service seem worthwhile again but they will be more and more rare. His friends grow weary while his antagonists are energized by each failure.
We lose about 80% of every seminary graduating class from the ministry within five years of their graduation. The workforce now is over 55 and declining in size as a result. The pastor is an artist but that is not all he is meant to be. He cannot work on himself and his sermons forever. He must have some hope.