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A Problem Addressed

The previous post has generated good discussion – I hope it continues through a bit of thinking about what it might look like to address the issue, if indeed there is an issue. As Mike Huber noted, it may be that cultural forces are causing a change that don’t need fixing as much as we just need to embrace in creative, Quaker ways. I’ll include his suggestion as one of the solutions, provide a couple of others, and then ask you to add others.

Possible Solutions

1) Embrace that a new paradigm is emerging for pastoral ministry. The ways of the past, of a paid pastoral staff (one or more women and/or men), are slowly disappearing, and in their place an approach to ministry that spreads the work of pastoral ministry among community organizers, educators, counselors, social workers, technology experts, etc. What are the positives or negatives with this model?

2) We create an atmosphere where pastoral ministry (of the full-time paid model) is put before youth and young adults as a vital and important need. We offer annual or semi-annual institutes/seminars where we invite young, pastorally gifted youth to explore the many ways one serves the church and the community as a pastor. In this way, the reality of pastoral ministry is uncovered a bit – what are the beautiful things about pastoral ministry that don’t often get seen or talked about? How does it engage certain skills that are normally seen as something other than pastoral?

3) We continue to rely on people (usually serving as pastors in other denominations) being drawn to the Friends church, which has been extremely beneficial to the NWYM – so I mean this as a good thing, not as a concession. One danger, though, is that the we could lose connection to the past. I’m not sure how dangerous that is, except for the fact that any tradition needs as part of its heartbeat a knowledge of where the church has come from so that it can more easily frame where it is going.

4) Other ideas?

Categories: Christianity, Church, Quakers
  1. Jason L.
    June 7, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    Interesting discussion, and very appropriate for our time! I probably favor something resembling (1), although I don’t think we necessarily need to throw (2) away just yet–I think we’re still a couple of generations or so away from the death of the full-time paid pastor in North America. But I do believe we will continue to transition in a direction culturally where churches will by and large (there will always be exceptions) will not be able to support full-time paid pastors as they have in the past. We are still in a transitional period, however, so let’s not too hastily abandon the paid pastor before her/his time.

    I would like to nuance (1), however, by proposing that the reason paid pastoral leadership will be less common in the future is that the medium-to-large size congregation will basically cease to exist; churches will either be small (less than 100, but probably less than 50) or very very large (although my understanding of ecclesiology leads me to identify these as gatherings of many small churches rather than one humungous local church). This is because the methods we use to “attract” people to worship services depend on a general populace that on some level is essentially interested in Christianity. In our rapidly secularizing society the larger, attractional churches will become less effective and smaller, more intensely local church bodies built on relationship and, yes, geography will increasingly become the norm. Such local bodies simply cannot support full-time leaders, and thus bi-vocational or (to use a dirty and horrible word) “lay” pastoral leadership will become the norm. [Note: Most of the ideas in this paragraph are traceable to my reading of Alan Roxburgh.]

    • June 7, 2011 at 11:27 AM

      Thanks for your response, Jason. It is becoming increasingly clear, it seems, that church will either be the place people are drawn because they are entertained (I think of Mars Hill in Seattle and also Mars Hill in MI in this vein, though they are distinctly different theologically), or because the feel responsible to other people – both in and out of the church. It seems to me that sociologically no group stays small that does a good job of caring for each other and those in their community with needs.

      Yet I also see our church, for instance, that seems healthy and thriving, around 400-500 on a given Sunday, with some beautiful expressions of caring for each other and the community, and see the difficulty of getting more involved in the ministries offered. We are still a people deeply affected by consumerism.

      We’ve begun to explore a model of 10-12 “pastors”, none of us paid, creating worship experiences that draw in others in different ways (planning content, leading music, sharing) that is hard work, but feels a bit like the joining of 1 and 2. But we only meet for worship every other week…and could not sustain every week at this point.

      • Jason L.
        June 7, 2011 at 12:06 PM

        Re: “It seems to me that sociologically no group stays small that does a good job of caring for each other and those in their community with needs.”–Yes! Totally agree with you. I would suggest that perhaps in the future church growth will look more like church planting than the “church growth” movements of 20-30 years ago. Thought experiment: Could it be that your church of 400-500 is better understood as 30-40 (or so) smaller churches which are all meeting together for shared worship and celebration? Maybe I’m just being cute with words, but it seems to me that, from what I understand the church to be, it is difficult for me to think of myself as part of the same church as someone I don’t know (which would surely be the case in a so-called megachurch.

        To your point on consumerism, I firmly agree that it is a HUGE problem in our culture and within the body of Christ. Perhaps smaller congregations, less focused on attraction-based evangelism, could become part of the solution? The problem with the attraction paradigm, of course, is that you’re asking people to come for consumer-driven reasons (Check out our cool teaching pastor! The band is awesome! Free coffee!), but also asking them to stay even if those same elements begin to slip in quality or appeal to the individual. Thus, we have Christians in our churches who came because they liked the music, but will be chastized if they leave because the music style changes!

        I am very intrigued by the leadership model your church is using! I am curious to know more details–how long have you been operating like this?

      • June 7, 2011 at 12:33 PM

        Thanks, Jason. We’ve done it for two years now, and still feel like we are learning a lot. Perhaps I’ll post on it later this week as a model for thinking about this issue.

        In terms of my church, we don’t have a small group ministry which for me would make it easier to say we are 20-30 small churches. There is a strong sense of community, though inter-generationally this is more challenging to state.

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