A sea change in how ministry gets done
As I continue to work out the needs for the church to adjust to our contemporary audience, it’s from assessing how our cultural assumptions have changed in the last few decades. We’d be blind to not recognize our profound loss of influence and the resulting challenge that now face us.
My graphic way to portray this is (if the size of the font represents the amount of time spent by a ministry leader in their typical week) the OLD way of ministry was to:
And in contrast to this old way of ministry is what I believe in the NEW way or new necessities are:
ESTABLISH A CREDIBLE LIFESTYLE
TEACH (those who now would listen compared to the 1,000,000 alternative voices available to them on their phone)
To start, consider the traditional institutions that framed the city square in communities across our country. There would be courthouses, schools, churches, libraries, or comparable pillars of American society. And yet, how are those institutions viewed today? Courthouses, whether housing just a court or also the local sheriff, are now seen as fortresses of oppression. Libraries are irrelevant because I have Google on my smartphone. Schools have morphed into an unimaginable amalgam of bases for learning, but also social services, and in many places, radical social advocacy. And churches (or religion) are now a standard example in dictionaries of what irrelevance is.
Compounding this social shift is the sad reality that seminaries still train their students in keeping with the old way of doing ministry. Seminaries attract bookworms. Educated clergy resent not being listened to, or having to work to build a network of relationships (the bane of every introvert), or being required to establish their credibility before a sneering world.
So I recognize the irony, that as an educated clergyman, I am saying out loud that my position has shriveled in cultural significance — that the broad abuses of position by church leaders has helped to render my position now at the margins of influence. But I really believe this is the new normal.
So trying to anticipate what would be wise, and fully committed to the truth of a biblical worldview, I am asking that we give thought to our ways and prepare for a sea change in how ministry needs to be done.
I am hopeful because Jesus has promised to build His Church and that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I am hopeful because the Gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” And I am hopeful because the Church has faced far more critical obstacles before and always endured. The early church actually thrived in a similar context (minus technology).
These considerations are why I have worked recently to communicate (e.g. in my last 2 weekly emails) the need for innovation. And this is why I am working very intentionally to lead us to evaluate how we view our work. What is really needed? How ready or even eager are we to apply ourselves to the work of building relationships? Or are we reluctant?
I do believe these cultural tectonic shifts could explain why so many men have left the ministry. But as Trinity has always anchored a significant portion of our ministry in smaller groups and in little clumps of relationships, that could account for how we have continued to flourish.
But let’s not get cocky or presumptuous. There is much work to do, but it’s good work if you can get it.
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