By Mandy Smith
From Leadership Journal
Pastoring has always been hard. Today it’s especially challenging; we’re in a time of radical upheaval. Some pastors are watching their congregations and denominations shrink. Others find that the ways they’ve been taught to pastor don’t work anymore.
Nowhere is this more pronounced than in post-Christian contexts: generally in urban centers and on the coasts. Church leaders in a suburban church face very different realities than church leaders just 10 miles away in an urban setting, even within the same denomination. Unfortunately many denominations don’t have an appreciation for how different contexts require vastly different approaches.
I recently gathered with local pastors from various denominations. Three said their ministries were on shaky ground and they were feeling inadequate. John pastors a small urban church, serving under-resourced families. His supporting churches in the suburbs didn’t understand why he couldn’t raise up more lay leaders, so they cut his support in half. He felt inadequate to raise up new leaders because he spends most of his time comforting single mothers whose sons have been arrested, or talking people out of committing suicide.
Elaine, a pastor in an urban university campus setting, had just been told by her denomination that she had a year to show some conversions or her funding would be in jeopardy. She felt inadequate because it is hard enough just to have conversations with students in a context so opposed to Christianity.
Matt, a trainer of church planters, had been told by his boss that he may be removed from his role because only 50 percent of the church planters he had trained went on to have successful church plants. All three of these pastors are faithful, prayerful, hard-working. They’ve tried everything to meet expectations. Now their jobs are on the line.
Younger pastors and those in post-Christian settings are often told to just work harder or get more training. There’s often little understanding that the world of these pastors has shifted radically and that many of the tried-and-true methods not only are unsuccessful; they’re counterproductive with people who are done with Christianity.
This lack of direction, of support, and sometimes, of funding, is beginning to grow beyond a feeling of inadequacy. For many, it’s growing into desperation. For some, it becomes hopelessness. But I’m happy to say that many pioneers are forging ahead in the new reality.
This week my husband and I sat with a young couple looking ahead to graduation and ministry. We shared these trends we’re seeing, some of which have changed even in the few years since they started seminary.
We said, “There’s no guarantee that you will find full-time, paid employment doing the work you set out to do. But the world and the church absolutely need hopeful, thoughtful, hard-working Christ-followers like you. The question is not whether you’re needed but whether you’ll be paid for the ministry part of your life.”
They looked at each other and said that, with God’s help, they would keep looking for ways to use their gifts to work against what frustrates them in the world and towards what gives them joy. They don’t want this to be about career goals but about seeking God in a shifting landscape. My spirit rose.
As long as we have courageous new leaders, willing to adapt to the changing face of our movement, there is hope for whatever will become of the pastorate.
Mandy Smith is lead pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. This article first appeared in Leadership Journal.