Our Latest Perspectives
The world has changed—perhaps you’ve heard!—and congregations must adapt in order to thrive in the future. I agree, but want to add that adaptation requires creativity, and the seedbed of creativity is craft—attention to the basics handed down to us through time.
Preaching, teaching, pastoral care, administration—the craft of parish ministry covers a wide gamut. Few of us excel across the board; all of us depend on others to supply what we cannot. The craft of ministry is ancient, though the specifics vary across time, geography, and faith traditions. Craft is a way of doing things rooted in the past—but without craft, how can we tackle future opportunities? To flourish long-term, leaders need to walk the paradox of craft and creativity.
In an era when innovation and adaptation are needed, many struggle to break free of old thinking patterns. No matter what we do, our congregations drift back to familiar, settled ways of doing things. It’s time to drop beneath the surface of our actions and challenge outdated assumptions that sustain the status quo.
Many clergy are leaving or considering leaving ministry. Last March, Barna Research reported that 42 percent of pastors had considered quitting full-time ministry in the past year, compared with 21 percent in January 2021. The Washington Post, Sojourners, NPR, and Christianity Today have all published articles on the phenomenon. Denominations need to understand the reasons for this change and make supporting ministers a top priority.
In 2014, I wrote a post outlining eight managerial skills ministers should be good at. Today, I want to add another skill in light of the pandemic—ministers need to know how to receive criticism appropriately. Skilled ministers need to remember that it’s not always the minister or the church that people are upset with.
Church staff approach the beginning of a program year with enthusiasm and energy, but as the year winds down, this often gives way to malaise and exhaustion. Staff rely on the summer months for revitalization before the cycle begins anew. This cycle of overwork, exhaustion and renewal has never been healthy, but during the pandemic, the summer hiatus has not offset months of overwork and stress. Many staff are running on empty—already burned out while the program year is still new.
It’s time to break the burnout cycle by instituting healthy, sustainable church workplace practices.
This fall many congregations are trying to assess their level of health and vitality. Leaders wonder why some people have returned and re-engaged, and others have not. Some congregations did well in the pandemic, while others seemed to lose all of the air out of their balloons. One large-church pastor said, “I feel like I am leading a very different congregation than the one I was serving back in 2019.” While Covid still spreads, folks have moved on with their lives. Church is back in business, but it is still a perplexing time.
By middle age, most of us realize the futility of efforts to force another person to change. Efforts to transform another human being—spouse, partner, friend, colleague, or child—generally shatter on the rocks of a simple reality: sustainable change comes from within.
For congregational leaders and consultants, this principle mandates doing change with people rather than to them. Pressure from the top or from outside may accomplish short-term adjustments, but long-term change comes from within.