Our Latest Perspectives
The Congregational Consultants are taking a break from publishing Perspectives till after the 2023 December holidays.
In my fifty years of ministry, I have never seen so many opportunities for the church and clergy as I see today. Indeed, I am jealous of those of you who have the opportunity to pastor in the current environment. My belief in the opportunities in no way discounts or downplays the huge challenges to ministry today. I detailed some of those challenges in Part 1 of this two-part piece. But in this time of instability, the church is ready for innovation.
Most of my congregations—both my clients and the small, rural churches for whom I preach—worry that their beloved church will not survive. But I keep working with them because, even as they age and their numbers dwindle, they surprise me with their capacity to adapt and innovate. In spite of everything, God’s church keeps showing up.
Grand visions have their place, as does strategic planning. But before a congregation can think freely and creatively about the future, it needs to believe it has what it takes to carry out whatever plans it makes. For a quick boost to congregational self-confidence, there’s nothing like succeeding at a project. So if your congregation needs its mojo boosted, it might be time to brush up your skills at leading projects.
In the life of every congregation, problems will eventually surface. Such challenges may involve disagreements and conflict, genuine harm, or more serious allegations of misconduct. Pairing the process with the problem requires discernment about the nature of the problem, as well as a suite of relevant processes. An effective response may also require the involvement of the local judicatory and/or outside mediation or consultation.
Remote work and hybrid work arrangements can be complicated. Who gets to decide how much time employees spend in the office? Is it discriminatory to allow some to work remotely while requiring others to work on site? How do we know if remote workers are being productive? It’s time to push pause, review our practices, and establish new policies.
Many pastors and leaders know that one of the biggest sources of conflict and decline in long-established congregations is the lack of a clear sense of purpose and direction. Not being clear is quite costly for congregations. Without direction and purpose, most congregations deteriorate into social clubs where participants compete to get their individual wants and preferences met.
The good news is that many congregations have successfully taken on this challenge. It takes time and sustained attention to this work, but the rewards are enormous. My colleague David Brubaker has made some concrete suggestions in his article “Who are We and Why are We Here?” Congregations that shift their culture and grow in vitality focus on fulfilling their core purpose. Successful congregations keep the main thing the main thing.
It is no secret that a growing number of clergy are leaving the vocation. In this regard, the church is following trends in the secular world where “The Great Resignation” has been going on since Covid appeared (and probably even before then). Though the trend may be slowing, as articles in the New York Times and elsewhere detail, tens of millions of people in the U.S. have changed jobs over the last two years alone.
For clergy, many factors, including the high stress of the Covid period, drive decisions to leave the profession. Most clergy enjoy interaction with people in general, and their congregants specifically. During Covid, such interaction was limited. Especially for those uncomfortable using technology for virtual conversations and meetings, it was a very tough time, causing many clergy to question their calling.