Our Latest Perspectives
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.
Every one of us has a unique identity. As James Taylor said in an Instagram post about Jimmy Buffett’s death, “We all … invent, assemble, inherit, or fall into our inner identity.” One important source of identity is our associations—the social groups we join, including congregations. It’s important to appreciate new forms of association that are emerging in our time.
Congregations often experience conflict in response to social movements in the world around them. Since World War II, movements regarding civil rights, the war in Vietnam, the ordination of women, and human sexuality—each vitally important in its own right—also have raised challenges inside congregations, forcing leaders to address internal questions of power and culture.
Hiring great people with excellent skills is a first step toward building a cohesive, high-performing staff. Retaining those outstanding people is just as important—indeed, may be even more important in today’s competitive job market.
When I was in seminary, my father, a long-time pastor, started to impart his wisdom: “If you have a great janitor or secretary, do whatever is necessary to keep them on the staff. Give them a higher salary, more days off, better working conditions—whatever it takes!” Once out of seminary, I learned the wisdom of his advice.
Few of us are ready for a death—whether it’s our own, someone’s we love, or the death of an institution like our church. When we see death on the horizon, we tend to clutch at whatever we can, blaming others for our loss and strategizing about how to postpone or prevent the end. But in our effort to avoid suffering, we may be disregarding some deep truths of our faith—that nothing created lasts forever, that fear and worry may be natural but are not necessary, and that letting go is possible.