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.
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.
It is a truth all but universally acknowledged—especially in small congregations—that whoever does the work should call the shots. Musicians are responsible for music, educators manage children’s programs, activists organize for social change. In the chancel, everyone defers to the altar guild. The underlying principle is clear: “Those with know-how should decide-how!”
But sometimes we go even further and let people who know how also decide what the congregation should be trying to accomplish. I want to propose an improved rule: “Those with know-how should decide-how, but everyone should have a voice when we decide-what.”
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.
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.
During this pandemic, many people, clergy included, have decided to resign from their jobs. Headlines about “The Great Resignation” may overstate the case—some people are just retiring or moving on to better jobs. But many ministers undoubtedly are wondering right now whether they should find another way to spend their lives. Many clergy who have …