Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ten Theses About The Future of Ministry

Last fall I met with a group of Lilly Transition into Ministry fellows in Pennsylvania. These are some top recent seminary graduates who are in their first years of ministry. For our discussions I presented some of my hunches about the future of the pastoral ministry. This provoked a lively discussion among these new pastors. I share my theses here in encouragement of discussion of the future of pastoral leadership in our church:

Ten Theses About The Future of Ministry

The pastoral ministry in mainline Protestantism will continue to experience numerical decline as well as be pushed to the margins of this culture. The mainline is old-line that is becoming sidelined.

The pastoral ministry in mainline Protestantism will need to lead the church in redefining itself in the light of the spiritual needs and aspirations of people under 35 or else will continue to decline because it has limited itself to the spiritual affairs of one generation.

The pastoral ministry in mainline Protestantism will need to find a theological way through the intellectual death of theological liberalism (“Progressive Christianity”) and the cultural compromises of traditional evangelicalism (the IRD and evangelical Protestantism’s alliance with the political right).

The pastoral ministry in mainline Protestantism may recover the joy of denominational identity even as denominations are dying. (The Wesley Study Bible’s enthusiastic reception by the church may be a sign that Wesleyans are joyfully recovering their roots.)

The pastoral ministry must be supple, adaptable, and willing to experiment on the basis of biblically supported leadership styles.

The mission of the church will take precedence over internal maintenance, real estate, fellowship, therapy, pastoral care and other factors that have driven the church in recent decades and have contributed to our decline.

Methodists will either become engaged in the mysterious, relentless growth of the Kingdom of God or they will continue to decline. Growth is our most needed focus.

Ministry will be energized by theological refurbishment and a recovery of the theological rationale for ministry. Ministry will become more dependent upon a theological construal of the pastoral ministry.

The pastoral ministry will recover the oddness and the excitement of salvation in Jesus Christ.

The pastoral ministry will either find a way to attract and empower a new generation of pastor’s critique and reconstruct pastoral ministry or we will pass away with this generation.

Will Willimon

4 comments:

Sky McCracken said...

Good article, Bishop. I posted some of your comments on my own blog and responded to them as a 40-something pastor.

John Hobbins said...

I don't remember a comment thread on this blog being a place for conversation, but on the off chance that I might spark one, here are a few remarks.

"The pastoral ministry in mainline Protestantism will need to lead the church in redefining itself in the light of the spiritual needs and aspirations of people under 35 or else will continue to decline because it has limited itself to the spiritual affairs of one generation."

This sounds like the approach of Brunner rather than Barth. Does the search for a point of contact really have legs?

I find it more helpful to think of pastoral ministry's point of departure as an exercise in dual immersion: in Scripture, in the fine grain of the texts, along the lines that someone like Jacques Ellul read it (I refer to structure, not necessarily content); and in the realities of life, from the bedroom to the public square. With the latter to be read in the light of the former, though of course it's a hermeneutical circle.

"The pastoral ministry in mainline Protestantism will need to find a theological way through the intellectual death of theological liberalism (“Progressive Christianity”) and the cultural compromises of traditional evangelicalism (the IRD and evangelical Protestantism’s alliance with the political right)."

I'm thinking that it is pastorally correct, not to try to identify a third way through the left and the right, but to develop a Gospel critique of both left and right and still empower and authorize people to engage in partisan politics of both the left and the right, with the one thing needful: intellectual and especially spiritual humility.

In that case, the church is no longer seen as an affinity group, the Democratic Party or the GOP or a bunch of radicals at prayer, but as a fully catholic construction of God's own making in which people of the most diverse political persuasions pray together, hear the word together, share in communion together, and build (for example) Habitat for Humanity houses together.

I'll stop there and see if the above sparks a conversation.

g lake dylan said...

no mention of worship being reengaged in as the heart and soul of the church and the most important thing the church does. and the need for liturgical/sacramental substance w/ feeds piety and social justice/issues of peace and wholeness. why is the church, the ministry, the pastor so often described as a manager of the institutional life of the congregation rather than the curator of souls? Gary L Lake Dillensnyder, OSL+

carey said...

ostersYes, let's have a conversation.

I've seen a few churches here in town that have figured out how to attract the under-35 generation and it's not by trying to ascertain their spiritual needs. They nevertheless have a packed sanctuary on Sunday morning where all of these young people are entertained by bands dominated by drums and electric guitars. These performances draw standing ovations and thunderous applause. It's hard to construe these unnerving theatrics as the spiritual needs of a generation.

Those who monitor churches for whatever reason invariably use attendance as a key metric and these churches are surely getting very good marks. Is this our future?