By Thom Rainer
Any pastor or other church staff member should be prepared in biblical truths. Theology is a key discipline as well. Indeed none of the classical disciplines should be forsaken, nor any of the practical disciplines, such as missions, evangelism, or church planting.
But the American culture has shifted dramatically in a relatively short period. The United States is becoming more like an international mission field. As a result, ministry training, whether formal or informal, should reflect this reality. Missionaries are typically required to receive intensive cultural and language training before they go overseas. Frankly, a similar need exists today for those in American congregations, or those planning to go to these churches.
So where are the greatest needs? My list is certainly not exhaustive, nor is it in any particular order. But I do see all of these areas as key to reaching our new and challenging culture.
- A new language. If a pastor or church staff member does not “speak” social media, he or she is neglecting one of the fastest growing trends in our nation, indeed in our world. It is no longer a fad; it is a primary means of communication.
- A non-Christian culture. Our nation is fast becoming a non-Christian nation. While we lament the relative decline in the numbers who follow Christ, we must also accept the reality that those in our community cannot be assumed to be like us, or to hold our values.
- The decline of cultural Christians in churches. The Pew Research project confirmed the dramatic increase in the numbers of people who have no religious affiliation. For our churches, this development means that most people do not feel cultural pressure to attend churches. More and more, those who are there are convicted Christians and not Christians in name only.
- A new work/life balance. Pastors and church staff members have always been on call 24/7. But now they are connected 24/7 as well with computers, smart phones, and other technological advances. For better or worse, the world of work and personal life is becoming increasingly blurred.
- Unregenerate church members. Cultural Christians are those who really know they are not believers, but are affiliated with churches for cultural reasons. But another group includes those who may cognitively assert a belief in Christ, but have really not had a conversion. For certain, this development is not new. But we are seeing the cumulative cost of weak discipleship and false conversions in our churches. How will we respond to the issue of numbers of members who are not truly believers?
- The community as a mission field. Can we change our mindsets and be better prepared? Our communities are not just changing because there are fewer Christians. They are changing with an influx of new ethnic groups and people of other religious beliefs.
- Less automatic cultural respect of church leaders. In past years, those who held the title of “pastor” or some similar nomenclature were revered in the community just by the position they held. Such is not the case today. Respect must be earned one day at a time.
- A more critical world. Many pastors and church staff members do not deal well with the more transparent and critical world in which we live. Some retreat to a form of passivity or paths of least resistance. And some quit altogether.
- A greater need for leadership skills. The world in which we live is complex. We may long for simpler times, but that won’t change our realities. Church leaders must be better leaders in more challenging times.
- More churches in need of revitalization. This last item may be last on the list, but the need is huge. As many as nine out of ten of our churches are in need of some level of major revitalization. There are tens of thousands of these churches, and the implications for equipping leaders for them are vast.
This list may be discouraging to you as you read the cumulative implications. I see it, however, from a different perspective. I see this new reality and this new mission field as a great opportunity. No, it’s not your father or mother’s church. It’s a new and challenging reality requiring a missional mindset. It requires total dependence on the One who sends us to the mission field. And that is exactly where God wants us.
What do you think about this mission field called America?
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on March 10, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.
By Pastor Joe McKeever at www.joemckeever.com (used by permission)
“Therefore, we do not lose heart.” (II Corinthians 4:1,16)
From time to time I receive notes like this:
“I resigned my church tonight. Just couldn’t take it any more. The bullying from a few strong men (or one family in particular) finally wore me out. So, I got good and fed up, and tonight I tossed in the towel and told them I was through. It feels good to walk away and leave all this stress behind. But now, I will be needing a place to move to, a way to support my family, and when the Lord is ready, a new church to pastor. Please keep me in mind if you know of a church in need of my services.”
Nothing about that feels right. I want to call to my friend, “You resigned in a fit of temper or or a moment of discouragement? You walked away from the place God sent you? You quit a well-paying job without knowing where you will move your family or how you will support them? Have you lost your everloving mind?!”
I guarantee you the pastor’s wife is thinking these thoughts, no matter how loyally she supports her man and aches to see him struggling under such a heavy load.
I would like to say to every minister I know that unless you are sure the Holy Spirit inside you is saying, “This is the time. Walk away now,” don’t do it. Do not resign abruptly or impulsively.
Here are 10 reasons not to quit and walk away even when to remain there is killing you….
1) God sent you. Stay until He says otherwise or until you are fired.
You may not be able to keep a church from firing you–some of the finest ministers on the planet have been terminated at one time or other–but if it’s up to you, stay until He tells you to leave.
So, pastor, you found the going to be tough, some of the leaders resistant, and a few members to be criminal in their behavior? You grew tired of fighting them and fed up with the way they treated you?
I have something to say to you, my friend.
No one said it was going to be easy, least of all the Lord who called you in the first place. Go back to Matthew 10 and read what He said to the early disciples, from verse 16 through the end of the chapter. Compare your situation with what they were facing, then apologize to Him for your belly-aching.
2) The church needs you to see them through this crisis.
There are good people in your congregation who need a shepherd. If you walk away, you are abandoning them to the bullies who have been making your life miserable and ruling that church with a heavy hand.
If the bullies remain in place, the church will continue to be sick and stunted in its growth and ministries. Read Acts 20:28ff and notice that from the very beginning of the Lord’s church, it has been this way. Your church is not unusual. It may be sick, but if so, it needs a physician and that’s why you were sent. Stay with the patient.
3) If you walk away, the bullies win, they are empowered, and they will try to control the next pastor.
The pastor who follows you will wish for all the world that you had cleaned out that nest of vipers before leaving. As it was, he will feel you took the easy way out, turned over the keys to the trouble-makers, and made sure the next preacher will have to deal with them all over again.
I know, I know–it doesn’t feel that way. You are at your wit’s end and feel you cannot take it any more. But you can. Stay with the assignment the Lord gave you. Love those bullies and minister to them as faithfully as you do the precious saints. Follow the blueprint of Luke 6:27-35. You will puzzle the troublemakers, frustrate the devil, and honor your Lord. Furthermore, you will strengthen your church and give your people a picture of a blessed servant of the Lord for all time.
4) You have a family to support.
As the head of your household, you are charged with providing for your own, a serious assignment from the Lord. To walk away from a steady paycheck because you “couldn’t take it any more” reflects poorly on you and puts your loved ones in a difficult situation.
Now, it’s possible to go too far in the other extreme. I’ve seen pastors cave in to the bullies and not challenge them on anything–”I go along to get along,” one called it–in order to keep their job. Do that and you soon lose the respect of everyone including those nearest and dearest to you, and will become the lapdog of the church-rulers.
Each extreme is unwise–caving in or abruptly walking away.
Stay close to the Lord for His guidance, His wisdom and the kind of self-control only He gives.
5) If you walk away, your ministry will be changed forever–and possibly diminished.
What do you suppose a pastor search committee is going to think when they look at your resume? May I answer that for you?
–”If this guy is so good, why is he without a job now?”
–”If he could not get along with the strong leaders in his last church, he’d have trouble in our church, too.”
–”Let’s not take the chance. Let’s see who else is available without all this baggage.”
And you are history. Believe me, pastor, I have been on the receiving end of this stuff and have the scars to prove it.
You are seriously handicapping your future service to the Lord by quitting and walking away.
In the Southern Baptist Convention–always my frame of reference–if you walk away from your present church, it will take from six months to a year before you get another church and that one will be a third to one-half the size of the present one. You will regress in your ministry in a hundred ways if you walk away.
6) If you walk away and find yourself unemployed, you may lose confidence in yourself and possibly in the Lord.
Say what you like about the ministry being different from other jobs, but the simple fact is in our culture most of us get our identity from our work. When you have no work to go to in the morning, you begin to wonder “who am I?” and then “am I a failure?”
I cannot count the heart-breaking emails I have received from unemployed pastors who wonder why God doesn’t hear their prayers, why search committees do not appreciate their resumes, and why friends do not recommend them to other churches or invite them to fill the pulpit in their absence.
You do not want to be in that position if you can help it, preacher.
7) God can use this testing time in your life, in your family, in your church, and even in the lives of the trouble-makers.
In the weight room, you build a muscle by putting stress on it. In God’s kingdom, He builds believers by allowing us to undergo trials and burdens and oppositions. If we walk away from the work before quitting time, we miss the blessings and often add to the problems of the very people we were sent to encourage and bless.
Did you enter the ministry idealistically? Were you expecting the churches to be filled with saints and every day to be sweeter than the day before? If so, it’s clear you have never read your Bible. Look at the ministry of God’s shepherds in the Old Testament (Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc) and in the New Testament (Paul, Peter, James, John, etc). They all had a tough time of it. Did you think you were better than they?
I don’t mean to be unkind here, but only to provoke you to be tough with yourself and not jump ship when the going gets rough.
8) Think of how you will feel about this a million years from now.
Which is to say, take the long view and not the short-term view.
9) The bullies need you to act courageously and faithfully. Whether they know it or not.
It will be good for the Diotrephes in your congregation (those who “love to have the pre-eminence”) to see someone acting like God truly is in this place, that the Lord really did send him here, and that he actually expects to have to stand before the Lord some day and give account for this flock (see Hebrews 13:17). It will be eye-opening for the bullies to see you able to take a licking, then get up and love them again in the power of the Holy Spirit.
You are going to win them by the power of humility, love and service, and not by playing the game the way they want it conducted (by sheer force, big numbers, and power).
10) Your family needs to see you acting maturely, speaking firmly, and confidently dealing with this matter in quietness and strength.
Over the years, I have encountered adult children of ministers who quit going to church years ago “after seeing how the church people treated my daddy.” They grew bitter at the church and marked them all off as unChristian and hypocritical. To the extent their preacher-fathers allowed them to be hurt, they did them no favors.
Protect your children, parents. As much as you can, pastor dad, shield your wife from the trouble. She’ll need to be in on some of it, but not all. But shield your children from as much of it as you possibly can. They are so vulnerable. They do not have the spiritual resources with which to deal with hateful members or cruel leaders. So, try to shield them.
The ministry can be the most rewarding life in the world. But it can also be the cruelest. In either case, it is the Lord Christ whom you serve. And let me assure you, He does not take lightly the wonderful service you render in His name nor the treatment you receive from those who would hinder you. (Hebrews 6:10 has your name all over it.)
Find out and then help your family to see what Scripture means in calling the Lord “our Shield and Defender.” It’s all good.
Now, get up off the ground and get back into the ring, preacher. The worst thing they can do is kill you and all that does is send you to Heaven.