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.