Tag: congregations

Seminarians Opt Out of Church and What We Can Do To Change That

“Students don’t want to serve in the local church when they graduate; they want to do something more exciting.”Southern Baptist seminary administrator

A prominent seminary administrator made that comment to me several weeks ago.  I’ve been rolling it around in my head since then, disturbed and challenged by its implications.  If his comment had been the first I had heard, I might not be so concerned.  But several months ago, another seminary leader expressed the same sentiment — seminary students are not planning to serve local churches.

Of course, this might be their perception because they did not conduct a scientific survey.  But, let’s assume it’s true — that seminary students see themselves serving in more exciting settings than the local church.  If that is the case, then we have some serious work to do.

First, those of us in local churches have to ask ourselves, What signals are we sending that turn off seminarians? Some answers come to mind very quickly:

  • churches can be slow to change;
  • established congregations are typically older and certainly not cool;
  • most churches are single staff settings;
  • pastoral ministry isn’t viewed as cutting edge;
  • most church programs are inward-focused; and
  • denominational politics turns young adults off.

Those are the answers that popped in my head immediately.  I’m sure you and I could think of more if we really tried.

Second, the more pressing question is, How can we help seminarians in their quest for meaningful ministry? Here the answers come more slowly, but I have a few thoughts:

  • Embrace the age of change. I’ve written before that church as we know it is going to change dramatically and soon.  Those of us in churches need to recognize that trend and dialogue with seminarians about where they see church heading. After all, whatever future the church has is in their hands.
  • Underwrite experiments in ministry. Most of us in mid-life are not going to start a coffee shop church, or an arts enclave, or a neomonastic order.  But seminarians might, and they could try out those ideas under the sponsorship of existing churches who have the funds and resources to help make those ministry experiments happen.
  • Participate in reverse-mentoring. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, had all his senior management reverse-mentored by younger employees.  The younger employees understood the value of the internet, mobile computing, and social networking and Welch wanted his senior managers to learn from them.  Churches and current church leaders need to do the same.  Seminaries could create space for reverse-mentoring workshops where local church pastors and denominational leaders could sit and listen and learn from the emerging generation of church leaders.
  • Provide seminarians opportunities for service. Seminarians need hands-on opportunities to minister at the local church level.  Most seminaries require field work, but I’m talking about a real position with real ministry responsibility.  The Lilly Endowment has offered grants for new seminary graduates to work full-time in a local church setting. While this is an encouraging approach, too few grants are available.  Churches and seminaries could figure out how to do this in a way that gives seminarians good church experiences, allowing them room for innovation in their area of responsibility.

Churches of all denominations are facing three converging crises — clergy shortage, declining church attendance, and aging congregations.  No wonder the current crop of seminary students wants to work any place but the local church.  Time will tell if current church leaders will engage with this new generation of church leaders to forge new expressions of church ministry.  That would be exciting.

For the latest in church news, ideas, and information visit NewChurchReport.com.

What your church members want from their pastor

Looking at the Pastoral Ministry section of almost any Christian bookstore, you might get the idea that congregations want great preaching, inspiring vision, and larger-than-life leadership from their pastor. While those extraordinary gifts are possessed by some pastors, most church members want four very simple things from their pastor:

  1. Your time. Your members know you are busy, but most of them want to spend some time with you — a meal, a cup of coffee, a conversation, or a moment where you both connect.  You can’t give all your time to all your members everyday, and they know it.  But make it a point to give some time to someone everyday.  I try to spend my afternoons visiting, calling, or meeting with my members.  My schedule doesn’t always work out, but when it does I am always blessed.
  2. Your ear. People like to know they have been heard and their opinions valued.  You may not always agree, but you can always listen.  Most people want a fair hearing even if the outcome is not their preference.  Really hear what your members are saying to you, acknowledge their comments, and assure them that you appreciate them sharing with you.
  3. Your presence. When people go to the hospital, they need the presence of their pastor to strengthen them.  When family members gather at the bedside of a dying loved one, they need their pastor.  When a father loses his job, or a single mom faces surgery, or an elderly couple makes the decision to move to assisted-living, they need a pastor to talk to.  Your presence represents God, their church family, their faith, and their hope.  Nothing else will do in those times except your presence.
  4. Your prayers. Concerns about family, worries about health, decisions, and mistakes — members have asked me to pray for these concerns and many others.  Take those requests seriously, pray earnestly, and follow-up later find out how you can continue to pray.

Great preaching and inspiring vision are a plus for any pastor.  But the real work of ministry happens in real life situations, especially in the small church.  Spend time with your members.  After all, it’s a compliment to your ministry that they want to spend time with you.

The right way to do church?

Maybe there is no “right way” to do church. That thought occurred to me the other day while reading Mission in the 21st Century by Andrew Walls and Cathy Ross. The “right way” to do church may be the way that is authentic to the group of Christians at any given location and time. For instance, the first followers of Christ were Jews. They went to the Temple, they observed Jewish dietary laws, they avoided eating with non-Jews. But Paul was quick to tell non-Jews they did not have to do “church” like the Jewish Christians. Gentile Christian churches took on a markedly different style, form, and practice than Jewish Christian churches.

The same thing is happening today. A smorgasbord of church polity, practice, and priorities are evident across the Christian community today. Churches in the two-thirds world exhibit authentic spiritual vitality in forms unlike their Western counterparts. Maybe there is no right way to do church. Maybe the right way depends upon the context, witness, and authenticity of the group from which it emerges. Or, to put it another way, maybe all churches aren’t driven by the same purposes. Which means, not one cookie-cutter approach, but the rainbow richness of God’s Spirit moving in various ways in various places. What do you think?

Christian leaders manage meaning

Making Spiritual Sense I’m reading a great book by Scott Cormode, the Hugh De Pree Associate Professor of Leadership Development at Fuller Seminary.  Titled, Making Spiritual Sense: Christian Leaders As Spiritual Interpreters, Cormode says,

To the extent that Christian leaders provide people with a theological framework for action, they are proclaiming God’s message of love and justice….Pastors lead by providing God’s people with the theological categories  to make spiritual meaning.

That, he says, is the difference between leaders of organizations and leaders of the community of faith called the church.  Unlike the leadership models borrowed from corporate, military, or sports worlds, Christian leadership is about “the leader as ‘manager of meaning.'”  I like that.  After all, that is what Jesus does, and Cormode gives plenty of examples of how Jesus redefined reality in his “you have heard…but I say unto you” statements.  This is far different also, than tacking Christianity onto the culture in which we live, or adding “spirituality” to all the other consumer choices available to us today.

Cormode argues that we use a repertoire of tools to interpret and decode the world around us.  One of the most intriguing examples he cites is how humans use stories to interpret events.  He gives the example of seeing a crying child in a grocery, then watching her run to an adult male with great relief.  Cormode says that before he realized it, he had told himself the story of a little girl who got separated from her father while they were shopping, only to be greatly relieved to find him again.   The stories we tell ourselves help us interpret events around us.  It becomes the task of the Christian leader to lead church members to see events through the story of God’s work in this world.

Another pertinent point is that we all have expectations.  Churches often have expectations that a new pastor will solve all their previous problems, including attendance, budget, fellowship, and vision.  But, Cormode says, sooner or later, pastors will fail the expectations of their members.  Quoting Ronald Heifetz, Cormode reminds us that ‘leaders have to fail people’s “expectations at a rate they can stand.”‘

If you are looking for a very helpful, solid book on the task of leadership, pick up a copy of Making Spiritual Sense.   You might find it a refreshing break from the leader-as-hero myth that dominates our culture, including our church culture.

-Scott Cormode is also the founder of the Academy of Religious Leadership, and the Journal of Religious Leadership, plus the website, ChristianLeaders.org.