“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus…” F/I Timothy 1:3
“Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” I Timothy 4:14
You may have heard about the young man who told his mother that he didn’t want to go to church:
“But son, you have to go!”
“But I don’t want to mom!”
“Now son, you know you have to go!”
“But mom, I don’t like those people and those people don’t like me! I don’t wanna go!”
“Now son, you have to go! You’re the pastor!”
This is a concern to me, not because I think these men are being disobedient to God, but from the bottom-line practical standpoint of churches needing good and godly pastors. In my world, there’s seems to be a shortage. As someone who loves all kinds of churches which teach the Bible and make disciples of Jesus, this is disconcerting.
So here’s what I’m seeing and hearing, with no judgment and no solutions (until next week):
1.The pastoral call isn’t what it used to be. We used to make a big deal out of pastors being called by God to “the ministry.” Being a pastor was considered to be a life-time assignment from God. Pastors who “left the ministry” were, in many circles, viewed as turncoats or failures.
Like it or not, this has changed. Many pastors view their positions as opportunities to use their spiritual gifts to serve the body of Christ, but are no longer viewing “the pastorate” as a life sentence.
2. The home church isn’t what it used to be. In the old days, many if not most pastors had a home church in which they were raised and in which they were called to the ministry. Everybody knew about every young man’s call; maybe even when and where it happened. Mom and dad and other relatives were part of this church. This put a natural pressure on the young pastor to remain true to his calling.
Nowadays fewer pastors have anything resembling a “home church” so this incentive for sticking by the stuff is largely gone.
3. Pastors are re-thinking the pastor paradigm. It used to be taken for granted that God’s churches always had servants known as “pastors” who worked full-time for the church in a sort of superhero capacity. The gifts required of a team of elders were all expected to be found in one human package.
This is a big subject of course; for now let’s just say that many a struggling pastor is re-thinking the whole concept of the full-time, superhero-pastor. Many younger men, especially, are being drawn to the concept of being part of a bi-vocational team of church leaders.
4. A hard-to-live-with performance value has replaced the old loyalty ethic. I think this may be part of the rural values/urban values struggle, which most feel has been decidedly settled in favor of urban values.
5. Today many, if not most, pastor’s wives work outside the home. Some have their own careers which mean as much to them as their pastor-husband’s careers mean to them. The husband’s role is no longer central or sacred. It makes it a lot easier – and more likely – that the pastor will leave “the ministry” for his own, new career, or to support his wife in hers.
6. Respect for pastors isn’t what it used to be. You know the stories: the pastor used to be the most highly respected, highly educated, influential man in town. In some locales, the pastor also taught or managed the parish school. Rightly or wrongly, pastors were called “Reverend” and they were actually revered. They had clergy parking places at the hospital. Their opinions were sought after. In today’s world, respect for pastors in the USA is right up there with used car salesmen.
7. Ministry is increasingly difficult in a sin-dominated society. In Matthew 24:12, Jesus spoke of a time when
“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”
The Apostle Paul warned:
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy…” II Timothy 3:1-2
You are welcome to debate about the exact eschatological timeframe for these conditions but they sure sound like right now to me. The “pastoral reality” associated with this is that ministry is harder because people are harder. Pastoral demands are greater because greater sin means greater damage done to individuals, marriages, families and churches. How do you find church leaders when everyone is recovering from divorce or addiction?
Next week: In light of these seven reasons, what “lay people” can do to keep the good pastor God has given them.