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Changing the rules of local church ministry, officially

This past week, I read an eye-opening piece by Derek Thompson called, “The Great Resignation is Accelerating.” (The Atlantic)

We all knew that people were quitting their jobs. But, he brought out something further:

Their job is just one of a whole list of things that people are quitting – a sign that people are rejecting the terms of life itself as defined in America.

Thompson’s insight is a good hermeneutic for understanding why so many (particularly, solo) pastors are contemplating a break or quitting altogether.

Simply put, it seems that the world of ministry has changed, but the rules of ministry have not kept up. This has made ministry unsustainable. And, pastors are willing to reject these terms.

In Search of a Problem

The past 18 months have been hard work for so many of our churches. And, it seems as though much has changed.

But, I think a challenge to that perception is necessary. Let’s consider the following:

  • Worship – Certainly, the move from in-person to over-the-internet worship was a big change. But, which parts of worship could we say was actually changed?
  • Diversity – So many of our churches and people showed up to march for Black lives. Now, how much has the demographic compositions of our congregations changed?
  • Dreams – The Great Resignation, as we’ve mentioned, is exactly what it is. Yet, how many of our churches pivoted to programs about discerning your calling outside of ordained ministry?

It might be tough for us ministry leaders to admit this. But, besides all of the work that we typically give ourselves, the Church often feels like a solution in search of a problem.

What this leads to is beyond what we might call a crisis of leadership. It is, instead, a crisis of purpose – an existential crisis – and a crisis of call.

Change the rules, officially

To address this, we have to see the ministry of the local church in a slightly theologically shifted way.

We are all comfortable with ordained clergy being appointed to a community with the local church as a “home base” of operations, of sorts.

1) What if we also considered that the laity might not be appointed as such, but they too are also assigned? There is a mandate to follow and that means that they must work with clergy as a team, not as stockholders of the Church.

2) Following that, what if we let go of “the community” as a concept from the pre-pandemic era when proximity and physical location was key? Instead, what if we said that such clergy and laity are both assigned to a particular mission?

If successful, what this would signal is a shift from ecclesiology to missiology as we are passing through eschatological times.

This is a time in which we see what happens in local churches as a means of sustaining the community of followers of Jesus Christ. But, their mission is to then help sustain a community or particular segment of the population. They are missionaries, first.

Sincerely,

James J. Kang
The Last Seminary