A couple of caveats are in order. First, the idea of "surprising" can vary from person to person. I think you might be surprised at some of these traits, but you might not be. Second, the term "effective" is nebulous. I am not speaking of size of church or level of fame. I have subjectively noted several dozen pastors whose ministries have been consistent and whose impact in their churches and communities has been positive.
If you were attending a church worship service in 1955 and then returned to the same church in 1975, the changes would be noticeable but not dramatic. Churches were slow to change over that 20-year period. If you, however, attended a church worship service in 2000 and then returned to that same church in 2010, there is a high likelihood you would see dramatic changes in just ten years.
Pastors generally don't stay long at churches. The average tenure is between three and four years. But, as our research has shown consistently, longer tenure is needed for church health. Longer tenure does not guarantee church health, but a series of short-term pastorates is typically unhealthy.
If you really want to hurt your pastor, then this blogpost is for you. This past week alone, I had conversations with dozens of pastors. These pastors love their churches and the members. They are really committed to their callings. But they are real people who can really be hurt.
It was not a dramatic moment in time. Instead it was subtle, almost too subtle to be noticed. It became evident first in mainline churches. But evangelical churches followed a few years later. The erosion was slow, but it became glaringly apparent after several years.
As God has allowed me to study congregations for more than 25 years, I began to see a common pattern in churches that had become outwardly focused. You read some of the practical steps these churches have taken in the earlier post.
Today, I want to focus on one large slice of the demographic pie in America—households headed by a single parent. That world is growing and shifting so quickly it is almost breathtaking. For now, I offer five factoids about these families. Consider the implications for churches as we attempt to minister and reach these persons.
The implications for churches are staggering. This generation is not of the mindset of previous aging generations. According to a Pew Research study, the typical Boomer does not believe old age begins until age 72. And the typical Boomer feels nine years younger than his or her chronological age. So what are some of the implications for churches?
"Media consumers in the 0s, 10s, 20s, and 30s have no such print alliances. To them, the idea of printing on a dead tree and then trucking it to houses and newsstands seems ludicrous, old-fashioned, inconvenient, and wasteful. To these folks, paper-based publications are a pain to carry and search, easy to misplace, and hard to share, and the information in them is outdated the moment it appears. For those who weren't raised on paper, digital is superior in almost every way."
As a Boomer, I thought I was part of the generation that ushered in the sexual revolution. But I had no idea that views on sexuality would change so dramatically with the generation of my three sons. The implications for local congregations are staggering. Allow me at this juncture to offer five of those implications. I will expand on them later.
When I was a pastor, I had many couples asked me to perform their wedding ceremonies. In fact, one year I officiated at 40 weddings. In case you are wondering, I was really stupid to accept so many invitations. I am pretty conservative about doing weddings. I see the role of the Christian minister to be narrowly defined regarding when he says "yes" to such opportunities. As a result, I often found myself in some awkward positions when I had to decline to perform the ceremony.
I've heard it countless times from pastors: "I quit my job almost every Monday." Of course, it's typically a tongue-in-cheek statement regarding the letdown many pastors feel after Sunday. But most pastors say these words with a little bit of truth. They really do feel the struggles and challenges of being pastor more on Monday than most other days.
Narcissism should not be said in the same breath as Christian. The former is love of self; the latter is love of God in Jesus Christ. But the sad reality is that narcissism can and often does creep into the lives of many Christian leaders.
Most Millennials don't think in the old worship war paradigm. In that regard, "style" of worship is not their primary focus. Instead they seek worship services and music that have three major elements.
I conducted an informal survey of over 30 persons, simply asking them to name the most influential evangelicals in America today. Though my choice of the respondents was subjective, I do have confidence that the men and women who gave me these names are very knowledgeable about the evangelical scene in the United States.
Unhealthy churches have numbers of leaders and/or members who do not practice 1 Corinthians 13 in their local congregations. These persons tend to seek their picture of an ideal church rather than loving their current church, her leaders, and her members. They are thus constantly comparing some aspect of the church with some other church or members or leaders.
Criticism and conflict is one. I do have a few observations about this number one issue. First, it seems to be growing, and pastors seem to be experiencing greater challenges. Second, most of the issues of conflict are not doctrinal issues.
The issue of mental health and Christians is finally getting some attention. Among the Christians who have challenges, many pastors struggle with depression. We hear too frequently about a pastor committing suicide. And many wonder how such a tragedy could happen to someone whose life was committed to serving the Lord.
The "digital church attendees" likely view the worship services online. Some churches now view these persons as integral participants in the life of the church. A small but growing number are willing to grant them membership.
Pastors' wives have shared a common plight: they are very lonely. Some of the most common reasons pastors' wives have offered to explain their loneliness: superficial relationships in the church and mean church members.
The conversation is always sad, always tragic. The pastor who left his church after a two-year affair with another church member. The student pastor who has been out of vocational ministry since he had a brief sexual encounter with his assistant. I have spoken with countless numbers of these men and women. And each time I am reminded of how much I need to love God with all my heart, and to be totally devoted to my wife.
During my 25 plus years of church consultations, I have interviewed a number of these active-to-inactive persons. Most of them shared freely and openly with me what took place in their lives, and how it impacted their ultimate decision to stop attending church.
Yet the topic of church discipline seems to be primarily reserved for the theologians and a few pastors. Those of us who write about practical ministry and church health rarely mention this topic, even though it is a clear biblical practice. Allow me to note seven observations about church discipline.
For many years I served as a consultant to churches and denominations, a role I relinquished when I became president of LifeWay over eight years ago. Part of our consultative process was interviewing church members. Inevitably I would hear issues of concern and issues among church members over which arguments took place.
Why are pastors no longer held in high esteem? What is behind the precipitous drop in favorable ratings almost every year? Allow me to offer eleven possible reasons. As you will see, they are not mutually exclusive.