Church life in modern America is characterized by the loss of a “consensus in the middle” and the growing influence of the political and theological right and left – as we have experienced in the national political environment.
The disappearing middle is exceedingly troubling for local churches, which traditionally based their identity and work on a solid consensus in the middle, thus offsetting the influence of extremes in a congregation’s life. With a weakened middle, many churches are experiencing greater instability.
What is a minister to do?
1. Root your ministry in the Bible.
Interpreting Scripture in preaching and teaching is a unique function of clergy. A minister who rightly divides the Word of Truth is going to be very hard to unseat. This calls the minister to master Scripture and to develop in the congregation a sophisticated understanding of how one interprets Scripture.
Many “rump groups” in a congregation gain energy and influence around biblical issues. Do not – do not – give the courtyard of biblical interpretation over to the uninformed. The successful minister will spend a lot of time and energy educating her congregation about the Bible and how one can responsibly interpret Scripture. Informed laity will add great stability to a congregation.
2. Focus on the congregation’s core values.
In unsettling times, it is essential for congregations to know who they are and where they are going. In six months, a congregational study can produce a handful of clearly articulated core values. Developing two or three strategies based on those core values will provide the minister with church-approved “marching orders.” It is important that the core values and key strategies be rooted in an accurate understanding of the congregation’s context (i.e., what is possible).
Armed with these values and strategies, the minister can work them in season and out, never allowing the congregation to be distracted from core values or key strategies.
As an example, one key strategy might be growing average Sunday school attendance in the children’s department. A congregation focused on core values and key strategies will have little energy for things of secondary importance. By the same token, a congregation that cannot identify “the big stuff” is destined to sweat the little stuff, and the little stuff will be the congregation’s undoing.
3. Grow the ministry.
Make the Christian life relevant to the cultural context of the church and grow the church, the number of bodies in the room. If revenue is growing and members are joining, the minister’s hand will be strong. When money and membership are declining, every fault-line in the congregation will rise to the surface and the minister will be very vulnerable.
The minister’s destiny in a particular church is directly related to the congregation’s progress or lack thereof. Stagnation cripples a congregation and places a minister’s job at risk. While quoting demographics and national trends may soften criticism, ministers are increasingly evaluated on church growth. Ministers are surely servants and helpers, but increasingly they must see themselves as catalysts spurring the congregation toward tasks, goals and growth.
So growing one’s church is essential for ministerial stability.
In the dramatic changes of modern life, ministers must help congregations find purpose and direction, and the resulting stability. Doing less is an abdication of leadership and often the precursor of termination. In these turbulent times, it is not enough to be a pastor, one must also be a leader.