I was raised in a time when life seemed fairly stable.
Marriages were expected to last forever. You went to work for a company, stayed there until you retired, and received a gold watch.
You could attend virtually any church in a denomination and would find the services would be amazingly similar, they would be using the same materials and literature, and offer the same programs.
I am a product of that kind of thinking. My wife and I have been married for nearly 48 years.
At age 18, I went to work in a factory, worked 30 years there, and when I retired I received my gold watch.
While working that factory job, I accepted the call to a small, bivocational church where I served for 20 years before accepting a call to judicatory ministry, where I’ve now been for the past 14 years.
On the surface, it appears my life has been fairly stable, but in reality there have been many changes along the way.
My pastoral ministry looked much different when I left that church in 2001 than it was when I began there in 1981.
Outreach efforts had to be adapted as reaction to in-person, door-to-door invitations changed.
Unannounced drop-ins to parishioners’ homes were replaced by call-ahead, scheduled visits.
My leadership style changed as our church went from being primarily a board-led church to a pastor-led church.
I also adjusted my preaching style three different times while I pastored that church – moving from detailed notes to a full manuscript to a broad outline that allowed me to freely move around the platform.
At a meeting a few years ago with other judicatory leaders, I mentioned that I feel that I enjoyed a good ministry as a pastor, but I did not believe that much of what I did during those two decades would be as effective today.
I could not pastor today as I did then; I would have to reinvent myself as a pastor if I wanted to have a productive ministry.
Working with the American Baptist churches in the Kentucky and Indiana region, and with various denominations around the country, I see many pastors still functioning as they did 20 to 30 years ago and wondering why their ministries are not more effective.
They’re doing everything they learned in seminary in the 1980s not realizing that we live in a much different time.
The expectations people have of church have changed. People move more often, making it more difficult to have a stable membership. Children’s ministry is different now with the increased numbers of single-parent homes.
As the “builder” generation dies, churches often see their giving levels drop because the younger generations do not financially support the church at the same level the older generations did.
In addition, fewer people are available for Sunday evening and midweek services so efforts to maintain those are sure to be disappointing in many churches.
Given these changing dynamics, pastors need to take a serious look at their ministries and preaching styles to see if changes are necessary. The same is true for churches.
I continually talk to small churches that insist they want to reach new people, especially younger people, and yet they are unwilling to do anything differently than they did in the 1950s.
Any attempt to try something new is met by a controller who pulls out the church constitution and insists that it does not permit the proposed initiative to be done.
I’m currently working on a new book with a working title of “Straight Talk to Small Churches,” so let me offer some straight talk: Your church will either reinvent itself or it will die.
If you are more interested in protecting the way you’ve always done things than you are in reaching people, then you are irrelevant to the Kingdom of God, and God will raise up another ministry to do the work you should be doing while he allows your church to die.
Learning new skills and new ways of doing ministry is not easy, but nobody said ministry was supposed to be easy.
Pastors and churches must continually reinvent themselves if they want to successfully impact a changing world for Jesus Christ.
Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Ind., for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. A longer version of this article first appeared on his blog, Bivocational Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter: @DennisBickers.
Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years followed by a 14-year ministry as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky.