An ad promoting a trip to Glacier National Park

Ministers are catalysts for change.

Many people are drawn to ministry because they perceive it as a caring profession. It is. It is a caring, supportive, affirming, nurturing and loving profession. Yet sometimes love needs to be tough.

Let me say it another way. Letting an unhealthy system continue to pollute a congregation, and the lives of many people, is very unloving. Sometimes doing nothing is immoral.

I ask seminary students, “So why are you afraid of change and conflict? What happened in your family of origin that made you so averse to healthy confrontation?”

Too often ministers make excuses for their own unwillingness to lead a church toward transformation. We excuse ourselves by suggesting we do not possess a particular gift or calling. I have heard many ministers say, “Ron, growing a church, changing a system, calling on church prospects – it’s just not me. I’ve got to be true to myself.”

Really? I thought we were to be true to Jesus; I did not know it’s all about us!

Often, churches do not change because ministers do not change. Ministers get comfortable in their professions and resist growing and evolving into more effective leaders.

“I don’t enjoy visiting shut-ins.” That is one of the reasons we call it “work.”

“I am not good at administration.” Then take a few courses at a local college and improve.

Why do ministers assume they don’t have to grow and change with the needs of their ministries?

I am an advocate for ministers becoming students of marketing and demographics, which inevitably draws the ministerial response, “I was not called to do that!” To which I reply, “If you follow Jesus, you are going places you never imagined.”

God’s call leads ministers out of their comfort zones over and over again. And interestingly, ministers regularly encourage people in the pews to change. Why do we tell people in the pews they should change when we are averse to our own change?

Family systems theory teaches us that one member of the family can change the entire system, by simply changing their individual behavior. Too often ministers settle into an unhealthy system and complain about the system’s lack of health, instead of becoming agents of change and redemption.

Lack of ministerial personal growth is particularly a problem when societal and cultural change is rapid. When cultural change is slow, a minister can get by with small adjustments. When society is changing rapidly, the minister has to “get with it” and grow quickly. Leading a system toward change requires even more rapid change in the one who advocates transformation.

Of course, with regard to ministers it is always good to recite the example of Jesus. Was Jesus an agent of change and redemption or did he just ride along in an unhealthy system? The cost to him was his life. It sort of makes you wonder if disciples are to carry crosses, too.

There are many important facets to ministry. I am suggesting one facet is being a catalyst for change.

Ron Crawford is president of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. This column first appeared on his blog.

Share This