Pastors Need to Press
Being a pastor is hard work – at least if you are doing a good job. American religion is in a state where every congregation is in a tenuous position. This is especially true whether the congregation has less than 50 in worship (as many mainline congregations do), closer to 100 in worship (pretty much larger than normal church size these days), or if you have hundreds or even thousands in worship every week. The truth is, sustaining what you currently are requires energy and attention. Growing it – either in number of participants or in spiritual vitality – requires even more work.
We all know that you can be the pastor in any congregation and stay busy. This is not an article accusing people of being lazy (although if the shoe fits, wear it). Many pastors are working plenty hard, even too hard. But they are sustaining what is ineffectively and feel like they are pushing a snowball up a hill only to discover that it is a volcano. Staying busy is not enough anymore.
If a congregation is going to change in ways that allow ministry to at least sustain in a long-term way, then pastors have to stretch. Sermons have to stir the pot. Programmatic energy needs to assess what is happening and either leave it alone, eliminate it, or replace it with something else. What worked even a few years ago in many settings is no longer enough for today. That means something you started five years ago and found effective may need to be overhauled or even dropped now. How many congregations have rode the wave of aging through elementary, middle school and then high school youth only to watch the next wave of kids not show up and suddenly there are almost no young families with children left?
While renewal of a congregation is a team effort – lay leadership is essential – no congregation can renew without the pastor pressing for renewal. I won’t lie. To press for renewal, make a little progress and press for renewal again can be exhausting. What seems like a lot of progress in many settings can be reversed by just one active and generous family moving to a new town. It is an emotional roller coaster to lead small to middle sized congregations in the 21st century.
But pastors have to press – it is what we have been called to do. The church of Jesus Christ in North America demands leadership today in ways it hasn’t needed for a long time. There is no guarantee that pastors who press for renewal will all succeed. And no one should live in the illusion that having a pastor who presses will solve all the congregation’s problems or let lay leaders off the hook. But if there is one common denominator in almost every congregation that does find ways to renew, they all have pastors who work hard and press forward toward new futures that perhaps only God can see.