Saturday, August 30, 2008

Just Hanging On

Drive through any small town and you'll find a handful of church buildings. Some are in good repair, some are closed, and many are just hanging on.

Often the ones that look good and are well used are those that are more Evangelical in their views. They are building gymnasiums and educational wings while the others are struggling to keep the doors open.

Here's a radical thought. Bring together those congregations that "feel" most alike in the small town. Chances are, everyone either already knows each other or is probably related. Instead of pouring tens of thousands of dollars times three or four in to three or four different buildings, decide on one and maintain that one well. Let the ELCA, the Presbyterians, and the United Church of Christ share the building and the expense. Think of the money that could then be used for the real mission of the church, not maintaining a building. And, maybe, just maybe, they could even worship together once in a while.

Where Have All the Pastors Gone?

One of my best friends celebrated her 20th ordination anniversary this summer and remarked how very few of her seminary classmates were still in ministry. Where have they gone and why did they leave? The seminary pastor seems to be an endangered species. More mainline denominations are licensing lay pastors who are leading congregations in areas where it is difficult to attract a pastor. My experience has been that many of these pastors are as "real" if not better than their more highly educated counterparts.

We spend a lot of time thinking about reaching out to new members, those who may have some experience with "church" and those who have never been. While that is important, it is also important to consider that there seem to be fewer good pastors to go around. What are we doing to support good pastors in a career that is challenging (to put it mildly) and to have the guts to tell others who believe they are good ministers that their gifts may lie elsewhere.

In this time of declining attendance in mainline congregations, increasing attention to the televangelists and their gospel of prosperity, it is time for the church to pay attention to the decline of ordained clergy and to support and nurture those who are challenging their congregations to dream new dreams. For the church to continue to be relevant, we must identify and cultivate strong pastoral leadership. Or we must put "great pastors" on the endangered species list.