This conversation has a lot to unpack, check out these links to continue the conversation.
Here is where this conversation has me today. Going back to 1998 (10 years ago) I saw all of these trends coming and internally felt a great disconnect between my identity as a paid vocational pastor and as a follower of Jesus on mission to release the Kingdom to my community. I found that they were not the same thing. I went to Seminary to leave ministry and try to find some answers.
Here is one of the things I learned:
- My Anthropology class said that if missionaries were to have a voice in thier missional context they would have to take an "acceptable" role in that community. You can't be a vocational missionary or pastor into a tribal group with whom that role doesn't exist. I knew that my context was with those that were well outside the church walls and that for "postmoderns", they had complete disdain for organizational structures and distrust in traditional pastoral roles. So to me, if I cared to be incarnational to this group of people, I had to sacrifice my vocational identity as a pastor and take a different role in culture to support my family. So I fired myself choosing to be something more like a bi-vocational
pastor/missionary and planted a house church network.
- This has been enormously difficult. From a physical standpoint, I have a Bachelors and a Masters degree that in one world (ministry) carries heavy weight and in another world (outside of ministry) had me laughed at in job interviews. It was a transition of total surrender, personal suffering, marital suffering etc. etc. I had to learn to follow Jesus and not have pre-set assumptions of what His provision would look like. I'm not even sure how we have paid the bills on paper looking back at some of those points but I can say most assuredly that we were/are never w/out daily bread. I've done everything from managing in the food industry, teaching and administrating at a Christian High School to teaching and administrating at a Christian University.
- From an emotional/pychological standpoint, it has been brutal. I guess it has some of the same attributes of a mid-life crisis. A loss of identity which is only somewhat healthy, this loss reveals how many false-idols you had in place, places where I should have had only a trust in Christ to begin with. Its a lot of pressure to process this internal identity shift with the realities of daily life, family and work. I had the opportunity to sit on a panel discussion last Fall in Seattle with Brian McLaren and George Barna who see these shifts and are writing about them and asked them how they think people like me can deal with this identity shift as ministry culture is changing. It was a little painful to realize that they had no answers and seemed had never even considered the question previously. I suppose in their vocations of writing and speaking they haven't had the same experience. So there is little help for this area within our culture except for one another.
- From a ministry standpoint it is both a taste of amazing freedom and a challenge of transitioning away from a role of "providing" to "empowering". My experience is that even in house churches, there are still a dose of folk who just want to be fed and have large expectations for leadership to do just that. However, there are a growing number of folk who embrace the community model and bring to the community as much or more than what they are withdrawing. That is the really good stuff. I'm learning as well to not care about other's expectations of me or my performance for them. I'm just a fellow sojourner with them figuring it out and wanting to give the Kindom away.
- What is the future? I have no idea. I encourage students (high school or college) to get degrees in fields that can support them regardless of their ministry aspirations. Get your theological training from the church community and not to see ministry as a professional, but as a missional servant. From there let God lead you and provide for you in the context. I would suspect that within 10 years due to these emerging church trends and economic realities in America that the number of vocational pastors may decrease by as much as 50%. Endowed churches and denominations will be able to hang in there longer and I suspect there will be a movement of consolidating local churches to regional churches to deal with the dwindling cash flow and top heavy debts.
- What is the future? One thing I do know. God and His Kingdom are an unstoppable force and is all pervasive reality. The spread of His Kingdom will not be squelched, it will continue on to the end of all things. It may be a process of purification but that is our calling anyways as the Bride of Christ. Our identities may end, our vocations may end, our buildings may end, our paradigms may end, our assmumptions may end . . . but the Kingdom will never end nor our invitation to participate in it. I'll be around for all of that, hope you can join me ;)
peace to the coming of His Kingdom,