This next week, December 10th, will mark the 25th anniversary of my ordination. Twenty-five years, where did the time go?
When I look back over the last twenty-five years I have to say that ministry has changed a great deal. Many of the issues the church faces today were not even conceived of when I was in seminary in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Mainline denominations are challenged as never before to remain relevant in a fast shifting culture. When I was a young adult pastor we were talking about how to reach the X Generation. We never really figured that out and now the Church has moved on talking about how to reach millenials.
The job of pastoring a local church has become different and more difficult. In most churches pastors are dealing with stagnant or slowly shrinking membership and budgets. National denominations are also feeling the pinch and are being tempted as never before to place their emphasis on attractional programming rather than strengthening our focus on make disciples, that is committed mature Christians.
Some churches believe that if they just get the right pastor all their problems will be solved. Some denominational judicatories believe if they just find the right revitalization program that it will fix their problems.
But really in twenty-five years I’ve not seen the real need for the institutional church change all that much.
What the Church needs to be doing is focusing on discipleship rather than just membership. When the Church focuses on membership you attract people through the front door and then watch them walk out the back door when they realize that there is no deep end in the pool. Shallow faith can attract but it can’t maintain faith.
The problem is that focusing on discipleship doesn’t bring instant results, automatically fix the budget, or immediately bring up the membership numbers for the local church or the denomination.
But if we don’t lead people into the deeper waters of lasting and life long discipleship then ultimately the faith of Jesus Christ simply becomes like cotton candy, something that tastes good for the moment but ultimately disappears and is unfilling and unsatisfying.
What I’d like to see the Church in the world learn in the next 25 years is that there are no shortcuts to being the Church God wants us to be. There are no quick fixes. There are no easy solutions. There is just the ever present reality that people need a deep and abiding relationship with God and that it is our job to do all we can to help people find that relationship. If we don’t do that job then we’ve failed to do what God put the Church here to do in the first place.
More about discipleship in a future post…