Last fall I met with a group of Lilly Transition into Ministry fellows in Pennsylvania. These are some top recent seminary graduates who are in their first years of ministry. For our discussions I presented some of my hunches about the future of the pastoral ministry. This provoked a lively discussion among these new pastors. I share my theses here in encouragement of discussion of the future of pastoral leadership in our church:
Ten Theses About The Future of Ministry
The pastoral ministry in mainline Protestantism will continue to experience numerical decline as well as be pushed to the margins of this culture. The mainline is old-line that is becoming sidelined.
The pastoral ministry in mainline Protestantism will need to lead the church in redefining itself in the light of the spiritual needs and aspirations of people under 35 or else will continue to decline because it has limited itself to the spiritual affairs of one generation.
The pastoral ministry in mainline Protestantism will need to find a theological way through the intellectual death of theological liberalism (“Progressive Christianity”) and the cultural compromises of traditional evangelicalism (the IRD and evangelical Protestantism’s alliance with the political right).
The pastoral ministry in mainline Protestantism may recover the joy of denominational identity even as denominations are dying. (The Wesley Study Bible’s enthusiastic reception by the church may be a sign that Wesleyans are joyfully recovering their roots.)
The pastoral ministry must be supple, adaptable, and willing to experiment on the basis of biblically supported leadership styles.
The mission of the church will take precedence over internal maintenance, real estate, fellowship, therapy, pastoral care and other factors that have driven the church in recent decades and have contributed to our decline.
Methodists will either become engaged in the mysterious, relentless growth of the Kingdom of God or they will continue to decline. Growth is our most needed focus.
Ministry will be energized by theological refurbishment and a recovery of the theological rationale for ministry. Ministry will become more dependent upon a theological construal of the pastoral ministry.
The pastoral ministry will recover the oddness and the excitement of salvation in Jesus Christ.
The pastoral ministry will either find a way to attract and empower a new generation of pastor’s critique and reconstruct pastoral ministry or we will pass away with this generation.