I can't really tell you want will come in the role and experience of being a pastor. However, i do know that one of the things that needs to happen is a great deal more clarity about the boundaries that form the role pastors play in the church.
I think the principal issue is the inability to state with certainty precisely what the pastor's role is and isn't . As a result, the role is measured by the expectations that each member has, rather than some more objective criteria.
Part of the dilemma is that what often happens is that the pastor ends up take responsibility for work that members should be doing, yet don't because it is easier to just pass it off on to the pastor.
For example, every pastor position comes with the expectation of visitation. Precisely what does this mean? Who should be visited? How often should they be visited? And what should be done when a visit is made?
What is missing is the responsibility of elders and members to care for one another. If this role is being fulfilled, then it changes the social context of the church. If the responsibility is fully on the pastor's shoulders, then the social environment is built around one individual. That is not a healthy arrangement. The core problem with this is that their a complicity of silence between those who desire to be visited and those who ignore the responsibility. As a result, it gets dumped on the pastor.
The options for men and women who earn ministerial degrees have grown. Being a parish minister is not the most easy nor attractive ministerial calling.
From my perspective, the training for parish ministry needs to broaden out from the traditional course work and field work. Merely tweaking the curriculum won't do it. It requires broadening exposure to fields outside of the traditional biblical, theological and ecclesiastical intellectual box.
Two areas that I can see are training in organizational development and transformation and instruction in social networking and word-of-mouth marketing. Developing the first requires the church to more clearly understand the similarities and differences between traditional businesses and the church. Developing the second is the recognition that the focal point of church is shifting from the Sunday morning worship service to the social formation of the church as a collaborative community of servant leaders.
What this means for pastoral ministry is a shift from a pastor-centric to a member-servant centric church life. This means that part of what pastors need to learn through their seminary training are the skills that enable members to take responsibility for the full life of the church. The pastor serves as an enabler of growth and development rather than the measure of it. It is this that I have always seen in Paul's description of the church in Ephesians 4.
So, if seminaries are having a difficult time recruiting people to parish ministry, then we need to ask the question about whether the way we function as an institutional church makes sense. I know there are changes happening. I see them and want to encourage their spread. But one church changing here or there isn't sufficient. Ultimately, this change will have to be reflected both in the seminary and in the governing bodies that validate a person's call to ministry.
The argument is simply that one decision necessarily leads to another and then to another. In this instance the inclusion of women to the ranks of ordained leadership in the church necessarily leads to the same for homosexuals. Bauer's review critiques this specific argument.
On a broader scale, though, I think we could possibly apply this method of critique to leadership norms and structures in the church.
Often when I meet Presbyterian pastors and elders I get two reactions to the description of my conversational planning methodology. First is that the church isn't a business, and second, the church isn't a democracy, that we are a REPRESENTATIVE democracy. Both are red herrings intended to end discussion, not illuminate the social functioning of the church.
There is a tacit assumption in the church that our structure of leadership is spiritual on the level of being handed down from on high like the Ten Commandments. Having observed many church Sessions over the years, I think it is more accurate to say that the Presbyterian Church system of governance is a human attempt to make sense of biblical norms in the organizational context of the Body of Christ.
It never occurred to me to think this way until I began to get criticism for engaging congregations in conversation as a part of a long range planning process. The typical argument is that we are not a democracy, and the Session are the biblical leaders of the church. Not really much of an argument, but rather assertions that are based on social norms currently operating in the life of the church.
So, is there a slippery slope when you ask the congregation what they think their church should be like in five years?
Are we descending into the chaos of individual preferences determining the future of the church? No. That is already happening. We have already become a culture of religious commodities. The historical structure and functioning of most church Session's have been unable to stop the spread of consumerist individualism. The fallacy that we've been operating on is that church leaders lead by policy and business acumen. The problem is a misunderstanding of leadership and why some businesses succeed and other don't.
Leaders don't lead by policy making, but by influence. Influence is a relational function not a governance one.
The governance role of the Session is integral to the effective functioning of the organization of the church. But the leadership role requires them to lead by influence and relationship, and when the Session goes to the congregation and asks "What do you think?" then it opens up the relationship to horizons previously closed. At that point the Session is inviting the congregation to a new level of participation and ownership of the mission and performance of the church.
The Session's responsibility as leadership influencers is to listen and to respond by saying, "We heard you, so here is what we are going to do."
What this requires from the Session is humility. The humility to recognize that God speaks through people ... "when two or more are gathered" ... and part of the Session's role is to listen and interpret what God is saying. Typically, we've only seen this as listening and interpreting Scripture, not the Holy Spirit speaking through the Body of Christ. Just so that I'm clear about what I saying here.
Leadership in the church requires pastors and elders to lead through the three dimensions of Ideas, Relationships and Organizational Structure.
Each dimension is essential for creating the level of Impact needed for the church to fulfilling its calling as the Body of Christ in a particular place for a specific time.
The balance of the three works this way. The priority is on Relationships built around a common set of values with a shared vision of the future. Those values and that vision is derived from a conversation about Ideas that come from Scripture and the history and traditions of the church. It comes from a sense of call, which is a conceptualization of an idea about what God expects of the church. The Organizational Structure therefore exists primarily to serve the Relationships within the church focused on its mission or call to service.
What has tended to happen in the church is that Session focus almost entirely on Structure. If there is any theological reflection, it is by the pastor conducting a devotional at the beginning of a meeting. The Relationship between the Session and the congregation therefore exists primarily through an organizational reporting function that takes place a few times a year or through a report in a monthly newsletter.
What I have found is that the place to begin to change is simply start a conversation that enables members to talk to the Session in a manner that provides an easy way for the Session to respond. Once that has begun, many other things can be done to foster a deeper relational leadership function in the life of the church.
Alan Hirsch points to a book by Howard Snyder written two decades ago on renewal in the church. One of Snyder's theses is
"The church is essentially the community of God’s people, not primarily
an organization, institution, program, or building. This is a
distinction of fundamental importance because it is linked to the basic
models of the church which Christians employ."
This is the conventional thinking about the church. The reality is that community and institutionalism are separate realities. One is about how people interact with one another,and the other is about the structure of that interaction.
This dicotomy is not the problem. Churches are both communities and institutions. The problem is that being a community requires more initiative by the whole church than do the institutional aspects of programs, operations and facilities management.
The problem is not this dicotomy. The problem is a spiritual one. Community is a human experience. The work of managing programs, operating programs and caring for the facilities is primarily an intellectual process. It is analysis, decision-making and follow-through. The better the relationships (community) are the more likely the work will achieve a higher level of excellence.
These dicotomies are not uncommon. For example, often I find in working with non-profit boards that they will emphasis program over operations or vice versa. It goes to the talent and interest of the members, the focus of the executive director, and many other reasons. And it is the case that a healthy organization is focused on both program and operations. The same is true of the church.
It does not serve the church to make this distinction. It only serves the church to make a clear distinction between being faithful in community and faithful in the stewardship of the organization of the church.
Hope is one of those words that gets used a lot, but without much discussion about what it means. It is one of those words that evokes a feeling of calm and peace without having to be specific about what it actually means. A film version of the P.D. James mystery, The Children of Men (watch the trailer) addresses this question of hope.
It is a story that takes place two decades in the future at a time when women have ceased to give birth. There are no children, and at the beginning of the film, the youngest person on earth, an 18 year, dies. It is a world in dissolution. It is similar to other sci-fi films that paint a bleak picture of the future, but this one is different. It seems much more familiar, and the missing element are not the children, but the hope that comes when a child is born. This story is clearly a study or at least a statement on the birth of the Christ child.
This is a powerful and touching film that is to be seen. The less you know about the film the better for its story will take you by surprise and its message will be clear.