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« Transaction or Transformation: Which is your church marketing? | Main | From a consumerist ministry to an entrepreneurial one »

January 27, 2007


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Oops. Meant to say that new ideas 50 and 30 years ago were NOT accepted unanimously.


Ed - Thank you for the clarification. I didn't know that seminaries promote their graduates in any way. Mine didn't - at least that I'm aware of. I'll address both of the points you made - though I'd like to mention my pastoral change and survival kit first.

I agree that the Church does need change, and does need the energy and ideas of the recent graduates. I'll go further and state that those straight from seminary get lots and lots of ideas shot down. At some point they say, "I'm dry, I have nothing more to give." At that point they will either leave ministry all together (which a huge percentage do in the first 5 years), or live with a diminished expectation for the pastoral role and for the Church.

For these reasons, I have a mentor, and three groups of pastors I meet with. One group is for those in the synod who are making "transitions in ministry". Another is pastors from several states who serve in rural ministry. Another is a pastor support group for the Western half of the Presbytery.

Additionally, I keep up with several from seminary. Last year we had a 1 year reunion, and there are plans to have 3 year and 5 year reunions as well. I've also got a few pastors and a chaplain from the local ministerial association which I meet with. In addition to my mentor, a revitalization specialist, there is also the pastor who has walked with me for lots of years prior to going to seminary, then called each week of seminary to see how things were going.

Some might see all this as overkill - but it is truly important to have these sounding boards, these people and places of grace and prayer.

And, by my posts here, you can tell that I also get information and ideas via the web. There are a couple of forums, and several blogs I check routinely. I check blogs of long time pastors, and blogs of seminarians. I've subscribed to several magazines, including Fast Company and INC.

Without these sources and networks I would likely be lost - wandering in circles, as in a desert. I would be close to death. These things I've mentioned are part of my survival gear. And because of them, I have no need to work out my frustrations from the pulpit.

In regard to the reply to your two points:

1. From what I've seen, a church cannot do better than to call a pastor straight from seminary. Seminary grads still have the fire in regard to what is truly important - what the Church is really about. There's generally more creativity as well.

Pardon the unscientific and unimportant statistic, but in our Presbytery in 2005, at the 3 congregations with pastors straight from seminary, the attendance increased. It will be interesting to see if that continues, and if the same holds for the congregations which called new pastors in 2006. Attendance isn't a good measure of congregational health and mission, but it is an indicator which is often known. The congregation here had gone from over 70 attendance to less than 50 in the 4.6 years of the previous pastorate (of a pastor nearing retirement).

I've been thinking of stepping into a somewhat different pastoral role in a few years. At that point I would like to encourage this congregation to call another pastor straight out of seminary. I would take a paid position in industry (lots of possibilities with my varied experience before seminary). I would basically be an unpaid associate, yet I would be able to support the new pastor for a few years, and serve a couple of the smaller congregations in the area which need new energy and ideas. There's lots of unexplained details in all of that, but it's not the point of the post.

2. Predictability and security - these are tough issues. A metaphor which has been going through my mind the last couple of days is to compare the church to a museum. There is significant nostalgia present in the church.

My mentor doesn't agree with me on this, but I dig into the history of the church here, and even mention things in sermons and newsletters. My thought on this is that the people don't have to cling so tightly to their history if they know that it is being shared. The people want to be heard, and they want a respect for what has happened in the past. If, in our communication from the pulpit and other places, there isn't a respect for the past, then people will automatically reject anything new. In this, it is a communication issue. We can speak of the new things which were tried 50 and 30 years ago, and people can realize they were new, and they were accepted unanimously back then. But we have to step out of the museum, as the Church is a living organism - not a dead one.

Ed Brenegar

I accept your final point, Dennis. Two thoughts.
1. There is a bias against calling seminary grads because churches perceive that they lack the kind of experience needed to lead their congregation. The marketing that I see from the seminaries that promote their graduates is really not focused on this, but more on general knowledge and skills.
2. Part of the problem is that what many churches are not looking for a pastor who is going to try new ideas out on them. They want predictability and security. No surprises. They want things to be the way they have been for three generations. If you listen carefully, the distinctions between pastors have to do with personality (ie: friendliness), preaching ability and whether he or she caused them to change. They perceive new seminary grads as a disruptive influence. And yet, if you dig a bit deeper into their experience as a church, the most loved pastors were those in their early years of ministry. So, the congregation setting for ministry is complex and challenging.
Ultimately, we do need to address the functioning of churches. We need to do it at the seminary and Presbytery level because if we have a larger supply of pastors and a huge demand for pulpits to be filled, and they are not, then this disconnect is hurting both sides of this equation. It is both a financial issue and a congregation culture issue


I'm rather new at pastoral ministry, and am in a context of a small rural church in which 60% of the members joined over 30 years ago. Being rather new means that I'm also fresh out of seminary.

There's so much I agree with in the original blog post. The missional focus is truly essential. For those with Reformed theology, it is important to know what is going on in the world - not to play hide-and-seek. I'm working even harder in this area - especially so that it may inform the sermon.

A book I've been introduced to this year is, "The Four Pages of the Sermon" by Paul Scott Wilson. I can't do it justice here, but basically the four pages (meaning 4 fairly equal parts - not necessarily exactly four pages) are: 1) Trouble in the Scriptural text; 2) Trouble in the World; God's Action in the text; & 4) God's Action in the World. I find the balance between trouble and grace to be extremely helpful - so that we don't preach continue to preach only the problems that the people already know so well - but spend as much time on grace, on how God is at work right here and now. The shift towards hope is amazing. People can feel the tension, and can see the possibilities. There's so much more to this 4-part process. I haven't gotten but half-way through the book, but already I know it is going to change the way I preach, and change the way the hearers respond.

Back to the post: Precise boundaries are rather difficult, as each minister of the Gospel has different gifts, and each congregation has different gifts. Yet I do agree that the boundaries do tend to infringe heavily upon the pastor (and pastor's family).

I objected to the final sentence:

"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 don't believe it is the responsibility of seminaries to recruit people to parish ministry. It's not at all like finding a warm body to ask, "Do you want fries with that?" In addition, I think it's a fallacy that we have a shortage of people to take up parish ministry. If we actually have a shortage, why is it that so many seminary graduates cannot find a call? Instead, they work in restaurants or go to grad school.

I'm out of time for today - I need to go pray with my family and get to bed.

Ed Brenegar

Thank you Chris. I'll respond in a separate posting.



I appreciate your honest frustration as to why seminarians are not going into parish ministry. In the first part of your essay, you hit the nail on the head: "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."

Unfortunately, at this point, you wander away from the relevant objective criteria ("biblical, theological and ecclesiastical" training) for the pablum of consumer-driven models focusing on "social networking and word-of-mouth marketing". Wasn't that precisely the problem you were concerned about? An overly consumer-driven picture of ministry? And the best answer you can come up with is to turn to those methods used to manipulate and affect consumers?

The answer is to be found in reading the Scriptures. Not only do they make us "wise unto salvation" (2 Tim. 3:15), but as the God-breathed revelation of Jesus Christ they "thoroughly equip [ministers] to be competent in every good work" (2 Tim. 3:17).

God knew that we would be tempted to make a chimera of the ministry. Therefore, the Spirit moved Paul to write the pastoral epistles, containing rather explicit instructions about how to minister among the people of God. Our confessions and history point to faithful ways of living out the convictions we find in those divinely given instructions.

Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) Similarly, Paul said that we should "[l]et the word of Christ dwell richly in [us]" (Colossians 3:16).

The further we get away from the Scriptures, the less relevant and effective we become.

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