(This week’s blog postings are adapted from the theme address, “Preaching Under Pressure,” presented at the EK Bailey International Conference on Expository Preaching in July.)
The church is struggling because the numbers are declining, the people are demanding, and the leaders are disillusioned. Pastors and church leaders are frustrated by the pressure of declining numbers compounded by the increased demands of people in the pews. No wonder that nearly half of all seminary grads will be out of pastoral ministry within ten years of graduation. Part of that is the poor job that is often done educating pastoral leaders – we teach them how to write a theology paper but not how to write a budget; we teach them how to parse Greek verbs but not how to manage staff. In fact, when I was invited to start a graduate school of ministry three years ago, one of my goals was to develop a program that would develop ministers who know how to lead as well as how to think theologically – both skills are essential to effective ministry in the 21st century. Theological education should be both biblical and practical if we are going to equip leaders who will last in a challenging age.
But where we stand today, it is a time of frustration and disillusionment for pastors. Focus on the Family has done research that shows that as many as 80 percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses are dealing with discouragement or even depression. Part of that is because we know that when the church struggles, the pastors catch much of the blame.
• If my child isn’t maturing spiritually and gets in trouble, it must be the pastor’s fault – never mind that the child never gets any spiritual training at home and watches the parents soak their minds in R-rated television shows and devote their lives to materialism and entertainment instead of walking with Christ. Hey, pastor, how did you let this happen?
• If a new church opens down the street that has contemporary music and appeals to young adults, who start leaving the church to go to the new place – well, that must be the pastor’s fault. Hey, pastor, how did you let this happen?
• If Sister Lulu and Sister Jezebel get into a spitting match with each other, and their families and friends inevitably line up in factions to support them, embroiling the church in tension and conflict — Hey, pastor, how did you let this happen?
A further pressure we deal with today, that can lead to frustration, is the ready accessibility online of the greatest preachers in the world. In years past, you were typically only compared to the best preachers in your town or state; now your folks are measuring you against Tony Evans, Chuck Swindoll, Stanleys (Charles and Andy), and any number of others!
So here we are: the numbers are declining, the people are demanding, and the leaders are disillusioned. As a result, we preach under pressure because the church is struggling.
(more on this topic next week)