Several blog writers that I follow have recently posted observations about the needs of pastoral leaders in the contemporary setting and in the coming years. They have asked questions like, “What are the competencies required?” “What type of preparation is needed?” “Will there be a place for paid, full-time clergy?”
In one of these blogs, Alan Roxburgh made the following observations about the preparation of clergy:
“There is a disconnect between the kind of leader seminaries are producing and the growing sense of the kinds of leaders now needed on the ground in congregations. There is a heightening of anxiety across church systems that what seminaries are producing is simply out of step with what is needed. There is a growing conviction that the established model of the ‘professional’ clergy will go the way of the dodo bird. We are in need of shaping new kinds of contextual learning communities which are working at discovering together what the new leadership needs to look like. This is not an abandonment of classical or intellectual skills but a loss of confidence in the existing professional, degreed models of leadership.”
He also pointed out that the financial crisis in many churches and denominations will have an impact on full-time clergy:
“At the same time, we are reaching the point where, in many denominations, over 50% of congregations can no longer afford full-time clergy and many of the remainder can’t pay their clergy the salaries needed to maintain a decent living and pay down their student debt.”
In a recent blog, I addressed the second concern as I pointed to Jeff Woods’ ideas about alternative support systems for ministers. In this posting, I want to share some ideas about addressing the apparent disconnect between the kind of pastoral leaders that seminaries are producing and the type of leaders that churches need or will need in the future.
There are several skill sets that ministers will need to meet the changing needs of faith communities in the decades ahead.
First, ministers must be equipped to be spiritual directors. Not only will this strengthen the life of the minister, but this will help the clergyperson to guide individuals as they identify, learn and practice the spiritual disciplines that will enrich their relationship with God. This is a key aspect of discipleship and one that churches have long neglected. As a result, Christians have often felt compelled to explore non-Christian practices to give them spiritual grounding.
Second, ministers need to learn how to read their culture. This does not mean uncritically embracing the popular culture, compromising the Gospel message, or “going native.” It does mean that the minister needs to learn the skills of the cultural anthropologist in order to fully comprehend the context in which he or she ministers—the innate values and norms in the culture, the way that people really communicate with one another, and the nature of authority, for example. In so doing, the minister can function more effectively as a leader, pastoral minister, proclaimer of the Gospel, and change agent.
Third, the “dirty little secret” of many seminary degree programs is that they devote very little time in the curriculum to developing communicators. Students can complete some courses of study and take only one preaching course. Of course, communication is not limited to preaching, but many seminary graduates are poor writers and have only the basic skills of teaching. Ministers need to be able to communicate effectively both orally and verbally in a variety of media and settings.
Fourth, today and tomorrow’s minister must be an intentional networker. He or she must be able to connect with people in various contexts in order to advance the ministry that God has provided. This starts in seminary by exposing students to leaders in all kinds of settings—religion, business, education, health, media—so that they can “learn the language” and be able to relate to people both in the church and in the marketplace.
Finally, most 21st century ministers will need to have entrepreneurial skills. Traditional resources for ministry are becoming scarcer, so the minister is going to have to be able to find, cultivate, and use resources—personnel, finances, space, and technology—from new and unexpected places. The resources are there, but they must be repurposed for Kingdom work.
Of course, I realize that no one individual will possess all of these skill sets, but various ministry settings will require several of these. This will require both theological educators and prospective ministers to embrace new approaches to formation for ministry.