When I work with congregations after a pastor’s retirement or resignation, my goal is to help them prepare for whatever’s next in their congregational life. I lead them through a SWOT Analysis—thinking about their…
This winter, I’m the Interim Pastor of a church in Connecticut. When we got to the “Threats” section of the process, it occurred to me that most congregations, no matter their denomination, are vulnerable to similar external dangers.
Partisan politics have entered the church house. In fifty years, we might have just three denominations: Republican, Democratic and None. Previously, men and women who’ve cancelled each other’s votes have been able to worship God and study the Bible together, acknowledging the Lordship of Christ. Nowadays, we talk past one another, emphasizing different portions of the Bible or ignoring Scripture altogether. Result?
- “That preacher’s got to go.”
- “I’ll never come back to that Sunday school class as long as that teacher is there.”
- “Did you hear what the denomination did?”
Encroachment by those from different faith traditions. Some conservative Christians are fearful of the Interfaith movement. Hindus, Muslims and ISIS have never been a threat to the congregations in which I’ve worshiped. The problem we have in Baptist churches is crossovers from Pentecostal, Fundamentalist, Evangelical and Reformed traditions whose beliefs are similar to traditional Baptists, but different enough to create havoc. “Christian” radio and television, as well as parachurch movements, create the impression that all Christians ought to think alike. But we don’t. That’s why, for hundreds of years, we’ve had Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist congregations in the same community. I’m an ecumenical soul, but I do not believe a lot of things some folks who show up in a Baptist church assume I believe.
Hostile takeover. That’s not a concept most people think about with regard to churches, but it happens every week. A new pastor sometimes has an agenda. Baptist churches call someone as their new pastor they believe is a “traditional” Baptist minister, whatever that means to them, only to discover they now have a Reformed Baptist or a Fundamentalist in the pulpit. Then come chaos and a church split.
Church shopping, combined with impossible expectations of pastors and staff. About one of every hundred preachers is what I call “lightning in a bottle,” with Billy Graham charisma, with clarity of voice and message. People look for a preacher that is the most humorous, the most inspirational, and the most charming. Denominational or church loyalty is almost a thing of the past. Megachurches with an entertainment mindset are sucking the bodies and the blood out of traditional congregations. The questions of this generation are,
- “What have you done for me lately?”
- “Is it fun?”
- “Will it cost me anything?”
Secularism. Low priority for spiritual and church matters. Youth soccer games scheduled for Sunday morning at 10 a.m. are the norm, not the exception. Busy-ness. Crowded schedules.
When a culture no longer gives props to the church, Christians have the opportunity to demonstrate their own faith by acting counter-culturally. It’s not the culture’s job to do the church’s work.
Read the Bible. Pay attention to Jesus. Be still. Pray. Be grateful for what we have. Fear not. Think. Listen. Don’t worry. Make peace. Evangelize. Be generous. Let your light shine. Don’t judge. Learn grace. Speak the truth in love. Forgive. Major on the majors. Love one another. Serve others. Trust God.
“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” Psalm 23: 1