As I write these words, the United States is in the grip of a political crisis caused by an executive order, which many are calling an in-everything-but-name Muslim Ban. I can only imagine what the headlines of today are saying, but I suspect it is something worse.
So, what are we as pastors or people of faith to do? How do we resist something which seems antithetical to the gospel? I suspect you will all have already struggled with how to preach about this and with how to react in your lives.
So, what can I bring?
Here’s the data that I’m working with: the Barna study on the State of the Pastor released Jan. 26.
The study comes from both Barna and Pepperdine University. It represents two years of work interviewing more than 14,000 pastors. The study is available as a book or a free four-hour webcast.
I watched bits of the webcast, which begins by first describing the context of ministry and then the realities of ministerial life. I’d recommend people check out the areas that interest them.
Here’s a snapshot of its results.
From the Religious News Service release:
The bad news for the church is the graying of America’s clergy: “As other careers woo Millennials and older generations struggle to hand the baton to younger pastors, the median age of pastors has risen from 44 to 54 over the last 25 years.” Protestant churches face a massive leadership shortage in the coming decades, similar to that seen in the Catholic Church. The situation appears bleak: 7 out of 10 pastors report that it’s becoming more difficult to identify promising pastoral candidates.
The good news—one of the report’s major findings—is that contrary to conventional wisdom, most pastors are faring well: 91% report a good overall quality of life and 88% describe their spiritual well-being as excellent or good. Still, a troubling number of pastors are at risk of burnout (1 in 3), and nearly half face relational risks in their marriages, families, and friendships.
You can read the full article here.
And, then another, same source, which looks at how people are less interested in what pastors say about a host of things. (I’ll talk more about that later.)
Now, I think you’ve got a sense of where I’m coming from, both greatly troubled by the state of the nation and struggling to come to grips with a study that shows my pastoral views might not matter much.
Take this a little further and it means that all the Facebook posts in the world don’t matter much. It means that the world seems to care less about pastors than ever; no surprise there. It means that pastoral authority is not what it used to be.
I’m tempted to give you a list of things to do that would make the “church great again,” but I won’t. I’m tempted to point you to some of the good work of people looking to make church more regional and more connected. (Think: Great Convergence.) I’m tempted to ask you to become better community organizers than you already are.
But, I won’t.
These are all great responses, but I don’t think they are really what is needed.
(Except, perhaps, the last one. That one really speaks to me. But, then, it’s always the stones into bread that really tempts me, when I stand beside Jesus in the desert. Not the power or the importance, but the ability to feed the hungry.)
See what I did there?
I made a biblical leap to Matthew 4, with Jesus struggling with the great tempter in the wilderness. I turned worldly ideas into biblical ones, using the logic of symbol and imagination. This is the true power of the Church. The Church is a place where symbols have the power to inspire imagination, ritual can transcend the bounds of humanity and tradition can transform time.
The world today is in crisis; I agree.
The world today is already redeemed; my faith says so.
So, how do we as pastors resist?
We transform the vehicles of imperial power into symbols that stand for God’s love.
Here’s one idea: see the Twitter symbol and think the Dove of Peace. Say a prayer for connection. Offer a smile to a stranger. Break down a wall.
Gather. Break the bread. And. March.
Rev. Jeremiah Rood lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Amanda, and two small black cats. He has experience working in local congregations but most recently has turned his attention to building an active online ministry at www.revjeremiahrood.com and www.localchurchrevival.com. Rev. Jeremiah’s ministry also includes spending a year in a detox working with struggling addicts and alcoholics. His time is now split between writing a book exploring these issues and working in a local public library.