Oct 31, 2010

What are the Markers of a Healthy Pastorate and Ministry?

Facts are our friends.

Good and wise decisions can only be made based on facts.

According to the latest statistical report from the Office of General Assembly, there are 10,623 congregations in the PC(USA).
  • Of those 2,949 churches have less than 50 members
  • 2,490 have fewer than 100 members
  • That means over 50% of PC(USA) congregations (5,439), have less than 100 members.

If we were to ask the typical church person what the markers for a healthy and successful ministries and pastorates are, the most common answers would center around things like, growing memberships, growing financials, growing influence, growing attendance, etc.

And because these are the criteria we typically think of for successful and healthy ministries and pastorates, the great majority of PC(USA) pastors and congregations find themselves feeling inadequate. If growth is the only marker for healthy and successful pastorates and ministries, we have just declared that the great majority of PC(USA) pastors and churches unhealthy and unsuccessful.

While we cannot claim that PC(USA) congregations and pastorates are all healthy, to outright declare that they are failures and unhealthy is just as false and unhelpful.

There’s got to be more to being a healthy and successful church and pastor than these indicators.

Before I go any further, I do want to say that I think numbers are important. It’s just that numbers cannot be the only indicators for health.

Gordon Lathrop, in his book "The Pastor" says:
“The text seeks to call pastors to find the center of their vocational identity, the heart of their spirituality, in the communal tasks of presiding at the holy table and at the holy bath, of preaching, and of seeing to it that there is a collection to be justly distributed among the poor” (p.viii).

Presiding at the holy table and the holy bath. Preaching. And seeing to it that there is a collection to be justly distributed among the poor.

In the PC(USA) vernacular, we refer to the pastor as Ministers of Word and Sacrament.

It is interesting that while this liturgical and sacramental understanding of the role of the pastor is clear in our confessions and polity, in practice, what we most congregations want from pastors is for them be organizational growth experts.

And when growth doesn’t occur, guilt and blame abound.

For congregations and pastors alike, a Biblical and reformed reflection on what constitutes a healthy pastorate and a healthy ministry would be fruitful.


Anonymous said...

To me a healthy church is one where Christ is truly the head, in action not just words, where God's Word is preached and lived, and where people are receiving Christ as their Lord & Savior. A healthy church is not about us and it's not about numbers. A healthy church does everything to glorify God, not to glorify themselves. In everything a church does, we have to ask ourselves, "does this activity, program, class, etc., bring glory to God"? Are we leading others to Christ, or are we leading them to attend Church?

Rob Weingartner said...

I agree, James, that growth cannot be the indicator of congregational health. But I do not think that most congregations really want their pastors to be organizational growth experts; I think they want them to be chaplains. It seems to me that the critical diagnostic questions in these post-Christendom days are: 1) Does the church exist primarily for its own sake, or for the sake of God's mission in the world? 2) Is the pastor equipping the saints for ministry? Theological orthodoxy is a necessary but insufficient prerequisite for faithfulness in this era when the U.S. church is still in the grip of self-preoccupied Western culture and still pretending that we are not ourselves on a mission field.

Mr."B" said...

Isn’t it odd that growth is an end result of a healthy congregation yet if it is the focus becomes a barrier to becoming a healthy church?

Reformed Catholic said...

In many cases, you have a PNC hiring a minister in order to 'grow' the church. They'll hire someone with a young family, maybe a year or two out of seminary, and expect him or her to 'draw in' the young families in the area.

Of course, that means that the Session and the rest of the congregation WANT to have the growth and change that will accompany that growth.

Knowing a few pastors in small churches, and listening to their problems with trying to institute any type of change, this is a real issue.

How can a ministry be judged when whatever the minister tries gets the 'Seven Last Words of a Dying Congregation': We've Never Done It That Way Before !!

James Kim said...

Mr "B". You're absolutely right on that one. The key is to become a healthy church and the growth is the byproduct of health.

Reformed Catholic, too often churches confuse faithfulness with staying and doing things the same way. Being the same and doing the same thing the same way does not automatically mean faithfulness.

We're all for change until we have to change.

Rob, I've rarely come across a congregation who is honest enough to say to their new pastor, "What we want you to do is to babysit us until we all die." Almost every single church who is looking for a pastor seeks a pastor who will help them grow. I agree with you wholeheartedly that the church exists for mission.

Thank you all for reading and for your responses.