Recently I shared four cultural changes that are impacting ministry leaders and thus should impact how we train and develop ministry leaders. The article came from a lecture I gave to professors at Biola University about preparing students and future leaders for the changing cultural context. Not only has the culture surrounding the local church shifted, but local church ministry and some values within local churches have shifted as well. Here are three major changes I have observed in local churches since I began serving—three changes that should impact how future ministry leaders are trained.
1. “All are called to minister” and the lessening of “called to ministry”
The Scripture is clear that God gives spiritual gifts to all of His people and that pastors are to equip God’s people to serve. Pastors are not to “do all the ministry,” rather they are to “develop others for ministry.” When this value is emphasized, we see churches handing significant roles to volunteers and to people who toggle back and forth between marketplace and ministry. They believe—rightly so—that all work can be sacred when done with a pure motivation to serve people and represent Christ.
The result of this, whether intended or unintended, has been a lessening of people who believe they are “called to ministry.” I have sat in multiple meetings with senior pastors who are reflecting on the reality that “I used to invite people to surrender their lives to vocational ministry and I have not done that in years.” When I first entered local church ministry, that was even part of the “altar call” multiple times each year. The reality is we have less staff in churches who are convinced their lifelong calling is to serve the local church vocationally.
Response: Whether there are fewer “vocational ministry leaders” or not, future ministry leaders must possess a deep conviction coupled with a plan to develop all of God’s people to serve (Ephesians 4:11-13).
2. The attempted canceling of ministry leaders for poorly articulated points
When Augustine was in his seventies, he began working on his “Retractions,” a work intended to articulate positions he wished he had communicated differently. Today, ministry leaders are not afforded the opportunity to wait until they are in their seventies. Because our messages are online and because every moment can be captured, quickly shared, and reflected upon by lots of people, we as ministry leaders have our words like never before. One might wonder if some renowned ministry leaders from previous generations would have been finished in ministry today as some predicted the second coming of Jesus (clearly missing), made poor decisions (like we all do), and failed at times to articulate God’s Word graciously.
To be clear, I am not suggesting we lower standards for articulating God’s Word with grace and truth. Nor am I suggesting that ministry leaders not be held accountable for lapses in judgment or lacking wisdom with their words. I am simply stating that the rush to cancel ministry leaders is a new reality that young leaders entering ministry need to be aware of, and I am suggesting that the rush to cancel is often unhealthy. Confronting and canceling are not the same thing.
Response: Future ministry leaders must understand that their words (each word) will be evaluated by more people than ever before. They should be trained to study before they speak and to value inviting others into their lives who can offer different perspectives on the impact of their words.
3. The diminishing view of “tithing to my church”
When I first entered ministry, the common understanding about giving among people within the church was “tithe to your local church and give offerings above that to other ministries.” Yes, some believed the tithe was not in the New Testament, but many of those people also believed that if the Old Testament standard (life under the law) was 10% then life under grace would be more than a tithe. Based on what I have seen and what other ministry leaders regularly tell me, the number of people believing the tithe should go to their local church has dropped. Ministry leaders cannot simply assume that people who have come from Christian families believe that tithing to their local church is an important spiritual discipline.
Response: Future ministry leaders must be trained to think theologically about generosity, to teach on giving, to inspire generosity, and to raise funds to advance God’s mission and support His Church.
These are changes I was not equipped for in my formal theological education. There was not a class on developing God’s people for ministry, a class that stressed the enormous burden that words would be carefully evaluated by the world (social media did not even exist when I was in seminary), or a class that taught me how to raise funds for God’s mission and Church. The changes are our new reality and ministry leaders must be equipped with these in view.