Lesson 5: Staff II

Meet the Church StaffLet’s look further at the two creative congregations’ staff lists (Trinity, Mount Joy and Good Shepherd, Gaithersburg) for clues about the future church. The first thing you notice is their length. Even though they are large churches, they have more than the usual number of paid pastors and lay ministers.

This reflects a trend toward team ministry based on the model in I Corinthians 12 -14. In this passage, Paul defines the church ministry as sharing spiritual gifts in a division of labor.

Richard Niebuhr noted this in the middle of the last century and called on the seminaries and churches to change their understanding of trained professional clergy. Rather than define them as pastor, preacher, and/or priest, he urged the description “pastoral director.”

Some of his reasoning stemmed from observing no one human being could fulfill all the expectations made on clergy in those days. These expectations included preaching every week; teaching classes; leading worship; administering the sacraments such as baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and funerals; caring for souls such as visiting in the hospital and home as a healer; counseling personal and marriage problems; leading youth groups; organizing social ministry programs; and on top of all that, administering the plant and business including fundraising and keeping records.

Niebuhr observed the response of most pastors was to choose those for which they had talent and forget the rest. In small congregations, this meant the latter did not get done. Consequently, many members went to larger congregations. For instance, young families wanted youth work and went where it was provided. Large churches have been growing ever since, and small ones are shrinking.

Scott commented a few weeks back that mega-churches handle this problem by basing their ministries on many small groups doing all sorts of mission work. The outsider only notices when these members come together to worship on Sundays.

That is what is reflected in the two congregations I have been citing. A number of their clergy are part time, assigned to specific areas of ministry. One shares a pastor with a neighboring congregation too small to support full time staff. Many mega-churches already do this when they establish satellite congregations. In the future, we are going to see more and more of this sharing staff.

But there are, also, a number of full and part time lay ministries with strange new titles such as Ministry Developer, Outreach Coordinator, and Parish Nurse. These develop and implement all kinds of social and evangelism projects. The result is far more ministry with far more people involved. One publishes a list of opportunities in the community, realizing that some people are looking for ways their family can serve if  they knew where they were needed.

A lot of people think there will be many more small congregations, some meeting in house churches with tent-making ministers. In other words, their pastors will have second jobs to support themselves. That might well be, but I could see the model we have been presenting just as likely: large churches with large staffs and many programs who share their ministers and resources with the few remaining small congregations in the vicinity.

Of course, this kind of team ministry means rejoicing in other peoples’ successes rather than being jealous. That need is why we don’t see more of this now. It, also, will mean lower expectations of clergy, which quite frankly is already happening. The best part is it will free pastors to do that for which they have been trained and called, the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

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