Saturday, October 06, 2007

Are We the Problem?

I'm hanging around seminarians. Since our son Luke enrolled at North Park Theological Seminary, I see him whenever I'm in Chicago along with his classmates and roommates. Our newest staff member, Lisa Holmlund is a recent graduate from NPTS and her intern, Liam Murphy is both taking classes at Fuller and enrolled at NPTS. Our Children's Director, Kim Crawford, will soon be completing her MDiv through Fuller Seminary and...Fuller Seminary regularly offers distance learning classes on our church campus, so I meet area students of Fuller. I'm talking with lots of seminary students these days. The seminary experience is very different today from the one I went through almost 30 years ago. I am also impressed, moved and troubled by some of the reasons students enroll in seminary.
When I enrolled in seminary in 1976, most of my fellows students were male, white and straight out of college. Seminary was alogical next step from a BA degree. It just made sense to go from school into school. The exception was the second career person. Our options in seminary were basically two; traditional pastor/preachers or foreign missions.
Over the years I have been saddened and alarmed at the growing numbers of my peers who resign without a call and step out of institutional church pastoring. This is no indictment against them but an acknowledgement that the landscape has been changing without our permission. Serving the church today is a new map, with new expectations, new contours and rules: worship wars, choices and menu driven churches, loss of community respect, scandals and abuse, anti-clericalism and denominational irrelevance, globalism and pluralism along with instant communication makes for a wild ride.
What hit me is the high number of seminary student who come to seminary after serving a local church. They come not being so much sent, but trying to figure out what went wrong. I have heard too many stories of seminarians disillusioned by the local church (reason for emerget?). But what really troubled me was the number of stories I heard about their disillusionment with the likes of me: the senior pastor.
It has not taken me very long to hear stories about bad treatment at the hands of either the senior pastor or the church treasures...or both. These stories were tied to experiences of bullying opinions and toxic staff atmospheres.
What's up with this? Alan Roxburgh bleieves that when systmes get threatened by change, leaders revert to command and control, trying to protect what is threatened with loss, elevating loyalty over competence and myth over facts.
I wonder how many seminarians and staff persons serving churches would say that the senior (lead) pastors were indeed more of a source of stress and fear than hope and health? Is this something that the Department of Ordered Ministry (DOOM) needs to address?
Or could it also be a changing set of expectations that younger pastors/seminarians are bringing; heightened expectations and a sense of instant entitlement? Is the new generation of pastors tough enough, or are they too quickly discouraged when instant gratification is not there? Are they more loyal to their dreams of spiritually fulfilling careers instead of servant leadership of sacrifing their lives for the church? Have we created a generation of consumer believers who are now becoming consumber pastors? Tough questions. Interesting discussions.


At 6:58 PM , Blogger Rick said...

Good post Don. I guess I saw myself in the post since I am one of the growing numbers of your peers who resign without a call and step out of institutional church pastoring. I've had a deep concern about pastors, esp. Cov., who have been wounded by controlling and demanding churches and lay leaders,and less aware of the growing numbers of those who have been wounded by controlling and demanding pastors.

Thank God for healthy and healing environments like the church I now serve (where, incidentally, my own ministry involvement is incrementally taking on more pastoral elements) and I thank God for sharp and balanced pastors like yourself. In response to the question you raise - should the DOOM be concerned and become active in trying to address issues like these, I offer a resounding YES. But I consider it unlikely that those kinds of concerns will in fact make it to their agenda. "Covenant Diaspora" like myself perceive that, for DOOM, our absence makes the heart grow blander.

At 8:45 PM , Blogger kent said...

I am certain that there more than enough of in the Senior position who find themselves threatened by those who have new ideas and have closer plus on the culture than they do. They are increasingly pressured to make successes out of their churches to meet goals that have been established for them and produce results they hgave no idea how to accomplish. They then take these pressures out on those who serve with and report to them. I have no problkem believing the abusive stories being told. I hope that DOOM does indeed take this issue on.

But I also resonate with the issue of the level of expectations of those who are coming into ministry. What does abusive treatment look like? Expecting them to serve longer than 45 hours per week periodically? To engage in areas of ministry that are less than pleasant or outside of their area of responsibility? To ask then to delay taking the comp day so that a project or program can implemented. Expect that they will be in the office for accountable hours? Giving a monthly report giving an account of how time is spent and what is being accomplished? Those who serve on the committees and ministries of the church are expected to adhere to such guidelines by the companies they work for. Whether or not that is something which is reasonable may not matter, it is simply a fact.

So to answers your questions - yes. Yes to all of them

At 3:18 PM , Blogger kathy said...

Yes. Very interesting questions. My experience is that it is a little of both, or to put it another way, difficulty with compromise and respect for our differences. If these differences result in responses of feeling threatened or an attitude of entitlement, there will be conflict. And to add to the the mix of "old" and "young" differences, the responsibility of mediating often falls on lay leadership who are volunteering time out of busy schedules and are not aware of the difficulties until it's too late, or just don't know how to help. So, I would like to see more support available from the denomination when these relationships are forming. Undoubtedly God teaches us lessons from these experiences, but perhaps some woundedness could be prevented with more active support from Covenant leaders who truly care about our established pastors, as well as those bright and shining stars on the rise.

At 6:31 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don, I too am a Covenant Pastor. I graduated NPTS in the 90's. My wife and I would often evaluate our fellow students. We'd think, "Wow, they will have a difficult time in a church" or "He's a good guy, but his wife will give him trouble" or (for many) "They will make great pastors". Within 5yrs. most of the folks we thought would have a tough time were already out of a position. Some who we thought would have a tough time have thrived. Almost all the ones we knew would do well, have. The two factors we thought would make it difficult for people were poor work ethic and lack of social skills.


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