I teach a mission-centered approach to Scripture and try to engage the missional imagination of every student who walks into my classroom at Asbury Theological Seminary. This creates a disconnect with the reality of most communities of faith that are inward-focused and rooted in a past that no longer exists.
Here is a question that I have received too often from my students. This arrived in my inbox this week, but I have read it many times before:
This doesn’t actually pertain to class, but I would really appreciate your advice. I’m really questioning my place of ministry right now. I pastor a small [denomination linked] congregation in the suburbs of ______ [middle America]. I’ve been here about [less than 3] years. I pastored bi-vocationally for [several] years prior to moving here. This is my first full-time pastorate. I’ve changed a great deal during that time. I’ve gone from believing that if we just keep doing the same things we’ve been doing that the church will be fine, to now realizing that the American church is sinking and must change. I’ve tried to introduce some of those needed changes very slowly and with as much grace as possible. Yet, I am finding that the majority of my church doesn’t really care if the church outlasts them. I’m sure I could continue in this place for years to come, but I am increasingly dissatisfied with perpetuating a ministry that is not missional and is only interested in preserving a tradition.
I know my situation is not uncommon. But I’m beginning to wonder if I should remain here. I guess my question to you is: How feasible is it to lead a church to a revitalized commitment to the mission of God? Can it be done in our society? I see so much energy and vibrancy within new experimental churches, I can’t help but wonder if I should consider that.
How would you answer these questions? What advice do you have for this pastor?