The United Church of Christ Looks at Sixty: You Can’t Dismantle an Idea Whose Time Has Come

This post was originally published on the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog, on the UCC’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) website on June 19, 2017.

A year ago, on June 14, 2016, our Conference Minister, the Rev. David Gaewski, delivered his “State of the Conference” address to annual meeting delegates of the New York Conference (UCCNY). His words had a curious relevance for the United Church of Christ (UCC).

The UCCNY was “sewn together as a quilt from different swaths of cloth,” Rev. Gaewski noted; historically, its churches and Associations “had neither a common identity nor a common commitment.” And while diversity can transform a Conference into a beautiful tapestry, “if the stitching is weak or loose, [it] will not last.” Indeed, too often, “we have taken pride in identifying” ourselves regionally, but not as a Conference. “And this has [weakened] the seamwork of our quilt. Pride in our separateness is a misconception of the Body of Christ. In Christ there is no east or west, no north or south, no Congregational Christian or E&R, no urban or rural Christian.”

Broaching the subject of Conference finances, Rev. Gaewski outlined “a multi-dimensional plan” to eliminate the UCCNY deficit. Key elements of the plan included a new “Covenant Share” offering, which is “a hybrid to per capita giving;” a special appeal to “Friends of the Conference;” an annual “‘Fair Share’ in OCWM giving” program, which calculates an appropriate pledge amount for each UCCNY congregation; the incorporation of new church starts and affiliations into the Conference; and several staffing and administrative efficiencies.

Rev. Gaewski then expressed disappointment that the UCCNY’s Covenant Share appeal had not attracted more dollars from more congregations and individuals, but he speculated that many churches and Conference members still didn’t know about the new offering. Finally, our Conference Minister issued a warning: “We have three years to resolve our fiscal direction. And if we don’t, we’ll need to begin dismantling this Conference”—or at least, drastically reorganize the way it operates.

Rev. Gaewski was right to deliver this inauspicious message, and as I say, I think his statement is relevant to the entire UCC. I suspect that the financial challenges we are facing in the UCCNY are ubiquitous—they are evident in all UCC churches and in all mainline denominations—and we need to talk about them rather than ignore or hide from them. And we need to see how they relate to broader societal trends.

To read more of this blog post, go to the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog site, at


A Peek at the New UCC Manual on Ministry Draft, and Two General Comments about the Streamlined Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers and the Unified Ministerial Code

This post was originally published on the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog, on the UCC’s Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD), in April 2017.

So, I used to have this ministry colleague, George, who carried a stack of dog-eared 3×5 cards in his hip pocket. George had scribbled the Sermon on the Mount and assorted Bible verses on those cards, and he consulted them frequently, he said, in an effort to live a more virtuous and holy life. He kept this up for months. At the time I thought that George was odd and needed to lighten up, but then again, I probably was not as virtuous or holy as he was.

Over the past two or three years I have wondered if the United Church of Christ’s (UCC’s) Manual on Ministry (MOM), the Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers, and the Ministerial Codes are like George’s 3×5 cards. Or perhaps, like the Boy Scout Law (“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent”). Nice universal imperatives, but difficult to put into practice.

Recently, MOM, the Marks, and the Codes have undergone significant revision. MOM was written (and it still serves) as a tool to help UCC Committees on Ministry, churches, authorized ministers, and Members in Discernment (MIDs) understand the different forms of authorized UCC ministry, and negotiate the various processes of search and call and ministerial authorization and standing.

Perhaps the most controversial feature in the draft of a revisioned MOM is a proposal to streamline the three current forms of authorized ministry (i.e., Commissioned, Licensed, and Ordained) into just one: Ordained ministry. A big reason for phasing out Licensed and Commissioned ministry has to do with the inherent unfairness of the current three-tier system of authorization, which effectively relegates Licensed and Commissioned Ministers to a “second-class” ministry status, and allows them to be paid much less than (and often assesses them by different measures than) their ordained colleagues.

The Marks, you may recall, are an outgrowth of the Ministry Issues Pronouncement of General Synod 25 in July, 2005. They were developed as a tool for discernment and assessment of UCC authorized ministry, and consisted of 64 skills, aptitudes, and areas of knowledge that informed and defined such ministry. The new Marks are similar but have been reworded and pared down from 64 to 48 in number.

The UCC Ministerial Codes have been around for a long time, and parallel the standards and ethical rules that guide the work and interactions of physicians, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals. In the new draft version of MOM, the Ordained, Licensed, and Commissioned Ministers’ Codes have been consolidating into one unified Code consisting of 35 “covenants.”

Although the circulating draft of MOM will undergo another revision at the end of 2017 with wider church discussion continuing into 2018, you can read the draft version, which includes the new Marks and Code, here. In addition to updating the Marks and the Code, the “reimagined” MOM reflects the changed “landscape of ministry today,” including “the shift to ‘multiple paths’ of [ministerial] formation (including but not limited to seminary),” as well as “decline[s] in traditional expressions of church” (pp. 3-4).

My reaction to the new MOM, Marks, and Code is twofold.  First . . . .

To read more of this post, go to the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog on the CARD website, at


Turned Off, Fed Up, Dropped Out: Can the United Church of Christ Become a Home for Disaffected Evangelical Millennials and Other Church Dropouts?

This article was originally published on the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog, on the UCC’s Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD) website in January 2017.

Young Evangelicals are leaving the church in droves—and their exodus has bracing implications for us in the United Church of Christ.

Not that anyone could have predicted their departure in 1972; that’s when sociologist of religion Dean M. Kelly published an influential study entitled, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing. Essentially, Kelly argued that, in the words of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Evangelical churches grow precisely because they do what liberal congregations and denominations [do not]—they make serious demands of believers in terms of doctrine and behavior” (“Why Conservative Churches Are Growing,” Christian Post, April 26, 2011.

As it turned out, a lot of those serious demands were exclusive and harsh—and living up to them proved unsustainable. Today—forty-five years later—Barna Group President and pollster David Kinnaman, a self-professed Evangelical, tells us that many Evangelical congregants and former churchgoers, as well as the vast majority of “Unchristians” (who don’t ascribe, or no longer ascribe, to any organized religion) “are skeptical” if not “hostile and resentful toward present-day Christianity.” They “have little trust in the Christian faith, [or] esteem for the lifestyle” of churchgoers. They view Christianity as “weary and threadbare,” and are offended by conservative Christians’ “swagger”—how Evangelicals “go about things and the[ir] sense of self-importance” (David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2007), pp. 9, 13, 16, 22, 24).

Indeed, a 2005-2006 Barna Group study concluded that “the most common perceptions” of those outside the church toward Christians and Christianity are antihomosexual, judgmental, and hypocritical. These were followed by: old-fashioned, sheltered and out of touch with reality, insensitive to others, boring, not accepting of other faiths, too focused on converting people, and confusing. “This is what a new generation thinks about Christianity” (Unchristian, p. 25).

Tellingly, many Evangelical Millennials and “Gen-Z’ers”—young adult churchgoers —“share the same negative perceptions as outsiders” (Unchristian, pp. 31-32); in a related poll of 18-29-year-olds with Evangelical backgrounds, young churchgoers “describe[d] their individual faith journeys” in words that were startlingly similar to those of Millennial outsiders. “Most of their stories include significant disengagement from church—[and/or] from Christianity altogether” (David Kinnaman with Aly Hawkins, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2011), p. 9).


To read more of this post, go to the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog on the CARD website, at

Does The United Church of Christ (UCC) Have A Big-City, Big-Church, Liberal Bias?

(Originally published on December 5, 2016, on the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) Blog site.)

Does the United Church of Christ (UCC) have a big-city, big-church, liberal bias? I’ve been hearing UCC lay people—and remarkably, pastors—level this charge, in three different Conferences and in various churches, since my “privilege-of-call” days in the Potomac Association of the Central Atlantic Conference in the early 1990s. Two recent instances:

  • This past spring, a UCC pastor acquaintance complained to me that “those folks in Cleveland” (i.e., our denomination’s national staff) “do small and rural churches a disservice” when they “push us to become Open and Affirming,” embrace the Black Lives Matter movement, and advocate for social justice.  He asked: “Why don’t they just stop talking and leave us alone?” For reasons I don’t understand, my colleague confronts and regales me with this message every chance he gets. Sometimes I succeed in avoiding him.
  • In April 2016, a respondent to one of my postings on this blog site wrote: “I’m a liberal member of a politically moderate congregation…. We recently voted to allow same gender marriage, but not to become ONA, a decision I supported. The attitudes of the conference and national UCC towards my more conservative brothers and sisters does nothing but alienate and disparage them, and certainly does not bring them to church. I agree with 99% of the social justice issues the UCC supports, but I am tiring of the condescension towards my brothers and sisters who believe differently than I do. We disagree on many issues but serve the same Jesus.”

Do these church leaders and pastors have a point? Does the UCC have a big-city, big-church, liberal bias?

These questions have particular salience because, by the UCC’s own admission, “nearly half (46.5%) of all UCC congregations have 50 or fewer people in worship each week, and nearly 8 in 10 [UCC] congregations (79.5%) have 100 or fewer people in worship.” Thus, “the United Church of Christ is a denomination of small churches”—and such churches are “more likely to have a majority of participants possessing conservative theological [and perhaps, political and socio-cultural] outlooks.” Moreover, small churches “adap[t] less readily to change”/are “not as willing to make changes,” and are “more uncertain about their future” (“FACTs on Smaller Congregations:  Findings from the United Church of Christ 2015 Faith Communities Today [FACT] Survey of Congregations”).

So, given this reality—that the UCC is made up predominantly of smaller congregations, and that such churches have conservative, risk-averse and resistant-to-change tendencies—why is our denomination so insistent on embracing a progressive theology, advocating for social justice, and speaking truth to power? Doesn’t that prove that the UCC has a big-city, big-church, liberal bias?


To read the rest of this article, click onto the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) website,

Does The United Church of Christ (UCC) Have A Big-City, Big-Church, Liberal Bias?

How Our StillSpeaking God Is Transforming Her StillConsequential Church, But Church People Are StillResisting and StillTalking Past One Another

(Originally published on October 2, 2016, on the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) Blog site.)

Churches and denominations are being buffeted by momentous social change—and many good church people are in denial about, or are resisting, what is happening all around them.

For example, recent Barna Group research suggests that “many of those outside [of] Christianity, especially younger adults, have little trust in the Christian faith” or in churchgoers. They view Christianity as homophobicjudgmentalhypocriticaltoo involved in politicsout of touch with realitynot accepting of others, and confusing. Worse, many Millennial and older churchgoers “share the[se] same negative perceptions” (David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyon, Unchristian:  What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters [Baker, 2007], pp. 9-32).

And Duke University’s 2015 National Congregations Study report on “Religious Congregations in 21st Century America” revealed that:

  • Most churches are small and getting smaller; “the average congregation in America is down from a median of 80 participants in 1998 to 70” or fewer today.
  • “All congregations are aging, but white mainline congregations are older,” and are aging faster.
  • Mainline Protestant denominations are losing members; meanwhile, the number of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and “nones” in the United States has grown precipitously since 1998.
  • “Congregations are less connected to denominations.” Churches’ “financial contributions to denominations have been in relative decline since 1998.
  • Many full- and part-time paid pastoral leaders are second-career. Sixteen percent of pastors serve more than one congregation; 34% are bi-vocational. Nearly 14% of congregations are led by unpaid pastors.”

But it’s not just the church that’s changing; dramatic transformations are occurring within even the most stable and conservative of American institutions—and their traditional patrons and defenders are struggling to adjust to the new realities.

Consider the proud tradition of U.S. naval aviation. Since World War II, American aircraft carriers have patrolled the world’s oceans, and aircraft flown by Navy and Marine pilots have owned the skies.

But on May 14, 2013, for the first time in history, an unmanned jet aircraft was successfully launched from, and recovered on, the deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush.

To read the rest of this article, click onto the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) website,

UCC Evangelicals and Progressives: How They’re Different. Why It Matters.

(Originally published on September 5, 2016, on the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) Blog site.)

Recently, some United Church of Christ (UCC) friends asked me what the difference is between Progressive and Evangelical churches and beliefs. With more passion than wisdom, I bit off on their bait.

I said that Evangelical congregations can be Southern Baptist, Reformed, Wesleyan, and Lutheran (Missouri Synod). They can belong to charismatic or Pentecostal fellowships like the Assemblies of God and the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee). Or they can have the words, Independent or Bible Church in their names.

Mainline Protestant churches may be Presbyterian (USA), Episcopal, Disciples of Christ, United Methodist, Lutheran (ELCA), American Baptist, Unitarian-Universalist, and United Church of Christ.

I added that Black and ethnic congregations are often theologically Evangelical and socially Progressive.

Mainline churches (including UCC congregations) can be more or less Progressive or Evangelical, depending on their individual histories, cultures, and locations. In cities they tend to be Progressive; in rural America, they lean Evangelical. This can make it exasperatingly difficult for someone who relocates from, say, California or Massachusetts to Central New York, and starts visiting rural UCC congregations hoping to find a church like the one she attended in San Francisco or Boston!

My friends did not like my explanations. Annette, a congregant, said that all my talk about the differences between churches was divisive and upsetting to inclusive, ecumenically-minded UCC people. Besides, such comparisons would likely be imprecise—so wouldn’t it be better if I talked about churches’ similarities, instead?!!!

I responded that, yes, theological language and distinctions can be vague and confusing, but there is no other medium for learning about churches, dispelling misinformation, or coming to terms with our own religious beliefs and values.


To read the rest of this article, click onto the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) website,

UCC Evangelicals and Progressives: How They’re Different. Why It Matters.


Fear and Loathing in the Pastor’s Study: Can Authorized Ministers Learn Innovative, Risk-Taking, and Entrepreneurial Leadership Skills?

(Originally published on August 15, 2016, on the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) Blog site.)

In 2009, Barna Group researchers conducted a survey-based study of “the state of mainline Protestant churches” in the United States. After extensive data-crunching, they concluded that “mainline churches have weathered the past decade better than many people feared they would, but serious challenges [threaten] continued stability. The quality of leadership—especially regarding vision, creativity, strategic thinking, and the courage to take risks—is the most critical element in determining the future health and growth of Mainline congregations” (“Report Examines the State of Mainline Protestant Churches,” December 7, 2008).

This finding was confirmed in last year’s United Church of Christ (UCC) report on “Congregational Vitality and Ministerial Excellence.” Based on extensive surveying data gleaned from UCC congregants, the June 2015 report highlighted “four marks of ministerial excellence” that correlated most strongly to congregational vitality:

  • “The ability to mutually equip and motivate a community of faith”;
  • “The ability to lead and encourage ministries of evangelism, service, stewardship and social transformation”;
  • “The ability to read the contexts of a community’s ministry and creatively lead that community through change or conflict”; and
  • “The ability to frame and test a vision in community.”

Curiously, these four marks “were the lowest-rated items by congregants.” Most respondents did not think their pastor(s) were proficient in the very skills and aptitudes that contribute directly to, and are most necessary for, church vitality!

This raises an obvious question: How can authorized UCC ministers “learn” or develop these essential marks of excellence?


Continue reading Fear and Loathing in the Pastor’s Study: Can Authorized Ministers Learn Innovative, Risk-Taking, and Entrepreneurial Leadership Skills?

Some Thoughts Regarding the Parameters of Diversity and Inclusion in the United Church of Christ

(Originally published on May 30, 2016, on the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) Blog site.)

Fifteen years ago, when I was a pastor in the Southern Conference, I overheard someone remark that the trouble with the United Church of Christ (UCC) is that it doesn’t know whether it wants to be a liberal church or a diverse church. I’ve often thought about those words, and I’ve often recited them to others. More recently, I’ve wondered about their validity: How diverse is the UCC? How liberal (or progressive) is it? And what do we mean by diversity? Is UCC diversity just about ending racism and getting congregations to become Open and Affirming (ONA)? Is it about intergenerational worship? Is diversity about our churches’ different worship styles and theologies?

For starters, UCC diversity doesn’t mean that when our denomination advocates for social justice concerns, it speaks for every UCC congregation and member. Nor does it mean that because General Synod does not speak for everyone, it should remain silent and never take a stand.

And diversity doesn’t defy the laws of logic. A church cannot endorse and simultaneously reject a certain viewpoint or commitment. Nor can a theological idea or church practice be both true and false, or exist and not exist. Nor can a pastor embrace change and tradition at the same time. Nor can UCC leaders advocate for LGBTQ rights and racial justice in urban and multicultural churches—and not talk about these commitments in rural congregations.

There are many ways in which we are diverse.

Diversity is evident in the “radical welcome” and “extravagant hospitality” that UCC churches extend to all who come through their doors: first-time visitors and forty-year members; the young and the old; atheists, doubters, and true believers; gays and straights; people of color as well as white people; the poor and the rich; people of disability and the able; and saints and sinners of every kind. UCC churches do not restrict participation, membership, or Christ’s Table to the “saved.” Like the banner says, “Jesus didn’t reject people—and neither do we.”

Continue reading Some Thoughts Regarding the Parameters of Diversity and Inclusion in the United Church of Christ

Deconstructing the UCC Ministry Opportunities Webpage: What Kind of Pastor Do Churches Say They Want?

(Originally published on April 25, 2016, on the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) Blog site.)

What expectations do United Church of Christ (UCC) congregations that are currently engaged in search-and-call processes have of their prospective ministers? What qualifications are they looking for? Who do they say they want their next pastors to be, and what do they want them to do? And are their expectations realistic?

To begin grappling with these questions, I turned to the UCC Ministry Opportunities website and examined every listing—some 256 of them, representing 5 percent of the United Church of Christ’s 5,117 congregations—posted during the week of February 14-20, 2016.

What I came away with was a “snapshot” of the church—or rather, a snapshot of 256 UCC churches and their ministries—at one particular moment in their history. The following are the major themes and findings of this study. (You can read the full report here.)

Church Demography

Many listings on the UCC Ministry Opportunities website described churches that are small and/or populated with retirement-aged folks. The narrative of the United Church of Newport, in Newport, Vermont, could have been written by many: “We have an aging congregation, but occasionally [we] attract a young family to come and stay.”

Seventy-eight churches—just over 30 percent of the 256 listings—said that they were looking for part-time pastors. This finding dovetails neatly with the research of church leaders and consultants who tell us that in coming years, more and more American Mainline and Progressive Protestant churches, including UCC congregations, will be led by part-time clergy.

Continue reading Deconstructing the UCC Ministry Opportunities Webpage: What Kind of Pastor Do Churches Say They Want?

The Donald Trumpification of Authorized Ministry: Some Lenten Thoughts about Dying Churches, Congregational Resurrections, and Pastoral Leadership

This blog post was published in a slightly different form on February 4, 2016 on the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research and Data website.  See

In case you haven’t noticed, tremendous changes are taking place in the American church. A number of pastors, scholars, and leaders, both within and outside our denomination, have issued dire warnings about the future of the Mainline church and of the United Church of Christ. For instance,

  • Pastor Anthony Robinson writes that American churchgoing culture has shifted. Where once, churchgoers were motivated to attend weekly services by a culture of obligation (and the lack of alternatives to Sunday morning churchgoing), Americans now live in a culture of options and choices. Today, many people have stopped attending church, or go only once a month.
  • Columnist and blogger Rachel Held Evans tells us that increasingly, Millennials see the church as judgmental, hypocritical, detached from reality, and irrelevant to their lives. As a result, they are dropping out. In droves.
  • Pastor Molly Phinney Baskette predicts in Real Good Church that “something like 80% of mainline Christian churches will be dead” in 20 years.
  • In his book, Beyond Resistance, UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer reveal that many UCC and Mainline churches are so financially strapped that “full-time, seminary-trained, ordained clergy are [now] an impediment” to their mission and outreach. In effect, the mission in these churches has become holding rummage sales and fundraising dinners “in order to keep paying a full-time pastor’s salary.”       Meanwhile, aging buildings—undoubtedly beautiful but expensive to maintain—hang like albatrosses around congregants’ necks. Increasingly, churches are faced with the Faustian dilemma of having to either get rid of their pastors so they can keep their aging buildings, or ditch their buildings so they can afford their pastors.
  • UCC Pastor and church historian Steve Johnson reminds older churchgoers that the halcyon days of the 1950s—when stores were closed on Sunday, worship services were packed, and well-scrubbed children wore nice dresses, white shirts, and ties to church—were an anomaly in American church history. The norm for religious institutions has always been a struggle for noses, nickels, and numbers. Yet many aging Baby Boomers persist in remembering the 1950s as the norm to which we must return.

How should we evaluate these claims? Are Robinson, Evans, Baskette, Dorhauer, and Johnson right? I suspect they are.

In June 2015, two important UCC Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD) studies (available on this website) confirmed these dire forecasts. The first, “Futuring the United Church of Christ: 30-Year Projections,” shows that over the next three decades, the number of UCC congregations will decline from over 5,100 churches today to approximately 3,600 churches. Over the same time period, the number of UCC members will drop precipitously, from 1.1 million to just under 200,000 adherents. Yikes!

A second CARD report on “Congregational Vitality and Ministerial Excellence,” was based on a national survey of UCC churchgoers. It identifies “four marks of ministerial excellence” as correlating significantly to congregational vitality:

  • The ability to equip and motivate a congregation.
  • The ability to lead ministries of evangelism, service, stewardship and social transformation.
  • The ability to read the contexts of a congregation’s ministry and lead it through change or conflict.
  • The ability to frame, articulate, and test a congregation’s vision.

Unfortunately, the report added, “these four marks were the lowest-rated items” of survey-takers’ evaluations of their churches’ and pastors’ ministries. Indeed, the skills and traits that are most directly relevant to congregational vitality and church revitalization seem to be the ones that UCC pastors are the weakest in! As Dorhauer put it,

“Clergy trained [as] pastoral counselors, preachers, and spiritual guides now have new expectations placed on them: raise money, market, and attract new members. As budgets shrink and membership rolls decline, we now want our clergy to become CEOs and growth strategists.”

Yet such leadership and entrepreneurial skills are “specialized fields” that require years of training and expertise, Dorhauer insists. “Even in their best weeks,” clergy won’t make these tasks “their highest priority”—not as long as there are sermons and services to prepare, sick people to visit, youth programs to organize, and classes to teach.

In a strange way, I wonder if what we’re seeing is not the Donald Trumpification of authorized ministry in the United Church of Christ. As you doubtless know, real estate and casino mogul Donald Trump is a political novice, but he has dominated Republican Party presidential politics over the past year. As of this writing it is uncertain how much farther Trump’s career as a presidential candidate will go—he just lost the Iowa Caucuses—but in a way that’s beside the point. I mean, aren’t Trump’s entrepreneurial verve, his brashness and cocksure confidence, and his “You’re fired!” decisiveness exactly the skills and traits that we pastors need if we are going to turn failing churches around? Our congregants don’t really care if we authorized ministers have studied the Bible thoroughly, or if we can parse Walter Brueggemann’s theology, any more than the Donald’s constituents care that he has held no previous political office, or that he is xenophobic, racist, and misogynistic—do they? If Trump doesn’t make it to the White House, wouldn’t he make an ideal revitalization pastor?

Alright, in case you’re wondering, yes, I did write that last paragraph with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. I believe strongly that mastering theology and the Bible—the stuff of traditional seminary studies—is still vitally important for ministers. But it is telling that Dorhauer and other scholars and church leaders are openly wondering if, in the future, pastors who have entrepreneurial and organizational skills will really need seminary training or even ordination.

You may say that the Donald is a showman, and I will agree readily with you—I am no Donald Trump fan. But I will also tell you that good pastoral leadership—the kind that turns struggling churches around—contains more than a modicum of showmanship, and is not just a matter of administrative skills and biblical and theological knowledge.

The times, they are a-changing—and so is the church. But we pastors need to remain steady, stay confident, and know what we’re about. Here’s hoping we can improve our leadership skills, and begin to turn some of our declining congregations around. In the meantime, we can remember that not all change points to decline and loss. Some points to celebration.

  • We can celebrate the many things we do well, even as we strive to improve our marketing, fundraising, vision-framing, entrepreneurial, and leadership skills.
  • Some churches and Christian institutions will close. It is inevitable. We celebrate their legacy and faithful ministry over the decades—or centuries—of their continued operation.
  • We celebrate the new things that God is doing—even if we cannot see those new things yet, or tell exactly what it is that God is doing.

As Easter people, we celebrate resurrection. Jesus overcame the grave. New churches rise up and organize and begin to worship and thrive, phoenix-like, out of the ashes of their predecessor. The two stories are one and the same. Death is always followed by new life.