This weekend brought the opportunity to be at the Nebraska Synod PMA (Parish Ministry Associate) Convocation. PMAs are trained and authorized lay leaders who serve several roles in congregations across the state, though their most common role is to provide pastoral leadership in congregations that are not served by ordained pastors.
The PMA program developed as a response to a growing number of congregations that simply couldn’t afford to call rostered leaders–usually small congregations in shrinking communities. PMAs continue to meet that need, but I’m wondering how we make this program one part of the conversation we need to have going forward, as rapidly changing dynamics affect congregations’ abilities and needs in ministry and mission.
On one end, we continue to face declining rural populations. On the other end, cultural shifts mean even where there are plenty of people, fewer of them have any interest in the Church. Both ends are complicated by an anticipated clergy shortage. Providing leadership in an increasing number of settings with decreasing resources for fewer available full-time pastors is a primary challenge.
One of the gifts of this challenge is the renewed awareness–sometimes out of sheer necessity–of the role of all the baptized in carrying out the mission of the Body of Christ. One of the burdens of this challenge is articulating the need and purpose of ordained clergy. We have for too long reserved too many facets of ministry exclusively for rostered leaders–though this has changed significantly in the last two generations. Yet there are those who suggest we do not need rostered/ordained leaders at all.
Most of us are caught somewhere between these two extremes–right where Lutheran Christians usually tend to find themselves. But what middle ground should we occupy? Should there be new emphases on raising up new pastors? Should there be more training for bivocational pastors (those who will hold a part-time or full-time job while serving as a pastor)? Should there be more training and authorization/certification opportunities for lay leaders?
What are YOUR thoughts, concerns, questions and ideas?