A little time away–and a lot of it spent doing grunt work around the house and yard–gave time for pondering. It’s pretty clear that, minus some cataclysmic disruption, we’re going to continue to struggle with the same issues for some time–changing population demographics, declining rates of religious participation among the young (and to a lesser degree, across all age groups), fewer people in worship, declining resources for ministry, and continuing economic uncertainty, with its attendant needs.
As I visit congregations, I hear different facets of this overall picture expressed as priority problems–”We don’t have enough young people and children.” “The town is dying.” “We don’t have enough money.” “There aren’t enough pastors available.” “We can’t afford a full-time pastor.” “People are too busy to be involved.” “Too many things compete for attention.”
Too often, this leads to the “All we have to do is . . .” Syndrome. “All we have to do is get a few young families.” “All we have to do is get people to give more.” “All we have to do is convince people faith is a priority.” –you get the idea. The danger in this syndrome is that it oversimplifies the existing and increasing complexity of life in our place and time. There is no silver bullet (nor lack of people, programs and businesses who would like to convince us there is).
Yet there are some clear priorities among the challenges. Those priorities need to be identified so that we can faithfully address them and carry out effective ministry. Some priorities may apply across the Church around the country and even around the globe. But some are specific to context–our context, here and now.
So I’m asking you–what do you see as the one, two or three greatest challenges to ministry where you are? And what do you see as their causes? For example, maybe there aren’t “enough” young families in your congregation. Is that because there are fewer in your community? Because they are committed to other activities? Because your congregation has little to offer them? Because your bishop asks too many questions?
It’s foolish to think we’ll ever come to a single “all we have to do” solution to the very real challenges we address. But it’s unfaithful to throw up our hands and say, “we’re doing the best we can in a changing world.” My conviction is that Jesus calls us simply to “fish for people,” not to spend a lot of time counting the catch. Still, it’s better to throw the nets where the fish are, and to know where the shoals and sandbars lie.
I believe the Spirit will help us navigate those shoals and sandbars, but first we need to identify them. There’s a conversation yet to come about proposed adaptations, strategies and solutions. This conversation is a necessary prelude. What are the challenges where you live and serve?