I was watching this piece by Religion and Ethics Newsweekly this morning and thought, “Yes, this is a challenge of the church today.” The reality of old-line congregations is that their congregations are aging and decreasing in membership; their buildings are requiring more upkeep; their budgets are stretched to the point that they can no longer afford to pay full-time pastors.
Across the nation and denominations, the full-time paid pastor jobs are becoming more and more rare. In Monmouth Presbytery, 15 of the 45 congregations have less than full-time pastors; another 13 congregations are most likely in their last full-time pastorate and most of them have pastors who are likely to retire in the next five years. In New Brunswick, only 1/3 of the teaching elder members are currently serving in congregations; approximately 1/3 are serving in non-parish positions, and 1/3 are honorably retired. 15 of the 39 congregations in New Brunswick are served by part-time pastors or are expected to move to part-time in the next five years. Some of our congregations will merge, some will share pastoral ministry, some will be led by “tent-makers”, and others will be led by lay pastors.
As seminarians graduate, they will be redefining the role of pastor in the church and the community. I believe that many will find themselves being “called” into secular work, building up the kingdom by being witness and teacher of the gospel in non-church settings. It’s time to rethink our expectations around “the call” and a paycheck. And, if you dare to consider an even larger issue, the relationship between the “call,” the work of a pastor, and ordination.
Should we consider ordaining pastors to evangelist in secular jobs or community roles? What about to form a new worshipping community? Would being an owner of a small business that bears witness to the kingdom in its outreach to the community and employment practices, and that is “chaplain” to a neighborhood and the workers be considered a validated ministry? Why or why not?