Calling all Pastors (and other churchy types)

First of all, I’m not asking you to do my homework for me–just to add some “real world” perspective to it. One of the criticisms of seminary is that much of what we learn is in theoretical isolation, and often not practical or relevant to actual practice. And yes, I asked my professor’s permission before doing this.

In my Christian Education and Formation class, a big part of our grade this semester is responding to case studies of potential “church situations.” I’ve already written my initial response to this case study (and you can read it here) but I’m more interested in hearing how you would respond to this situation — especially those of you who are pastors, educators, or have ever served in a church leadership capacity.

You have recently been called as pastor of a local church in Atlanta. The search committee was articularly interested in your interest in Christian education and formation as they think that you will help bring young families into the church. This urban, struggling church has approximately 200 members on the rolls and averages 75 members in worship on most Sundays. The average age of the congregation is 62.5 years of age. Though there are a handful of families with school-aged children, several of them leave and join churches with large youth programs as soon as their kids enter middle school. At the previous meeting of the congregation’s governing board, you promised to lead a discussion at the beginning of the next meeting about envisioning new directions for the church’s programs for children and youth. After you provide a dazzling ten minute Augustinian mini-lecture on the central importance of love in the church’s ministry of education and formation, several people raise their hands to express concerns or disagreement. Here are a few of the more forceful comments:

“That all sounds, nice, pastor; but it is too abstract. We have kids all around us who live in broken homes and are tempted by drugs, sex, and crime. We need a plan that deals with the hard realities that the kids in this city are facing every day.”

“My neighbors up the street go to Grace Church. They have a huge youth group. Every other weekend they go on a ski trip or a trip to the beach. My daughter has been begging me to let her join that youth group because it is so much more fun than ours. What are you going to do to make this church fun for the kids?”

“Atlanta has become such a diverse place culturally and religiously. We have so many languages and ethnicities here now and more are moving in all the time. The city now has as many Muslims, Buddhists, Bahai, and Wiccans as Lutherans or Jews. My family is religiously mixed and I know we aren’t alone in that. It would be irresponsible for us to ignore this reality. We have to prepare the children of this church to function as good neighbors in this increasingly diverse religious situation in which we live.”

After providing sufficient time for everyone to share their views on the proper aims of education and formation for that congregation, the attention turns back to you. Everyone wants to know what you will say and how you propose to move forward.

My “developed response” is due this Friday, and then a final response by the end of the semester.  If I use any part of your responses, I’ll make sure to ask your permission and attribute your words to you in the paper.  I’m pretty excited about the idea of citing “actual pastoral practitioners” alongside of professional authors and academic theologians.  It’s Open-Source, of course…

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4 Responses to Calling all Pastors (and other churchy types)

  1. Neil,

    Interesing case and thanks for sharing it. Not so acadamic for me, this is a description of what I face in the churches I consult in regularly. Quite real life. May issues surfacing at once, none with an easy quick fix. Some questions raised in these comments are…What is the calling of church in the midst of an increasingly diverse society? What is the nature of youth ministry within a small congregtion? Or any congregation? Is faith formation for youth only done through corraling them together in same age/fun activites? What is the role of pastor and the lay people in ministry? (“We need a plan…” from YOU pastor, and “What are YOU going to do to make the church more fun for kids.”) And lastly—Is our “large-church-down-the-street envy” helping or hurting us?!

    Just some questions I ponder in response to the case.

    Stephanie

  2. Well… this isn’t going to help your paper. But, I’m not sure if it is the most effective thing to target young families. I mean, there hardly is such a thing as a “young family” any more. Demographics have changed. People get married later (if they get married at all), they have kids later. Less than 25% of American households have a mom, dad, and child(ren), so when we form our education and outreach around young families, we’re leaving out more than 75% of the neighborhood. Not only that, but we send a clear message to most young adults that they don’t belong in our church.

    If I were working in this church, I would encourage them to think a bit differently. Try to get them to think about ministry to college students and singles. As the young adults get older and have children, then you can plan the youth group activities.

  3. Mark says:

    Neil, I think Stephanie and Carol both have hit the nail on the head.

    Stephanie’s point about “big-church envy” is an important warning. One of the local big churches (not PCUSA, thank God) now randomly brings in drug-sniffing dogs to youth functions. They’d made their youth program so entertainment oriented–including handing out a $50 bill as a “prize” at least once a week, oftentimes in relation to an evangelical invitation–that they were no longer able to control their crowds.

    Carol’s comment, “this isn’t going to help your paper,” is spot on IF your professor isn’t open to emergent viewpoints. Of course, the true test isn’t your professor, but the people in that not-so-fictional committee. After your experience of the last few years, you know what kind of mindsets operate in the pews of even “young, hip, and trendy” congregations.

  4. Steve DeVane says:

    Neal,

    I just found your blog, so excuse me if I’m way off base w/ what you’re looking for. I’m not a pastor, but I’ve been a lay leader in Baptist churches for 15+ years and previously served on staff at several churches. I’m well acquainted with the situation in your case study. (Actually, I think many pastors I know would be thrilled to hear church members ask the questions raised in the story.)

    In my opinion, churches lose “young people” in large part because of resistance to new ideas and a lack of openness/inclusiveness. We send our young people off to college, where they are taught to be critical learners and to question everything. Then when they come back home and question us about why we do what we do in church, we treat them as heretics (at worst) or ignore them (at best). It’s no wonder they leave and never return.

    I am not suggesting we compromise the gospel, but we certainly need to rethink the way we present it and the way we “do church.”

    I hope that helps.

    Steve DeVane

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