Ten years ago, cultural and religious analyst Phyllis Tickle wrote about what she called “The Great Emergence” that the Church was entering—a time of both upheaval and hope. Historians agree that every 500 years or so, the Church goes through a time of crisis that leads to a new iteration of Christian faith in that culture. Examples from the past include emergence from the Dark Ages, the Great Schism, and the Great Reformation. What happens during these times of upheaval and then settling down is what Anglican Bishop Mark Dyer calls a “giant rummage sale,” in which the Church examines what it no longer needs and gets rid of it.
No one is arguing that we’re in a season of major upheaval. COVID-19, as impactful as it has been, is only one of the challenges church leaders have had to deal with over the past few years. Political and social divisions have caused ugly arguments in our communities. Internal power dynamics and leadership failures have looked uncomfortably similar to those found outside our church doors. And a changing societal moral code has left many leaders feeling unmoored.
As a result, many pastors I talk to are tired, worn down, and even questioning their call. A recent study by Barna Group found that nearly two-fifths of pastors (38 percent) are seriously considering leaving full-time ministry—a likely result of burnout, financial stress, and congregational division. That same study showed that only one in three pastors is considered “healthy,” defined as those who score themselves either “excellent” or “good” on all six well-being categories—relational, spiritual, physical, emotional, vocational, and financial.
Our leaders and our churches are fighting to stay afloat. But rather than despairing as we look toward 2022, let’s stop and consider what God could be doing. Below is a list of three challenges church leaders are facing today, and a few suggestions on how we might overcome them, together.
Too Many Voices
We live in a divided world—politically, socially, and economically. We’re under constant barrage from media outlets, from advertisers, from our conservative friends, from our liberal friends, from our outspoken neighbors, from our parents, and from our children. There’s no shortage of opinions on how we should live.
But I believe another Voice is beginning to be heard once again. Until recently, it’s been drowned out by various extremes, but I’m hearing it increase in volume. It’s the Voice that cuts across politics. It refuses to be pulled into various camps and ideologies. It doesn’t answer to any government or world system.
We read about this Voice in John 1. This Voice comes from Jesus calling the Church to stand up, dust herself off, and resume her role of embodying hope this broken world. As we turn down the voices of the world, we will again hear this Voice of God speaking to us, calling us to be the type of leaders He needs in these challenging days. Our invitation is to listen and respond to His Voice.
Too Many Expectations
Every pastor feels the pressure to measure up to their congregation’s expectations—both missionally and personally. The expectations pastors and church leaders feel to be super-human is not new. What is new is the increasing lack of grace for not “measuring up.” When we speak into a heated issue that others don’t agree with, we can be demonized. When we don’t speak at all, we can be demonized. When we call people to a perspective different from the world’s, we can be demonized.
So many feel that no matter what they say or do, they lose.
But, again, there is an expectation that matters more than any other—God’s. When we cease trying to live by either our own or others’ expectations of us, we can rediscover how God invites us to lead. In short: He invites us to lead completely dependent on Him. He invites us to draw near to Him through His Word, through worship, through prayer, and through other spiritual practices so we can continually rediscover what generous, humble, kind, and faithful leadership looks like. As we realign our expectation of leadership with God’s, we discover a grace that will carry us through these challenging times.