Any pastor or other church staff member should be prepared in biblical truths, as well as theology. Indeed, you shouldn’t forsake any of the classical disciplines. Nor any of the practical disciplines, such as missions, evangelism or church planting.
Still, American culture has shifted dramatically in a relatively short period of time. The United States is becoming more like an international mission field. As a result, ministry training—whether formal or informal—should reflect this reality.
Missionaries are typically required to receive intensive cultural and language training before they go overseas. Frankly, a similar need exists today for those in American congregations, or those planning to go to these churches.
The greatest needs
So where are the greatest needs? My list is certainly not exhaustive, but I see all of these areas as key to reaching our new and challenging culture.
1. A new language. If a pastor or church staff member does not “speak” social media, he or she is neglecting one of the fastest-growing trends in our nation. Indeed, in our world. It is no longer a fad; it is a primary means of communication.
2. A non-Christian culture. Our nation is fast becoming a non-Christian nation. While we may lament the relative decline in the numbers who follow Christ, we must also accept the reality that we cannot assume others in our community are like us, or hold the same values.
3. The decline of cultural Christians in churches. The well-known Pew Research project has confirmed the dramatic increase in the numbers of people with no religious affiliation. This means that most people do not feel any cultural pressure to attend church. More and more, those who are there are convicted Christians and not Christians in name only (which ought to encourage pastors).
4. A new work/life balance. Pastors and church staff members have always been on call 24/7. But now through computers, smart phones and other advances, they are connected 24/7 electronically. For better or worse, the world of work and personal life is becoming increasingly blurred.
5. Unregenerate church members. Cultural Christians are those who know they are not believers, but affiliate with churches because of family traditions or for cultural reasons. Another group includes those who may cognitively assert a belief in Christ, but have not had a conversion experience. For certain, this development is nothing new. But in today’s church, we are seeing the cumulative cost of weak discipleship and false conversions. How will we respond to the issue of members who are not truly believers?
6. The community as a mission field. Can we change our mindsets and be better prepared? Our communities are not just changing because there are fewer Christians. They are changing with an influx of new ethnic groups and people of other religious beliefs.
7. Less automatic cultural respect for church leaders. In past years, those who held the title of “pastor” or a similar nomenclature were revered in the community just by the position they held. Such is not the case today. Respect must be earned one day at a time.
8. A more critical world. Many pastors and church staff members do not deal well with the more transparent and critical world in which we live. Some retreat to a form of passivity, or take the path of least resistance. Some quit altogether.
9. A greater need for leadership skills. The world in which we live is complex. We may long for simpler times, but that won’t change our realities. Church leaders must be better leaders in more challenging times.
10. More churches in need of revitalization. This may be last on the list, but the need is huge. As many as nine in 10 churches need some level of major revitalization. There are tens of thousands of these churches, and the implications for equipping leaders for them are vast.
The new mission field
This list may be discouraging to you as you read the cumulative implications. I see it, however, from a different perspective. I see this new reality and this new mission field as a great opportunity.
No, it’s not your father or mother’s church. It’s a new and challenging reality requiring a missional mindset. It requires total dependence on the One who sends us to the mission field. And that is exactly where God wants us.
What do you think about this mission field called America? How are you dealing with these new realities? Is there anything you would add to this list?