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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

Finding Church Leadership in a New Era

Tod Bolsinger highlights that in an age of Christendom’s decline in the Western world, pastors are ill-equipped to lead through the cataclysmic shift [1]. In many ways, this failure of church leadership has been a part of my story growing up in Christian faith. As a teenager and young adult, I have often felt that the understanding of Christian faith I had inherited did not hold up to the questions I was asking and the cultural pressures around me. I dealt with these struggles by looking deeper into the Christian tradition, reading older and older books, and trying ancient spiritual disciplines. While I agree with Bolsinger that what we have been doing is now out of date [2], I wish he had been more nuanced when calling our current age “uncharted territory”. Despite the new challenges we face, there are older, forgotten resources in the Christian tradition that Christians have used to face situations in which Christianity was not the dominant cultural force.

Bolsinger does point out that pastors require older “technical” skills such as preaching, pastoral care, and administration [3], which Calvin Seminary has done an excellent job instilling into us. It is only when a congregation sees they can trust us with what is familiar to the church’s ministry that they can trust us with leading them into this new era.

The first step in adapting to this new era of ministry is to recommit to the “core ideology” [4]. In some ways, my studies sorting out my faith over the past few years have been a version of this. I was dissatisfied with the way the Christian faith had been defined for me and, so, looked carefully at Scripture and the Church’s key theologians to see what has been central to the Christian message. Yet because of my experience of doing this in study and reading, I am susceptible to making this only a theological and academic message. I have the potential to impose my own vision, drawn from the Church Catholic, at the expense of hearing the needs, concerns, and desires of a particular community with a history of following Jesus in a specific context. In a leadership context, I need to be careful to pursue these steps in a relationship with others and focused on the reality of the ministry’s context, not my own passion for addressing the hurts of my church background.

The second step is to reframe the strategy. It requires changing the way the church operates in order to bring its core values to the changing context in which the church lives [5]. Making these organizational decisions feels far outside of my comfort zone. My vocational mentor, when working under him in an internship, showed me how he looked at the homeless ministry we ran and saw ways we could serve people better, providing more resources for spiritual growth, more resources for material aid, and affirming the dignity of our guests. I tended to be a voice that would point out what negative impacts a change could have. He always responded carefully to my concerns and enacted the change in small ways, attempting to avoid the problems I had cautioned about. I want to grow in this particular area and learn to see the possibilities for improving a ministry in accord with our values. He still has much to teach me.

The third step in adapting leadership is to keep learning [6]. Personally, I have been frustrated with pastors who do not seem to learn more about their craft. I thrive on taking in new information and processing it. I anticipate being a pastor who regularly reads the latest publications on pastoral ministry. Yet I am often slow to implement new learning. I have found I adjust best when I learn in community with others, with an outlet to pass on what I have learned in private study and to also receive new learning from others. While I can learn on my own, I need a community to help me use that learning in ways which transform my leadership.

[1] Bolsinger, Tod. 2018. Canoeing the Mountains. Downers Grove, IL: InverVarsity, pp. 12-13.

[2] Bolsinger, p. 28.

[3] Bolsinger, pp. 54-59.

[4] Bolsinger, p. 94.

[5] Bolsinger, pp. 96-97.

[6] Bolsinger, pp. 97-98.

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