As you might already know, I recently announced that I would be stepping down as Senior Pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church at the end of the year. By the time I step down, I will have served as pastor of this church for thirty-two years. That’s a good run in anybody’s book.
My friends want to know why I’ve decided to make a transition at this time in my career. Wouldn’t it be easier to just ride it out? Not really. I’ve never been one to coast through life and the thought of trying to sit still when there is so much that can be done drives me nuts.
Knowing that about myself, it’s better for me to move on and leave the stage for the next pastor. Here’s what I would tell the pastor who follows me:
The age of the mega-church is over. We won’t be building church campuses like we used to. Churches will be centered in neighborhoods and communities. They will be central to community life seven days a week. The rising generations won’t financially support the construction of large facilities. Future facilities will be integrated into the neighborhood by providing everything from ESL classes to daycares for children and senior adults. More and more people will be brought into the church through weekday engagements than Sunday mornings. The ministry now comes before the message. When people see the church loving the community, they will want to know what motivates that love.
Because churches will be smaller, they will be run by co-vocational staff and volunteers. More and more, successful pastors will be those who can piece together full-time programs and ministries with a patchwork of “employees” with limited hours. More and more of the pastor’s time will be spent training, assigning, and overseeing volunteer and part-time ministers. In some congregations, everyone in attendance during Sunday worship will have some kind of job in the church’s ministry. What used to be forty-hour-per-week jobs will be broken up into ten four-hour-per-week or eight five-hour-a-week positions.
Leaders will train leaders. We’ll finally get Ephesians 4 right. Instead of “Training God’s people — comma — for the work of the ministry,” we’ll get back to “Training God’s people for the work of ministry.” Instead of visiting the hospital, pastors will be training those who go to the hospital. Instead of teaching small groups, pastors will train leaders of small groups. Effective leaders will multiply their ministry by developing leaders who will do the actual ministry.
While the rising generations give, they give very differently than the builders and boomers before them. If you need a well dug in Africa or school supplies for orphans in Moldova, you’ll find that millennials, Gen X and Gen Z will give sacrificially and generously. But if you need to pay the light bill on your church building, well, not so much. Remember, every institution in our current culture is undergoing a crisis of trust. We no longer trust the government, the medical profession, the judicial system, our academic institutions, or our churches. Sexual and financial scandals have made everyone suspicious of the church’s motives. Trust has to be earned every day. When it is, financial support will flow to whatever ministry is personally impacting the person or their family.
Trauma is the new reality. For years we’ve been discussing the breakdown of the nuclear family without fully understanding the long-term ramifications. Now, those ramifications are being lived out in front of us. Few people you know, especially young adults, are stepping into their futures with a solid base for their lives. People get married hoping their partner will fix them. Couples have children hoping the child will make their marriage complete. Most people are walking around with a giant hole in their heart waiting for someone to validate their existence. This means that when we’re dealing with people, the church isn’t dealing with a clean slate. There’s a lifetime of pain to deal with before any healing and growth can begin.
This means that the gospel is needed now more than ever. The good news that we are loved and forgiven is amazing news in and of itself, but the invitation to live a life that we’ve always wanted — a life of purpose, meaning, joy, and hope — that’s almost too good to believe. And a lot of people don’t believe….and that’s why we have to find a way to our best preaching. In a world this dark, we can’t be shy with the light we have.