Church Leaders, Beware!
Your sheep may stray
Your job may become obsolete
The Church was once a place where you could count on job security. 2000 years of history with the same basic leadership structure. Safe, for sure.
True, there are a lot of unhappy people in the ministry. They feel underpaid, unappreciated, and powerless. For the most part these are the lowest in rank (even though there is not supposed to be rank)—the pastors in the smaller churches.
This should be a sign of trouble. 80% of all churches are small. It is easy for regional and national leaders to ignore them. Some church leaders even caution leaders to not spend too much time with small churches.
Most church leaders come from large churches. They may have grown up in a large church and served early years as an associate pastor in a large church before getting the gig as a senior pastor. That's a career trajectory borrowed from the corporate world.
Nominations for higher office are usually a result of the recognition that comes from serving larger churches.
Consequently, leaders at the regional and church-wide/national level may have zero experience in serving the types of congregations that make up 80% of their flock.
Once elected they have to be serious screw-ups to lose favor. After all, they have control of church media, church mailing lists, and most voting assemblies. It’s a free skate to retirement.
But beware. Those cushy leadership jobs might not be safe much longer.
The earth under their feet hasn’t shaken in 2000 years. Why worry?
Stand still for a moment. Can you feel the tremor? It’s the hum of millions of hard drives, the rattle of countless keyboards, the shaking of the church structure.
The internet will change things.
It is already starting.
The Threat (and promise) of Technology
Traditional church leadership structure relies on — you guessed it — tradition. Tradition works only as long as there are no attractive alternatives.
The modern world has created opportunities that challenge tradition.
This threat actually predates the internet. A few decades ago a few pastors—some of them with a sense of mission—took advantage of the media and created television audiences that competed with local congregations for offerings and loyalty. It took a lot of money and organizational know-how to grow that kind of audience. Some lasted with reputations intact. Some got wrapped up in predictable scandals.
The traditional church was never able to respond to TV evangelists. They didn't really try. If they had, they might have been ready for the next much bigger threat (possibility)—the internet.
Early TV evangelists were addressing people where they were spending increasing amounts of time and attention. They were doing a lot of things the Church needed to be doing. Unfortunately, denominations, afraid of investing dollars in untraditional ways, failed to engage in this opportunity and therefore remain woefully unprepared for the most recent evolution in modern society.
Today anyone can jump on the internet for peanuts and create a following. No denominational affiliation or even a seminary degree is needed.
Pastors may be part of the only profession to escape the need to keep up with technology. I’ve long-suspected that the high number of second career seminarians is partly attributable to people escaping the changing technology requirements of their first professions. Those who can't, preach.
The failure to keep up is opportunity lost. We are stuck. Invited to the party but wearing the wrong clothes.
Because there are no attractive alternatives, church leaders can live in a bubble (for a while), ignoring the disgruntled, hobnobbing with their own elite, and waxing in the illusion that all is wonderful. Don the robe. Grab the shepherd's crook. Instant adulation from the waning number of loyalists. Sweet!
Resulting complacency leads to entitlement, which results in failure to return letters or phone calls and griping that the inbox has 200 incoming messages every morning (as if they are alone). Problem churches—and small churches are seen as problems—are best ignored and closed as soon as convenient.
Tradition now has competition.
Pastors are starting to discover that no one needs permission to publish on the internet.
There is an unemployed pastor in Richmond who started his own little denomination. He doesn’t call it that. He calls it Clergy for Hire. It's a website. He is creating a stable of preachers who will perform weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc. without requiring congregational membership or denominational affiliation. Need a pastor? Fill out an online form. Pay a one-time fee. Done.
He learned by watching. His own situation was pointing to the reality that denominations are increasingly becoming less about leadership and more about managing the employment of the available pastors.
Regardless of how he came to his decision, he is creating competition for every parish pastor, every congregation and every denomination. He is by-passing church authority.
There is a growing number of online pastors. I follow a few regularly and read others sporadically. Oddly, only one I follow writes for everyone and he does a great job.
Most write for other pastors.
Other pastors read and comment. In effect, they are pastoring the pastors—the traditional role of bishops.
Pastors who take part in these online discussions can do so with less fear. They can remain anonymous, unlabeled by their peers. There is an obvious need!
These online pastors are creating a voice and a support system that has become awkward and ineffective within the denominations—where all pastors are vying for 20% of the plush calls. Under this system, 80% of pastors are bound to be disgruntled and feel unappreciated at best and often like failures (as the comments on these pastoral blogs indicate).
How can this atmosphere possibly benefit congregations?
Online pastoral mentors can do so unchallenged, because the higher you go in the church, the less familiarity there is with the internet. Even the official press of denominations doesn't quite get the internet. If bishops notice, they are not likely to realize the potential effect.
So while the bishops and regional leaders lean back in their plush office chairs in their well-appointed offices, secure in their calling, they have new competition. They won’t be able to control it.
These online pastoral gurus are:
- creating authority without election or approval.
- developing a devoted following.
- crossing denominational barriers. That means they can also cross congregational barriers. Pastors, watch out for your colleagues that blog! They might poach your members.
These online pastors create their own job security. They write today, sign consulting gigs tomorrow, and sign books every six months or so. Hey, it's the American way! Bishops? Who needs them?
Although most have credentials, it won't be long before any pastor without a call can create an online ministry—not much different from the guy in Richmond. Denominational affiliation will mean nothing.
The internet provides visibility that was not possible before. Leaders, ignore the little guys at your own peril.
By the way, this isn't necessarily bad. It could be very good. To insure that it is good and not totally self-aggrandizing, the Church needs to be part of the checks and balances. They need to participate.
So far most online pastors are duplicating the bubble. They write almost oblivious that lay people can read their posts, too. They are still sort of loyal to tradition even while they toot their own horns—almost like they don't realize their own power.
When online pastors start addressing congregations and church members — not just other pastors—they may very well rock the foundation of the church. All those little churches that have been treated as stepchildren for decades will be tempted to follow someone who actually listens and responds.
I am not condemning any pastor who is using the internet. I think they should! But it will change things. New possibilities come with new temptations.
And yes, I realize that 2x2 is a church blog.
2x2 (until recently) had no affiliation. We've never asked for monetary support. We only recently started offering resources for sale at very low prices. We want to provide value for any dollar paid to 2x2. We want to be able to survive to help small churches—not compete with them. There is no donate button on our site—no seasonal fundraising drives.
We are entirely volunteer—still small. Nevertheless, more people read our blog each day then attend most churches each week in our region. We have experienced the power of the internet.
So watch out, bishops of every denomination.
Start paying attention to the flock or it may begin to stray.
You may be without a job. Without a job you might be without a mission.
Lucky thing. The internet makes reaching people easier!