Are Pastors Ready To Give Up The Pulpit?

pastor preachingFor hundreds of years, communication has flowed pretty much in one direction, from the top down. The industrial revolution brought great change to societies as new businesses grew in size and hierarches of management helped things flow efficiently. Instructions and directives were given at the highest levels and workers were expected to comply.

The church has followed the same organizational structure for more than two thousand years. The Catholic Church has its hierarchy of pope, bishops, cardinals, priests, etc. Protestant churches have their denominational leaders, district supervisors, division leaders, and pastors. And pretty much communication too flowed in only one direction, from the pulpit downward. However, at the turn of the 21st century this flow of communication was disrupted.

Many factors have caused this disruption. These include the invention of the telegraph, then the telephone, and now new digital technologies. This last factor, I think, is one that has changed the world the most because it affects people at all levels of society: young and old, rich and poor, from every culture and nation. The invention of the computer, the internet, cell phones, social media applications, blogs, web sites, have given more people the ability to change societies, governments, and businesses—technologies have given everyone a voice. Let me give a few examples.

All social media applications allow people to voice their opinions about products, services, companies, injustice and more. Much of the Arab Spring was organized through the use of Twitter. These days, American businesses have whole teams of people monitoring social media channels listening to their customers. News organizations listen to their viewers through any and all social media applications. And why have the above organizations devoted so much effort and resources to listening and understanding their constituencies’ complaints and preferences? Because they have learned that if they don’t listen and keep their customers happy, they will soon be out of business. But what about churches? Are pastors listening to their congregations?

It seems they are not, and lots of people are communicating with their feet. People are no longer willing to sit, watch, and listen. In my last blog post, I wrote about the “Nones,” and the “Dones”. Among this group are those who are “done” sitting in pews listening to somebody preach at them. In both Catholic and Protestant churches, weekly attendance is declining. Comments from people who no longer attend church say that they are tired of the pulpit/pew divide. But it doesn’t seem pastors are listening because according to the Pew Research group, more and more people are becoming unaffiliated with a church.

Customers, or using church terminology, congregants now harness tremendous power. They have a voice and want to use it. What will it take to create open channels of communication in the church? Are pastors willing to give up the pulpit, stop preaching, and start having conversations? Are they willing to accept a church that is less structured, with less hierarchy, and open to change?

                                                                By Guest Blogger, CK Miller

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6 thoughts on “Are Pastors Ready To Give Up The Pulpit?

  1. It seems to me the Lord is moving his body to its original form as we read in the book of Acts, i.e. relational, dynamic body of believers that form agile organisms (not organizations). The pressure of persecution will work again to spread this style of believers as it did in the beginning. I must say I benefited a lot under the model discussed by this blog, but now I find myself looking for that dynamic, agile commando style of body ministry/relationships.
    At the same time, I’ve started to attend a Jewish Messianic congregation (mixed) which has the same structure that has lasted for several thousand years, and I must say that there is something incredible to it that one needs to experience it because I cannot describe it by words. Check out Ruach LA, Fusion Global, ASCEND Malibu.

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  2. Peter, I’m not against pastors preaching. I believe it’s biblical. However, we can NOT deny the fact that people want relationships and dialogs more than preaching and monologs. The way our churches are set up today, there’s no place for dialogs on a Sunday service even if you only have 20 members. Believe me I’ve tried it. All it takes is one outsiders to put everyone off. I believe those who long for relationship and participation will eventually find themselves in small house groups where they can build lasting connections with people they know by name. Karen and I have done this since 1998 even when I was a typical pastor with a church building. On my next blog I’ll talk about what I believe will be future of the church in America.

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  3. To put another perspective: The important thing about the place of communication in Church life is that however it is structured we receive communications from Christ. Christ can be in and working through conversations but if we read the New Testament communication from Christ comes principally through those gifted by the Holy Spirit for that role. In the book of Revelation, to take one example, the risen Christ is present with his Churches, walking among them and speaking to them. In his hand he holds ‘the angels of the Churches’, through whom he communicates with the Churches.

    This is why the Holy Spirit brings certain individuals to the place where they are, ‘apt to teach’.

    I feel I ought not to need to make this point in this context but not everything that calls itself Christian or a Christian Church actually is Christian, although some Christians may be a part of bodies they ought to separate from, such as Roman Catholicism. Our heritage, if we are genuine Bible believers is derived from the Protestant Reformation. That mighty move of God was carried on by conversation and by preaching.

    It is not a case of either/or. We need preaching from those gifted by and blessed by the Holy Spirit. And we need conversations in which we take up what we learn from Christ through such preaching and preachers and enter more fully into its meaning and application for ourselves.

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    1. IJ1689,

      Thank you for your comment.

      While some are appointed in positions of leadership, I don’t think they are the only ones whom God can speak through. Many who are not pastors or on church staff have also been anointed by the Holy Spirit and able to teach. All should be allowed the use the gifts they have been given, not just a select few.

      Yes, I agree it should be both preaching and conversation. But I only see a whole lot of preaching, and not a lot of conversation. People learn better when they participate in their learning, and not just passively receiving. So I think we all can learn from one another, and not just from pastors.

      CK Miller

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  4. Thanks for this post and there is no argument with the premise or the probing questions of CK Miller. There is a bit of statistical dispute as to whether “the church” as a whole is declining and losing influence especially in-light of the big press that the Pew Report received. (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/) and the many other reports and articles over the past three or four years. You know Ed Stetzer and he has argued pretty convincingly to me that as a whole, decline and loss of influence are true for certain kinds of churches, associations and denominations but others are strong, growing and serving missionally. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/october/state-of-american-church.html; http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/05/13/nones-americans-christians-evangelicals-column/27198423/)

    In my view and what’s particularly intriguing to me is some of these growing and culture-influencing churches, associations and movements in the USA and globally (i.e. Misael Argenal in Honduras continues to have 30K+ gather for services; http://www.prolades.com/cra/regions/cam/megachurches_cam_ranking.htm) have yielded to the “democracy of the internet and social media” with respect to mission, worship, “feedback” and personal calling but have retained episcopal leadership models and some are strongly “episcopal” (in quotes as I am broadly generalizing in using the term) in their decision-making. I don’t know if there is congregational influence prior to the “episcopal” leadership making their decision and observationally, I don’t think there is significant influence. The congregation may be “flat” but leadership seems more traditionally positioned and more observational/ influenced by cultural and generational trends than congregational voice. It remains to be seen if this kind of “episcopal” leadership as a whole with ultimately suffer as the blog rightly observes occurring elsewhere.

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  5. Jim,

    Thank you for your comment to my blog post.

    Looking at the statistical reports from Pew Research, General Social Survey, and Gallup, I see no statistical data to suggest that those who no longer claim affiliation with a church were nominals, as Ed Stetzer claims. The statistical data reported shows:
    1. “The Christian share of the population is declining and the religiously unaffiliated share is growing in all four major geographic regions of the country.”
    2. “The percentage of college graduates who identify with Christianity has declined by nine percentage points since 2007 (from 73% to 64%). The Christian share of the population has declined by a similar amount among those with less than a college education (from 81% to 73%). Religious “nones” now constitute 24% of all college graduates (up from 17%) and 22% of those with less than a college degree (up from 16%).”
    3. “Although it is low relative to other religious groups, the retention rate of the unaffiliated has increased. In the current survey, 53% of those raised as religiously unaffiliated still identify as “nones” in adulthood, up seven points since 2007. And among Millennials, “nones” actually have one of the highest retention rates of all the religious categories that are large enough to analyze in the survey.

    Plus the data shows that even though evangelical Protestants grew by two million people, due to population growth they account for less of a percentage of the American population.

    Ed Stetzer seems to base his claims on his opinions, not statistical data. There were no questions within the Pew Survey to determine if someone was nominal. Within the group of those who are “unaffiliated with a church”, fewer of them claim that religion was important. But there is no mention they were ever affiliated with the Catholic or Mainline church.

    While I don’t think the sky is falling. I do think there is a problem within churches in the United States. Here is another perspective I mentioned above.

    Research by Sociologist Josh Packard, and Ashleigh Hope identified the Dones. This group is the most disturbing (in my opinion) since many of them are actually former leaders in church communities. They are leaving the church too. These people cannot be characterized as nominal.

    According to Gallup, church attendance is only 4 out of 10 on a weekly basis. Is this really okay with church leadership? Also according to Gallup, in 1952 75% of people said that religion was important to them. Today only 56% make that claim. Again nothing in their data identify who was nominal and who wasn’t.

    While I understand change is hard for both leaders and constituents, I think the statistics warrant the attention of each group that there is a problem. I understand leaders want to be good stewards of what they have, but I also know that it is hard for leaders to relinquish even a modicum of control. I hope we can start listening to those who have left the church, understand why, and begin long over due conversations, and perhaps figure out a way forward through prayer, reconciliation, and humility.

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