Have Changes in How We Minister Changed the Church?

Josh Ivy, a sharp young pastor on the 12Stone staff team asked me an intriguing question last week:

What changes have taken place in the way we “minister” over the past 40 years?

After first reminding him that I’m not quite old enough to recall back forty years in ministry, we laughed and I dug into the question.

The following are my thoughts in response to the question, and later I began to consider if these differences have actually changed the church as we know it. The point is that if the leaders have changed how ministry gets done, has the church changed as well?

Josh Ivy

Here are 4 changes I’ve observed in how we do ministry over the last thirty years:

1) Technology

The impact of technology has dramatically changed how we minister. It’s changed how we serve, lead and radically reshaped the expectations of both staff and congregation. The resulting time compression is toward the top of the list. 30 years ago, I might receive 50 pieces of mail in a month. Today I get 50 emails in the morning, all from people who want or expect a reply. Speed always impacts relationships. You simply can’t microwave a relationship of any kind. The congregation is busier as well, so “the church” has much less time to work with per person.

Technology has changed the models for church and how we staff them. For example, the multi-site model relies completely on state-of-the-art HD production and when the power goes off, so does church! Technology has huge benefits from online sermons to social media marketing. But there are some losses too, it’s more challenging for the church to stay personal.

2) Blended Families

In the late seventies to early eighties, step-families were a reality but not a category of current culture. The term “step” became a seemingly cold term and then no longer politically correct. Today it’s nearly an industry. It’s such a part of the fabric that there are books, conferences, church programming, and counselors who specialize in blended families.

The obvious ministry impact deals with marriage and divorce and remarriage. Remarriage is one of the most complex issues to deal with, forcing pastors to seemingly choose “grace” or “law” in their approach. My family is blended, my parents divorced when I was eight. My mom remarried and I have a step-brother, but I see him as my brother. I understand the implications personally and as a pastor. When you add time compression to blended families, the normal rates of stress are up overall, and pastors must help negotiate the complexities.

3) Culture Shift

Thirty years ago, no one was discussing same sex bathrooms in church buildings. Pastors weren’t concerned about being attacked and called a “hater” for not marrying a same sex couple. Non-profit tax exemptions were not being challenged, social media didn’t replay every word the pastor spoke, and whether or not someone could bring a gun in a church was simply not part of anyone’s conversation.

The strong litigious overtones with accompanying fears of being “sued for anything” has caused some understandable hesitancy, if not flat out fear. This sometimes results in pastors and church leaders being less confident and less bold in their leadership. This can be discouraging, but I see the bright side. These may be troubling times, but the church is needed now more than ever. We have an incredible opportunity to rise up as a light to the darkness and bring hope to a suffering world.

4) Global Awareness

The local church has always known a strong emphasis in foreign ministry (missions) but has not simultaneously been as globally aware. Twenty-five to thirty years ago, mission work was focused and targeted. Great work was accomplished in specific areas without necessarily knowing what was occurring in other countries, or how it’s all connected.

That has significant implications on the larger picture of effective ministry. Today global awareness is essential. A real time global awareness is necessary to remain relevant and understand how cultures, economies and governments are connected and how best to make a difference. Even stateside, issues from poverty to social justice are difficult to keep up without consistent awareness. For example, attempting to defeat sex-trafficking without a global understanding yields modest results at best.

These are only four change factors, and hints at the implications. What would you add? I’d love to read your comments.

2 thoughts on “Have Changes in How We Minister Changed the Church?”

  1. I have only been in ministry 15 years but several years back I went to a young adult Bible study. The leader said, “ok, now pull out your bibles.” Not one paper Bible made an appearance! Phones, tablets and mac books popped up all around me. I think Bible apps have really changed things as well. Want 20 translations? No problem. Don’t like reading? There are several great options for listening to an audio bible. Can’t quite remember where the verse was that’s just on the tip of your tongue? Google it. I’m sure that there are positive and negative impacts of this… but I love the fact that my congregation is always carrying around God’s word with them on their phone. I love the insane amount of free devotionals available with just a few clicks. The scriptures have never been more accessible or easily understandable. I believe that’s a good thing.

    Great article as always, Dan!

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