Digital ministry, entrepreneurial ministry, new ways to share faith, continued decline in traditional, congregational ministry.
So much change can feel overwhelming. But it doesn't have to!
Here's five (surprisingly simple) things clergy can do right to make the Future of Church sustainable. Some of them are fun!
1. Stop going to meetings
You heard me correctly!
Clergy, be honest - how much of your calendar right now is filled up with meetings? How many of those meetings are truly life-giving and spiritually essential? How many of them do you really want to be at? How many of them do you think your community members want to be at?
Reimagining ministry doesn't always have to be lofty or complicated. It can be asking the simple questions: 'Is this drawing me (or others) closer to God?' 'Is this how I'm called to serve the church?'
Lots of meetings feel like they have to happen because ... this is how they've always happened! Or because the bylaws say so. Much of what they accomplish could be done in an email, or a quick face-to-face with someone. Or they might not need to happen at all!
It could be time to revisit the bylaws - and the calendar - to look for more opportunities for joyful gatherings and less 'stuff' it feels like we have to do. Including meetings.
2. Stop working for no (or little) pay
'I don't need the money.'
'I'm not in ministry for the salary.'
'My congregation can't afford it.'
Whatever our reason for serving our ministry for little or no pay, it's not helping the Future of Church. Reimagining how we serve in sustainable ways is crucial. Otherwise, we risk losing clergy service altogether.
For every clergyperson who doesn't 'need' the money, there is another who does, who is not able to serve because a congregation is getting ministry for free.
And while many congregations can't afford salaries, but they can afford something. Finding ways to serve on contract supports ministry for all.
One of the main reasons church is in decline right now is that we can't afford to continue doing ministry the way we've always done it. But the answer is not to quit paying clergy. More clergy are quitting ministry because they can't pay their bills, and having fewer clergy is also a cause of church decline.
The answer is to find new ways for clergy to be paid, ways that are sustainable for congregations and other ministries. Part of this answer is for clergy to stop working for free.
3. Start defining your ministry
What do clergy do?
Beyond preaching and worship, this is a surprisingly hard question to answer. Free Range Priest has a list of common clergy tasks, to help us all remember and define how we're called to bear the Scripture, sacraments, and traditions of the Christian faith.
For a long time, ministry has been known as the last 'generalist' profession. We're basically called into one model - serving a congregation - and the service we provide is liturgical and pastoral, but also administrative and organizational. We basically do 'everything' that needs to be done for the community.
But it doesn't have to be that way - and increasingly, it isn't. Clergy, like those in the medical profession, can specialize. Maybe we're experts in spiritual gifts, or preaching, or discipleship journeys, or ancient faith practices.
We can define our ministry while serving with a congregation, or we can define our ministry as an individual 'faith practitioner'. Or we can do both!
Whatever we do, defining how we're called to serve helps open new ways to think about the Future of Church.
4. Have your own professional digital presence
Clergy, wherever you serve today, you will not be there forever!
Clergy generally serve in various places and ways across a vocational timeline. Even in the unlikely event that you serve one ministry for 30 years and then retire, you will likely preach at some special events elsewhere, keep a blog or make a video series or podcast, or in other ways have a pastoral presence outside of your current call.
It just makes sense to have your own professional digital presence - a website or at least one social media account, that is not connected to the congregation or other ministry you serve today.
You have your own ministry. At this time you may be serving that ministry alongside a community, but your ministry and theirs is not the same. Claiming your own voice and service is an important part of the Future of Church.
5. Wonder where God is in all of this
I know you're doing this already! Reimagining ministry means we can claim this as our primary task.
The world - and the church - are going through a time of rapid change. This is the time to remember that we've been trained for this. This is our job! To have faith in the midst of fear. To translate the Good News of Scripture to the times we find ourselves in. To love God and each other, even when it's hard. To encourage others to do the same.
We don't have to fix everything. We know we can't. We just have to follow Jesus towards resurrection, and call others to do the same. It's one thing that will never change, and the Future of Church depends on it.