Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Pulpit and Pew

Among conservative evangelicals, very few pastors and laypeople realize how much money is being spent studying issues related to ministry. The Lilly Endowment Inc. has spent millions of dollars, trying figure out what has made Christian ministry "successful" in the past and how Christianity might flourish in the future. Much of their effort is an attempt to revitalize mainline Protestantism, which is losing ministers and members at an astonishing rate. But quite a bit of good work is resulting from these projects.

For example, the major Lilly project right now is Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE); in 2004, Covenant Seminary received a $2 million grant from SPE to fund the Center for Ministry Leadership, under the leadership of Bob Burns. Our efforts are directed toward discovering how to help more ministerial candidates sustain their ministries through their first five years. Already we have learned a great deal; Bob has written about this in an essay for the Seminary's 50th anniversary book, All for Jesus, which releases next month at General Assembly.

Another major Lilly funded project is the Pulpit and Pew Program at Duke University. Headed by Jackson Carroll, this program has funded intensive research into what makes "excellent" ministry, how churches select ministry leaders, how African American and Asian American churches develop ministry leaders, and so forth. They have also produced a number of significant books, published by Eerdmans.

One research report that was published in 2003 was on what lay people want in their pastors. Based on an intensive study of lay search committee chairs and regional judicatory leaders, the report concluded that the composite senior or solo pastor for which search committees look is a married man, with children, under age 40, in good health, with more than a decade of experience in ministry. Other characteristics include:
  • Demonstrated competence and religious authenticity
  • Good preacher and leader of worship
  • Strong spiritual leader
  • Commitment to parish ministry and ability to maintain boundaries
  • Available, approachable, and warm pastor with good "people skills"
  • Consensus builder, lay ministry coach, and responsive leader
  • Entrepreneurial evangelists, innovators, and transformational reflexive leaders.
What was striking in reading this report was the significant differences between what lay people want in their pastors and what church and denominational leaders believe pastors should be.
  • While lay people want their pastors to be thoroughly engaged in their lives, which could lead to emotional burnout, denominational leaders stress the importance of relational boundaries for sustaining ministry for the long haul.
  • While lay leaders say they want entrepreneurial leaders, they often don't want to undertake or think about the changes required for the future, changes pushed by denominational leaders.
  • While lay leaders want sermons that are personal and applicatory, denominational and seminary leaders tended to push sermons that reflected careful scholarship and organization.
All of this was quite striking. Quite a bit of the Pulpit and Pew material is thought-provoking; I recommend their research and findings very highly.


Clay Johnson said...

Regarding, "the report concluded that the composite senior or solo pastor for which search committees look is a married man, with children, under age 40, in good healt, with more than a decade of experience in ministry." This brings to mind a pithy response from Dr. Doriani to a student's question about the propriety of making married status a mandatory part of a particular ministerial job description. Dr. Doriani replied something to the effect of, "Well for starters, I wouldn't impose any requirements that Jesus couldn't meet." Heh.

David Shedden said...

Sean, thanks for your last two posts - especially your review of Noll. As for the reports on ministry - nevermind the 'married with kids' requirement, even putting that aside I pretty much fail to meet the standards required in the US of pastors! Think I'll consider that career as a train driver I had planned in case of ministerial burn out...