10 Ways Pastoral Ministry Has Changed in 30+ Years

Few things stay the same over time, including pastoral ministry. I know my conclusions here are anecdotal, but the pastorate has changed in the 36 years I’ve been in full-time ministry. Here are some of those ways:

  1. Preaching is more expository. We preached the Bible years ago, but seldom in the systematic expository way that is common today.
  2. Pastoral care is more centered in small groups. My job expectation as a young pastor was to make every pastoral visit. Now, many churches are more open to pastors shepherding from the pulpit while small groups do the face-to-face ministry.  
  3. Pastoral leadership is more team-based. A renewed emphasis on a plurality of elders has fostered this change. Less common, albeit still out there, is the pastor who runs the show alone.
  4. Pastoral failures are much more widely known. The internet has created this reality. Seldom can a pastor or church hide a failure any more. 
  5. Bivocational pastorates are more accepted. Years ago, pastors were bivocational only because a church was not yet capable of paying a full-time salary. Now, more pastors see the bivocational role as an intentional missional calling.
  6. Pastors are giving more attention to intentional leadership skills. We talked about this issue years ago, but I’m hearing more pastors talk now about things like team-building, vision-casting, and staff discipling.
  7. More pastors are raised up within the same church. In my early days of ministry, I can think of no church who hired a pastor from within that church; instead, churches found their leaders externally. That’s changing, especially as congregations seek successors for long-term, retiring pastors.  
  8. Parsonages are less common. Immediately available housing on the church property was a “selling point” back then. Not so now, particularly as pastors think about home equity and the future.
  9. More future pastors are getting their theological training in a local church. Because of the availability of distance education, more leaders-to-be are remaining in a local church setting while getting their seminary education. A physical relocation to a seminary is no longer assumed.
  10. More seminary students are struggling under a call to pastoral ministry. Years ago, we young preachers waited quite impatiently to begin pastoring. Now, more students are less open to stepping immediately into a pastoral role. They often view themselves as unprepared for a senior pastoral role, and they would much prefer an internship or associate role at first. 

What are your thoughts about my list? What changes have you seen? 

19 Comments

  • There’s a greater expectation for faster communication with pastors through cell phones, texts, and social media.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    True. Thanks.

  • Jordan Villanueva says:

    The change from soul care such as counseling to what we have today which is referrals to the “professionals”

  • Josh says:

    I’ve noticed number 10 in my own life and many others whom feel called to pastoral ministry. Seems to be more common today.

  • I wonder if #10 might have at least a partial explanation in that many in the younger generation want mentors and to be discipled directly. This almost certainly means a local church position that is not the lead pastor, at least at first. Another issue could be one of fear of criticism, since the lead pastor takes the brunt of it–but I’m not so sure this is a major factor, since one should know that he will be criticized at any level of ministry leadership. Just some thoughts!

  • John W Carlton says:

    Many changes have taken place since I went into full time ministry back in 1971. I was a young and brash young man, eager to learn and wanting to further my education, but because of circumstances most of my training became OJT. In 1985 I went bivo, and I felt that I could contribute more to the church than i did as a full time associate minister. Doors of opportunity opened for me to share my faith with more and different people than over could have had I stayed in full time ministry..Thank you for your insight and blogs.

  • Darrel Davis says:

    Is #10 due to the fact that many churches are demanding more in the way of education and experience? I did things the old school way, started ministry, then started working on the education. I have yet to go to seminary but I am pastoring a small church.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      I don’t think that’s the reason. I think many have seen enough difficulties in the church that they’re not sure they want to tackle that calling without more practical training. 

  • Chris says:

    This list is indicative of health, the Lord’s movings. Thankful! I’d like to see the other side…your perspective/list on/of unhealthy changes. Pardon if you’ve done this already.

  • Shae says:

    #9 – although there are benefits to “staying local”, nothing beats the experience of being on campus with other people training for the ministry. There is also something to be said of putting everything on the line, stepping out in faith, and moving to a different location. You get a different view of the world by living in a new spot, and you’ll make friends with people from all over the globe too.

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