I started pastoring in the spring of 1981. The world was different then. The things we faced were still numerous and often difficult, but we would not have considered then that we would someday face issues like:
- Doing worship services online. We didn’t even know what on-line was then, and we wouldn’t have thought about online worship services even if we had known.
- Significant challenges of gender, marriage, etc. I needn’t list or explain all the issues here. Suffice it to say that we likely would not have believed you if you had said in the 80s that all these issues were coming.
- The world and its faiths now in our neighborhoods and at our church doorstep. This issue is actually a good one—if we see it that way—for God has put prospects for the gospel in our ministry field.
- Increasing opposition to the church within the US. We don’t face what much of the world faces—yet—but the opposition is not going to lessen.
- Unprecedented access to the world via the Internet. Again, this is a positive, in my opinion. With a keystroke, we can engage people around the world with the gospel.
- Doing and being church during a global pandemic. My guess is that most of us didn’t know what a pandemic is back then. Now, the world knows.
- Serious congregational and personal friendship divisions over political and social issues. Sure, we wrestled with issues back then, too, but the public nature of these conflicts now is greater than we would have expected.
- Growing numbers of pastoral retirements, open pulpits, and closed churches. All were happening then, too, but not at the rate we see today. Back then, we baby boomer pastors didn’t think about how our numerous retirements and resignations would affect the church.
- Laity-level Internet-based comparison of pastors with other well-known preachers. This reality makes preaching even more difficult, as I’ve written previously. Forty years ago, the number of TV and radio preachers to whom our members had access was much smaller than the number of preachers to whom they have access today.
- Increasing numbers of social media-publicized defections from the faith. They were happening then, but the defections were hardly publicized as they are today. I doubt many of us then had conversations about people deconstructing their faith.
- Churches shifting to be “simple church,” focusing on smaller groups and offering fewer activities with intentionality and purpose. Back then, growing a megachurch was the goal for many of us. That’s the route you took then if you wanted to be recognized.
- Healthier churches “fostering” or “adopting” struggling, dying churches. We weren’t talking about churches walking alongside another church until they regain health (that is, “fostering” the church) or churches fully incorporating other congregations into their church (that is, “adopting” that church). I’m glad we’re having these discussions now.
You know, now that I think about it, I suspect every generation has faced surprises like these. Some of what is the norm for us now might have been surprising and challenging for earlier congregations, too. In your ministry experiences, what have you faced you never thought you would?