The Kinds of Pastors We Need and The Future of Evangelicalism in N America

The future of the traditional evangelical church as I see it is:
a.) mega churches continuing to grow, consolidating what is left of the Christendom populations, providing a traditional church services to the shrinking masses of already existing Christians and lapsed Christians coming back into the fold,

b.) smaller churches of under 200 slowly dying and eventually closing, and

c.) the birthing of new missional communities through  either seeding new missionary communities or transitioning (the aforementioned) dying small churches into vibrant places of mission.

The fact is according to statistics approx. 20% of all existing evangelical churches are heading into category a.) 80% into category b.) and there is alot of church planting going on (that I can’t quantify) that looks like c.). I am not optimistic that alot of transitioning is going on from churches in b.) category to becoming more like c.).  Does this experience jive with your observations? the statistics in your denomination?

If the above is true, the kinds of pastors we will need the most will be those who can lead category c.). We of course will still need the polished smooth speaker-CEO’s that can lead the largest of mega churches. These churches will continue to survive in providing the kind of church that fits in with the increasingly busy market driven lives of the traditional suburban evangelical. Whatever you might think of these forms of church life, the reality is that these large mega centers are good at making Christianity work for already existing Christians. They lack the flexibility however (and the cultural dynamic)to engage the many less affluent unreached contexts of the West. If the church is to engage the growing contexts of post Christendom West for mission, we will need more of churches in category c.) and pastors to lead these missionary enterprises.

These pastors will be:






This all leads me to suggest that the church that is left in N America should throw the bulk of its resources in training pastors for the work of churches in category c.), or the work of transitioning churches in b.) to c.). Just as the Irish monastaries saved civilization from the takeover of the barbarians in the 4th century Western Europe, so it will be the spread of these kind of self sustaining missional communities over the continent to breed a new witness of the Spirit and the harvesting of a whole new generation of  Christians, participants in God’s Kingdom life. If you ask me, the N American church should spend a significant part of its resourses and efforts in training missionary pastors to lead these kind of missional communities to inhabit all the places deserted by the wealth of mega churches for here is where the life of the Spirit “in Christ” shall breath again, where God shall bring forth new life to transform our society until he comes. I said this all back here in this piece. This is my take on where seminaries should go, and where church resources should go before it is too late. What say you?

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41 responses to “The Kinds of Pastors We Need and The Future of Evangelicalism in N America

  1. [email protected] says:

    Professor (and pastor) Darrell Johnson used to open his course on Re-evangelism at Regent College by recounting a dream he once. He was standing within the ruined walls of a great church after an apparent disaster. The place was demolished except for the pulpit, upon which sat the open Bible.
    Since returning to the mission field in Europe, I've compiled a growing list of church buildings that actually fit this description (often sans pulpit). But as in Johnson's dream, my feeling as I stand in these places is more often gratitude than despair. It seems to me that as the structures we use to buttress the gospel gain size, they develop their own gravitational pull which quite often competes with the christological/missional gravitation that started the whole thing.

    The gospel outlives all our attempts to protect it or market it. Even in some of the most secular, post-Christian enclaves small communities are seeking to live this out in missional engagement. I've also seen small churches – most often rural or inner city – on both side of the Atlantic who, faced either with a slow death or absorption into the "mega-market", are striving to stay engaged with their neighborhood.

    The mega churches can have category a). I wish them the best but I wouldn't want to be there. I'm a lot more sympathetic with the folks in category c). But keep in mind that there are existing congregations who want transition from b to c and need the kind of pastors you speak of. It's not as clean as a church plant, but boy is it a good place to be. I'm not ready to jump ship just yet.

  2. [email protected] says:

    The current state of evangelicalism is more complex and more enmeshed with popular culture than this one post can describe. i hope we all recognize that. Having said that, I concur with most of your projections, David. However, I would add that (and hope that) the organic, missional movement will return to the place in society from whence it came: from the margins speaking prophetically into the center; the evangelical hermeneutic, which mega-churches will continue to move from the sublime to the ridiculous, assumes that our goal is to speak politically from the center out to the edges.
    Secondly, I challenge your insistence on seeing the coming generations of pastoral/apostolic leadership through the lens of christendom. The question with which we must wrestle is not, "can house churches support professional clergy?," but rather "should house churches support professional clergy?" The problem we face in our present cultural milieu (both inside and outside of the church) is that the more we look like traditional evangelicalism, the more those assumptions–and the toxic problems they create and sustain with no internal solutions–remain. Freedom from the cultural bondage of christendom is not found in reducing salaries and eliminating mortgages. It is not financial. It is found in a new/ancient, frightening and costly paradigm that necessarily moves us away from the familiar landscape of North American evangelicalism and its consumer hermeneutic.

  3. On target.
    The church I lead is in "B" and we're trying to go to "C" but because we are still carrying the baggage from trying to be a traditional church (building debt, my salary) I don't know if we'll be able to stabilize or whether we'll succumb.

    Trying to let the Spirit lead. We'll see.

    1. Me too…we should trade notes!

      1. email me, I'd love to have other pastors to help me guide through this difficult change
        davidDOTwilsonATgmailDOTcom and replace the caps with normal punctuation

  4. In the wake of the "mega churches" I am finding people like floating bodies bobbing in the sea of change; some just are unable or unwilling to adapt. Because of that, the smaller church may survive longer than many would think; they minister best in that wake. It is possible that those ministering in those situations will live on smaller salaries or as "tent makers". With that, as you stated, will rise smaller, home-based community groups which may not be tracked or identifiable (perhaps that is what you meant as part of "c". Christendom as a whole, I agree, will swallow up most of the "disenfranchised" through some continued growth of the "mega church".
    As the influence of society and government change, I expect the "mega church" explosion to implode on itself as it will become as cumbersome to change as the earlier, "traditional" church.

    The need for denominations will go the way of "unions"; they will be no longer relevant. I do not mean to denigrate unions, but they provide a good, anecdotal parallel to our transitioning culture and the lost role for large, representative groups.

  5. [email protected] says:

    I'm stuck in a B church… Help me find someone to make it a C!

    1. [email protected] says:

      I don't think a "B" church can become a "C" church. That is unless you are willing to take the 20% (at most) that truly share your vision, let the other 80+% go, get a job, understand that 50% of your 20% will leave when they realize the change they actually bought into, and go from there.

  6. To turn your b church into a c church, your b church has to become (or already be latent) c people. If they're transplanters who have been in normal Sunday church their whole lives… good luck!

  7. I fit the target of your proposition (attending seminary with a missional degree and focus), I am employed outside of the church, and I am more of a Clock Maker than a Time Teller (to borrow from Jim Collins). Right now I am part of a type A church, and mostly through neighborhood and small communities within the church working towards groups of C aligned ministries within the church. While the whole church is likely to persist in it's A trajectory, there is room within an A church for several C type groups to evolve (and perhaps someday become the majority).
    The challenge for A churches is when they have C type groups if they embrace and cultivate them, or do they push them out the door?

    1. [email protected] says:

      I am currently on the fringes of an A type church, but connecting and walking in C type organic community. All the while we attend the A Sunday centric meeting. I have done this 3x in 10 years now, the previous 2x our C community grew dramatically as we focused on our mission field and worked it. The challenge came when the A leadership began imposing on us some traditions that were not our narrative. The result, the community became institutionalized and a majority of those we led to faith and developed friendships with, moved to other B type churches.
      I believe that The Church is ABC there is no separation. C type communities can operate at the forefront of B type Churches and B type churches can be partnered with several other B type churches to provide a context for an A type Sunday Centric Gathering.

      Maybe that is just a dream of mine, maybe I am deluded. Who knows, I just want to see people come to faith in Jesus, and become Christ followers. Isn't that the bottom line?

  8. Amen. I would add, or clarify, that seminaries (and the church) also need to adopt the language of the apostle to go with the prevailing pastoral mindset (Eph 4:11). The reality is, what you are talking about will require an apostolic framework that looks radically different than the environment of a typical "pastor." A,B, and C above all need to identify, equip and support apostles, and submit to their mutual authority as they develop new ways of embedding the DNA of the kingdom into increasingly post-Christian soil.

  9. [email protected] says:

    Why that picture of Osteen?

    1. fitchest@gmail.com [email protected] says:

      I think the picture evokes the question for me in bold contrast, what kind of pastors do we need?

  10. [email protected] says:

    That is an effectively succinct overview of where we are and where we seem to be going. I am a pastor of a B church that is actively moving to C and I can't imagine a more exciting place to be. I am really thankful for the list of pastoral characteristics that you put out there because they were very affirming to the goals we have been working towards.
    The biggest challenge for my church in this transition has been my continual effort to give over my authority. They church has always been an outside the box church in ministries, but very traditional in its pastoral roles. We have no transitioned to a place where there is not a single ministry in the church that needs me to function. Even when I am gone from worship the lay people can handle it well.

    When lay people talk to me about ministries they want to do or things they want to see happen I have taken to telling them, "Hey this is your church, I just work here.,"

  11. fitchest@gmail.com [email protected] says:

    Bob,I think we agree … could you clarify for me "I challenge your insistence on seeing the coming generations of pastoral/apostolic leadership through the lens of christendom." … just trying to learn here. What specifically did I say that would insist on seeing the future pastors under the lens of Christendom? (although I somewhat doubt we can nor should escape entirely everything Christendom). I would probably differ with you in minimizing just how much of church structures and problems with mission revolve around "money" or at least the way the church has become incestuous in its relationship to capitalist understandings of money. I think however that might be what you're getting at?

  12. [email protected] says:

    I like this. It kind of made me wonder though, if we should rethink seminary. If one of the things pastors need to be is resourceful enough to make their own living, then don’t they need training for that? I went to seminary to pastor a church and that is all I know how to really do. If this new breed of pastors needs to make their own way while shepherding a missional community, I think we need to train them differently. Maybe (and I know this hits close to home here), these new kinds of pastors ought not take PhD and DMin programs at seminaries in Missional Leadership, but go back and get training in another field in which they can work. The training that is needed for the pastorate could take place through relationships with older pastor/mentors and through gatherings like the Missional Learning Commons and Ecclesia Network. Maybe a shorter, less costly “Institute” program could be created for training of missional pastors.
    Just thinking aloud here and in response to your post. But if the nature of the church and the pastor must change, maybe the way they are trained must change too.

    1. [email protected] says:

      Absolutely agree!

  13. At 57,I'm going back to school to get credentialed to teach. If our transitioning church is going to make it, we need to all be in ministry together and connecting our exterior networks to the Body. As full time pastor, even though I'm leading our people out, I'm stuck "in."
    I think a multi-elder all bivo staff that intentionally grows satellite communities as part of the DNA is the future of the missional neighborhood church and while I could run out my last years in the status quo, I'm increasingly frustrated by the limits placed on our effectiveness.

    If the seminaries would equip not just theologically but in partnership with other universities to equip graduates to earn a living that will support a family and be transportable it would really help. I attended a denom seminary (NOBTS) and an online one (Rockbridge) and either could do this, if they would.

    1. Are any seminaries telling incoming MDiv students that they must prepare to be bi-vocational? In our Reformed mainline tradition we require so much education to be ordained, I don't see change anytime soon. In our presbytery, we are closing one church after another. Transitioning B to C seems unlikely with Boomer and Builder life-long Christian folk. I hope I am wrong

  14. I'm a "c" pastor in a "b" church. Transitioning to a "c" church I've found is not probable, but it is possible, certainly with the Holy Spirit's leadership and some desperate people. My experience tells me that when Christians are desperate for a missional expression of their faith, they will walk through fire to be the church. When they are comfortable or holding on to the past for dear life, it is next to impossible to transition.

  15. [email protected] says:

    Timely post David,
    However, I don't think you should have lumped both "birthing" and "transitioning" missional communities into category C. The "birthing," while still very necessary, is over emphasized (at least in my circles) to the detriment of congregations ready for transition and in need of would-be missional church planters.

    I think that many of these smaller, older congregations have already begun the transition on their own (disenfranchisement with the old paradigm) and are now waiting for leaders from the younger generation to take them where they want to go. Some of these older churches still have a pool of available resources that younger churches can only dream of. Also, these older congregations are closer to an intergenerational witness as a sign of the gospel whereas the seeded communities will take at least a generation before that happens (if they can break the cycle of age sectarianism).

  16. […] David Fitch from “Reclaiming the Mission” has written a thought-provoking post called “The Kinds of Pastors We Need and the Future of Evangelicalism in N America.” […]

  17. [email protected] says:

    There are churches that have arisen in the past ten or so years and are thriving that don't quite seem to fit the paradigm. They are a bit larger (300-800), but well shy of mega-church levels, and are characterized by vibrant small/house/neighborhood groups which are extremely relational; an ability to be (and be known as) safe places to encounter the gospel and walk it out in the uniqueness of your life and situation; prolific church planting (which may well explain why they do not grow to mega church levels of attendance); and a willingness to work with other christian traditions and include people from many traditions.
    As far as qualities needed by pastors, I would add:
    -personal emotional health and transparency
    -an ability to identify with the other (in or out of the church) and meet them where they are

    Both are vital for modeling and nurturing real community consisting of a variety of individuals without the individual being swallowed into the group. A church won't produce what a pastor isn't clearly modeling in his relationships with those both within and without the church.

  18. [email protected] says:

    Largely agree. Your comments leave out large influxes of immigrant churches and God's Spirit.
    Yes, I believe there will continue to be some big flagships, but megachurches don't all face glorious futures. Many were built around a leader in fast growing affluent suburbs–where the population now ages–ethnic populations move in–and the megachurches will leave about ten years after the shopping mall closes.

    Leadership is going to come from the ground. Have you noticed the state of journalism?? Why in an information age are the traditional news mediums strained and dying? This is not only the future, but the present, of leadership education for Kingdom enterprise. Seminaries think they are retrofitting but they are way to reactive and way too slow. They will prepare the right leaders when they stop being what they have been.

    Look for lots of multi-site congregations and multi-purpose congregations/sites. Many traditional worship sites will become mosques. Many more ministry/community centers housing multiple congregations or ministries–integrated with other land uses (housing–commercial–public).

    Some large and some small churches will transition. They will all have to get "outside of the box" they know.

  19. fitchest@gmail.com [email protected] says:

    Dave R.,I believe … and this from observation … that informal un-conference formats have not been able to accomplish the task of theological preparation. I believe, now more than ever, because of the cultural challenges, preparation in NT, OT, the theological questions, the history of Christian doctrine (Nicea, Chalcedon etc.) is essential … The picture on this post is testimony (to me)as to what happens without theological reflection … Having said that, everyone .. and I mean everyone … is talking about newer, cheaper, contextualized means of making that education possible …

  20. [email protected] says:

    Scott: A group of missional practitioners of which I am part in Fort Wayne, Indiana is putting the finishing touches on a 24-month internship to help try and bridge the very gap you mentioned. And as the good Dr Fitch has said, this is not to give a complete theological training, but rather to take pastors, missionary candidates and missional leaders and clarify intellectually and practically how their theology can be best leveraged in the new paradigm. I forsee many of these kinds of regional "institutes" springing up.
    David: I am warmed by the sheer numbers of thinking people who are grasping and implementing the concepts of the missio dei as opposed to church growth. What routinely strikes me, though, is how inculturated evangelicalism is. I think, for instance, that it is nearly impossible to transition an existing congregation into a missional fellowship precisely because of our profoundly deep cultural assumptions of what "church" is. As soon as professional clergy appear on the scene, those assumptions dig in and don't let go. So instead of spending your time trying to convince people that you are just like them (when you really aren't), why not go get a job and become like them? It is a great assumption-killer and a huge boost to the integrity of the organic impetus.

  21. [email protected] says:

    Dave,Thanks for these words. I need to read something like this every week or two to remind myself that I'm not insane for trying to do what we're doing. (Well, I might be insane, but it's a good reminder that what we're trying to do is necessary.)

    1. [email protected] says:

      John, I'll join you in the insanity camp.

  22. I think you are on target, David. The mega-church will continue to thrive due to the Wal-Martization of the American church. But as you have pointed out, the continued "success" of the mega-church will be largely due to the absorbtion of people from other churches that close or are declining. This may work out for another generation, but eventually the house of cards will begin to come down as the aging mega-church dies off.
    The Amercian version of the great church cathedrals of European Christendom that are now museums will be sprawling church centers along the freeway turned business park.

  23. […] about the way in which he foresees the future of the evangelical church in America unfolding here. It seems like a pretty good guess, and if he’s right, his suggestions for pastoral training […]

  24. [email protected] says:

    Sorry about that.. seems to have pasted the whole comment twice when I refreshed something. Doesn't seem like I can edit though.

  25. [email protected] says:

    I think you did a much better job communicating one of my thoughts, that those who realize that last generation's methods don't work anymore often won't consider seminary*. And when they (you) do consider seminary, many will determine that the cost, time, and distance of seminary may turn some away from that decision. It is at least a very difficult decision to make.

    * my other point that I think I also whiffed on is this paradox. If a serious problem in the N. American church is trying to live in a christendom context when our postmoder culture is not, how can the solution be a seminary which in itself is a hallmark of christendom.

    As an alternative consider http://toag.net/. This is an apprenticeship model. To this model varying degrees of academic rigor could be applied. TOAG is not geared toward a N. American context, but the model is a good one.

  26. I'm in a transitional church now that has been trying to go from "b" to "c" but it is a hard row to hoe. We're still largely dependent on the work of a few motivated people to get things done. We still have lots of inertia pulling us toward Christendom practices. We are at a really crossroads, and this post really doesn't reassure me at all. Should I just abandon all the "b" churches, since they are doomed to failure?
    If transitioning from "b" to "c" requires everyone to be desperate for a missional expression of faith (as Jay Lewis says), how is that possible in a real church full of diverse members? I've never been a part of a church that has everyone on board and committed. Isn't that good? Don't we want to be welcoming all who come along side us, even if they are only dipping their toe in the water, so to speak?

    Does anyone else have experience in transitioning? What are your experiences?

  27. I am in the process of applying to seminaries and I am dragging my feet the whole way because of a) the fear of the debt you mentioned & b) the intention of being in the 'c' community I wonder about its relevancy or need. Living in the 'information age' do I really need to go to a seminary for the education? Probably not. Do I need the 'experience' of seminary, which might prepare me for 'church work' on the outside, not so sure the seminary will be able to give me anything I couldn't get on my own within a community.

  28. […] church is a fad, the traditional church is dying, and may die altogether one day (see this article for a deeper insight).  Europe has set a precedent on this point.  The majority of traditional […]

  29. […] say a sense of identity as a revolutionary, a Jesus radical. The kind of pastor I tried to describe HERE. To me Jason, Jenell and Jamie ( to what degree I know them which is only through blog world) […]

  30. […] say a sense of identity as a revolutionary, a Jesus radical. The kind of pastor I tried to describe HERE. To me Jason, Jenell and Jamie ( to what degree I know them which is only through blog world) […]

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