From 1990-1999, I served at Mt. Carmel & Midway Churches just outside of Monroe and since 1999 I’ve been here at Good Shepherd.
This time of year almost always gets me thinking about anniversaries, developments, and transitions.
And this year in particular I’ve been reflecting on the differences between full-time ministry in the early 1990s and today.
For sure some of the differences I perceive have to do with the different settings of ministry: small churches located adjacent to a small town as opposed to a large church straddling two states and three counties. Yet other differences have to do with people’s changing expectations of churches, pastors, and life.
So here goes . . . the top five differences in pastoral ministry between then (1990) and now (2012).
1. Secret-Keeping Vs. Therapy-Seeking. In the early 90s, people were loathe to share issues with anyone, especially a pastor in a church where everyone knows everyone else. The pastoral visitation I did — and I did a lot — generally featured conversations that were breezy and light. These days, people are much more comfortable talking about their trauma; in fact, they often predict the therapeutic answers that will come out of my mouth. I trace that development — and this is anecdotal & not scientific — to the influence of Oprah and the prevalence of recovery programs.
2. Corner Grocery Vs. Wal-Mart. When I received my ministry training in the late 1980s, I had almost no exposure to either mega churches or contemporary worship. I fully planned to be a chaplain of corner grocery store – type churches . . . a series of mid-sized United Methodist congregations doing ministry they way they’d done it for generations. Well, those days are behind us, for better and for worse. The concentration of church attendance into a few large churches is fine if you are a large church but perhaps not so good for the faith as a whole. We try our best here — with varying levels of success — to help a large church feel small. Or to make Wal-Mart feel like Al’s Corner Store.
3. Homogeneity Vs. Diversity. This is a marvelous development. The old mentality of “they have their church and we have our church” is now buried, dead, and out of the way. At least here in Southwest Charlotte. On the few occasions these days were I preach or teach in single race settings, it feels just plain wrong.
4. Couples Bring Their Children To Pre-Marital Counseling. A phenomenon asking for new levels of skill in telling the truth while speaking in love.
5. Avoiding Technology Vs. Harnessing Technololgy. When I began serving the churches in Monroe, VCRs were still viewed with some suspicion. So were ping pong tables. Today? Good Shepherd and the churches that surround us could barely function without the internet, projection systems, and online dialog. You know what I can’t imagine doing anymore? Stuffing newsletters into envelopes to mail them to everyone in the church. We hope to harness technology without being defined by it.