Originally Posted Tuesday, October 4, 2022
Making a case that churches and church leaders got an especially brutal pummeling during pandemic and lockdown would be a snap. Even in the long post-lockdown era the beating continues for many pastors. During the worst of it, criticism was of the unanswerable variety - "damned if you do, damned if you don't". Bruise-free quarterbacking from armchair safe spaces - always a favorite spectator sport of the ill-informed - slopped over into unlicensed amateur postmortems from every in-print and online publication, highbrow to low, loudly sacred to proudly secular. All children of Nostradamus confidently predicted, and sometimes welcomed, the certain decline and death of the deficient, deflated, defective American church.
Led by smart kids in lofty think-tank high places, generously lotioned TV talking heads and cautious officials in shiny, tastefully decorated denominational low places, rising ranks of screeching church quitters, like all good mob members, grabbed pitchforks and muskets on cue, and in the best call-and-response tradition, laid all failures, declines and missteps of the American church at the feet of tired local pastors.
After three years without much R&R or any hazard pay, this now punchy bunch, already carrying most of the baggage while dodging a slew of slings and arrows with no fortunes, outrageous or otherwise anywhere in sight, started cracking up. Sagacious pipers deafened by their own loud tune and their armed child followers predictably shooting their own eye out, somehow managed to unhear and overlook a lot of decent pastors and families in deep crisis. The same decent ladies and men dedicated to warning them of the unforgiving cliffs ahead.
Budgets and attendance took a hit and many shell-shocked church leaders haven't seen a bounce-back even close to pre-Covid levels. As former church attenders, now out of the habit, stubbornly stayed away, many pastors walked away. Some who still remain live with the daily near nausea of fear and self-doubt that's part of going down with a sinking ship. Many more would quit if they could and tens of thousands will end up quitting even if they can't. Walking away from a life's work will exact a crushing emotional and psychological toll on good people who've been lifelong learners, acquiring specialized and often undervalued skills, typically at great personal cost. The ripple effect on families and communities is not measurable. The loss of spiritual capital and plain old know-how will likely have a crippling effect that can't be contained within church walls.
This is the very real backdrop to questions beat-up pastors are asking each other. I know because I talk with them.
Is God pruning the church?
Is God pruning the pastorate?
Is traditional ministry shifting or is it dying?
What will happen when many pastors, like many attenders, simply quit?
Can the American church survive? Should it?
In a few posts, Toto will join me as we grip the curtain with our teeth, pulling it back so you can see something important you're probably missing and may be contributing to - the frantic flailing of the little wizards who are trying to hold things together at the church down the street.