A Pastor’s World

My family and I returned from St. Louis is pretty good shape for the most part. The Gateway City is a beautiful place and yes, I did get to go up the 630 feet to the top of the Arch. Cally and Lucy travelled with me on the five minute trip to the top. It was an amazing view to say the least, and I’m glad to have made the trip. I’m sure we’ll travel I-44 again soon to visit.

The Associated Press came out with an article recently that deals with things that face pastors around the world. The information came from the Baptist World Alliance annual gathering in Prague a few weeks ago.  The BWA has been tracking the health of its pastors and presented a report which indicated the differing challenges that face them. It appears that the region of the pastor has something to do with the kinds of difficulties that he or she must face.

North American pastors, for example, are dealing with an increasingly apathetic society as it relates to the church. David Laubach, one of the presenters at the BWA, indicated that pastors in North America are dealing with the survival of their churches. According to Laubach, 75 percent of U.S. churches are plateaued or declining. The other 25 percent are having growth at the expense of other congregations; in other words not new members but people “moving their membership” from one church to the other. He also said that only 1 percent of churches are growing by reaching the unchurched people groups. So, the number one challenge facing North American churches is SURVIVAL.

Harlan and Joan Spurgeon are serving a church in England until December. He’s the interim pastor right now, and keeps in touch with our church through his newsletter “The Zion Chronicle.” Harlan mentioned the spiritual apathy of the people and noted two Anglican churches for sale in the area. His concern is that the U.S. may be heading down this darkened path unless renewal takes place. I mention this to emphasize the previous point that churches are declining and this is reality. Even the largest Protestant denomination in the world, the Southern Baptist Convention, admitted that they too are a people in decline.

While survival is one challenge some pastors face, fortunately there are other kinds of problems out there. Baptists in Eastern Europe, for example, are experiencing rapid growth but cannot keep up with it in terms of providing church leadership. Teodor Oprenov commented on the difficulty of being a Baptist pastor in this part of the world: “The challenge in Bulgaria isn’t the post-modernist philosophy feared by many Western theologians, but rather the post-communist philosophical vacuum left among the general populace. They don’t believe in God, but are waiting to be told what to do.”

Pastors in Eastern Europe seem to be blessed with a good problem in the sense that there is a genuine hunger for the things of God. Survival might be an issue for them but it seems to be more related to having enough trained pastors and other church officials to provide for a growing number of converts to the faith. Theirs too is a theological problem, but hopefully over time there will be enough leadership to accomodate the questions of new believers.

Latin American pastors face challenges as well, according to Rachael Contreras. The head of Chilean Baptists, Contreras also noted the growth among churches but noted a more significant issue facing them: poverty. Pastors in this part of the world tend to be poorly trained and consequently poor in an economic sense as well.  In describing pastors, Contreras said that “their income is very low compared to the people in his church and society in general. He will live in a society in which everyone has a car, but he won’t. Others will have houses, but he will not. He will live in a parsonage. Not having a place to live in retirement, he will preach until he dies.”

These are the challenges facing pastors around the world: survival of their churches, growth issues, and poverty.

All I’ve ever known is what I’ve faced in North America. These challenges are no less real, but it does make me wonder about all the time that churches spend getting their own members to attend. Especially as it compares to other parts of the world where food, clothing, and shelter are everyday concerns. I don’t recall ever truly being worried about missing a meal or not having anything to wear. The clothes might not be the newest, but they are far superior to what many of my pastor colleagues have to choose from south of the border.

Pastors on this continent, at least this one, is truly blessed. Reading this article helps put things into perspective when I’m trying to figure out how to handle the next “crisis” that comes my way. Being a pastor is a tough assignment, and I’ve come to have an even greater appreciation for what other pastors face in other parts of the world.

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