Lately I’ve been hearing from a lot of Millennial-generation ministers in the Free Will Baptist Church who are getting burnt out on the market-driven model of church still being celebrated in certain segments of evangelicalism. These are younger ministers who, as recent surveys have shown, prefer the organic over the organizational, depth over shallowness, doctrine over pop psychology and self-help, substance over style, and shepherd over CEO.
As I mentioned in a recent blog, they’re a part of a generation, two-thirds of whom prefer traditional over modern church architecture and prefer the adjective “classic” to “trendy” to describe their approach to church. This is backed up by recent studies by Barna, LifeWay, and Gallup. (I cite this not because I think there’s one “sanctified” church architecture, but because it shows that studies of Millennials explode the myth some in my generation still seem to believe—that all younger people like their church experience to be like their coffee shop experience: “hip and trendy.”)
Frankly, if it weren’t for all the studies, I’d be surprised by how many of these young ministers complain about the Gen-Xers in my generation who don’t get them, who prefer CEO’s over shepherds as the model for modern ministry. The last several conversations I’ve had like this have led me to mention a book I’ve been reading by Harold Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart. The book’s publisher, Lexham, has also published a practical ministry strategy manual by Senkbeil in its Lexham Ministry Guides series entitled Church Leadership and Strategy: For the Care of Souls.
The sorts of things this 70-year-old pastor says about ancient, organic ways of shepherding God’s flock offer a more sustainable model than the CEO approach to church leadership that seems to be failing so many pastors who’ve tried it. These sorts of things resonate with these young people who desire to invest themselves in more organic, sustainable ways of life rather than the throwaway disposability of contemporary secular culture.
I still haven’t finished the book; I’ll let you know what I think of it when I do. I wondered what it would be like to read this conservative Lutheran pastor (with whom I have obvious ecclesiological differences). But his aim is to write in such a way that conservative Christians across denominational lines can benefit from it, and it has endorsements from well-known Baptists and people from a host of other denominational backgrounds. The thing that stands out the most about it is that much of it reminds me of the biblical wisdom I’ve heard from treasured personal mentors of mine in ministry—people like L. V. Pinson (my grandfather), Leroy Forlines, Melvin Worthington, and Lewis Williams (my pastoral predecessor in Colquitt, Georgia).
So I was surprised when this book I’d been reading was receiving so much positive press at the very same time when so many people in my own generation in certain quadrants of the church are still rehearsing the corporate and market-oriented models of pastoring. The Gospel Coalition has lauded this book as one of the best books on pastoring in a long time. It won the “Best Ministry Book of 2019” award from Christianity Today magazine. A number of well-known Christian leaders have promoted the book. There’s all this praise for a book that is simply discussing the time-honored, classic pastoral tradition that was handed down to me by the ministry mentors who shaped me.
I was listening to an interview with Senkbeil by Dan Darling last week, on his ERLC podcast “The Way Home.” I thought the readers of this blog, including many young pastors who are trying to find their way toward a biblical, authentic, sustainable ministry in a world of gimmicks and “get-big-quick” schemes, would find it intriguing. Here it is.
Editor Addendum: Senkbeil’s book is currently for sale at a discounted price at Westminster Seminary’s online bookstore.
This book sounds like a good recommendation. I’m going to read it.
Thanks Bro. Pinson
I really want to read this book. Thanks Dr. Pinson. This is much needed in our culture today. I’m going to order it.
Dr. Pinson draws our attention to an excellent point in this essay. It is certainly true that ministers get burnt out on market-driven models of church, and I also think it is equally exhausting for active church members. We find a much more sustainable approach to church in the Scriptures that involve a simpler organic methodology.
If we opt for this more organic approach to ministry, we need to cultivate among our people a culture of hospitality as exemplified by the earliest Christians in the book of Acts. Rosaria Butterfield’s latest book, “The Gospel Comes with a House Key,” does a great job of describing what this should look like for Christians today. It doesn’t involve anything new and novel but simply urges believers to be good Christians.
More important than sustainability, though, is the fact that the Gospel is most visible when we are willing trust in the model of ministry we see in the Scriptures. The market-driven/consumeristic approach to ministry inevitably leads to communities of people with similar tastes. But if we rely on the approach to love one another despite our differences, and if we come together over our shared faith in the Gospel, the Gospel will be more attractive to non-believers than any approach that depends on our gimmicks or creativity.
I really really liked Sankbiel’s book. It’s written in the Lutheran context, but there is so so much to apply here for shepherding. It’s really super helpful in how pastors communicate the gospel to their people in times of suffering or toward patterns of sin. I can’t recommend a book more highly.
This work sounds like an excellent recommendation. Pinson’s follow up article adds a practical next-step recommendation for those that recognized the cogency of his most recent work here at FWBtheology on church growth and the Christian tradition.