Lenexa, We have a problem

The message of the Church of the Nazarene is growing increasingly opposed to the message of the dominant culture in the USA/Canada. The UM church is splitting over some of these cultural shifts. The CotN is losing young people because of these shifts. If nothing changes, one of two things will happen: the church will go the way of the Methodists and accommodate the culture or will shrink into oblivion. 

When I was a young pastor (lo those many years ago), the pastors that left the church or ministry had moral failures. They had money issues, women issues (back then, most ministers were men even in the CotN), or drinking issues and they left. It was always a walk of shame. Whispers and gossip soon followed. 

Today, pastors leave the ministry and immoral behavior is not the problem (as long as Satan is around, immoral behavior will be part of the problem). There are various reasons for pastors going AWOL. For some, it’s the rising angst among people. Politics, the pandemic and societal unrest in the last 18 months have pushed many pastors over the edge. It’s not fun dealing with the fringes on both sides (all sides) of the cultural wars. People are angry, short tempered and social-media-empowered spew-ers of venom. As a result, called-by-God pastors are feeling that they will have a greater effectiveness in serving the Lord outside the walls of the church than inside. They are exiting at the first chance they get, and not looking back. I can’t tell you how many upper-level, theologically trained ministers have said to me, “If I could do something else, I would.” Moreover, today’s clergy are old and getting older (this author included). Many will retire or be “promoted to Glory” within the next decade

Many churches will close. In an attempt to survive the “clergy gap” and keep the doors open, a less theological, locally trained clergy will try to fill the void. The result will be a theological drift toward pop-evangelicalism or fundamentalism rather the historical message of the CotN. There will be less theological distinction in our churches than even what currently exists.

Less pastors and less churches with less theologically trained leaders means less money to fund world mission (94-96% of world mission is funded by the declining USA/Region). To somewhat quote the line in the movie, Apollo 13, “Lenexa, we have a problem.”

As opposed to just sitting around and watching the demise of the church, here are some steps to immediately stem the tide:

1) Rather than complain about our current realties, empathize and try to understand the plight of those in our society. Change begins with understanding and love. 

2) Listen to the young people who have remained and invite them to the table. Elect younger delegates to General Assembly. Long term change needs the next generation to be involved and have ownership.

3.) Invest in the Nazarene Bible College. Increase their budget to accommodate more widely known educators and pastors on their faculty. Increase their marketing budget. Utilize the Bible college to train our clergy that are now being trained by districts with various levels of competency. Affordable, on-line, sound theological training is needed now more than ever.

4). Prioritize warm and family focused churches. Create easy-to-use small group materials that are free and available to start small groups or home base discipleship groups. Today’s culture still longs for belonging.

5). Encourage our churches to be involved in their communities. Someway, somehow in large or small measure make the church a blessing in their communities. Our neighbors must see the value of the church.

What will the Church of the Nazarene look like in 25 years? It will be a shell of itself unless, steps are taken to ensure its long-term health and relevancy. Lenexa, we have a problem, but it doesn’t have to kill us if we do something soon.

7 thoughts on “Lenexa, We have a problem

  1. Mark Fuller

    Rob,
    I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of our tribe. As you know, I have been beating this drum for decades…but institutional change is too onerous, so I have adjusted my expectations and prayer focus. My hope is in a remnant of vibrant local Nazarene churches across our country that have made the generational shift in leadership and are led by humble, Spirit-filled pastors. That is why I am pouring what time and influence I have in them and NBC. Our Bible College is the only institution still flexible enough to adjust to the changes necessary to help us train our next-gen leaders in the context of our remaining vibrant, healthy churches.

    Reply
  2. Tim Hardyman

    Rob,

    From what I understand all ministerial studies will be going through NBC by 2023. Either the MPP program or a degree program. This makes sense to me so we have some theological coherence.

    Reply
  3. Kathy Pelley

    As a person in district leadership, I have a passion for getting younger people elected, but struggle to make it happen. Would love input from those who are successful in this area.

    Reply
  4. Earl Cushman

    All the churches are having problems with attracting people into a lifelong ministry. Maybe it lacks attractiveness, and it has nothing to do with a love for God and a repulsion of sin? ________________________________

    Reply
  5. Gary Swartzlander

    You are spot on! Churches need to live outside of the walls of the building they use to protect themselves. They need to be vulnerable to their community and show their neighbors what God looks like as they walks their streets, as they live with those less fortunate, as they be the church in their communities.

    Reply
  6. R. Franklin Cook

    Rob, I think you make some good points. However I believe they may be more geared specifically to the USA and not take in to account the fact that Nazarenes are global and the USA is statistically a minority. The % figures you quote on support of “world mission” coming from the USA are suspect and do not reflect several complicating factors in calculating the support of the church globally. It is true that the USA does carry the bulk of the load when it comes to administrative issues. Not to be pollyanish, I hear all the time about local churches in the USA doing all kinds of innovative ministries, including where I live. As to the global church, incredible things are happening in a number of surprising places. We just don’t talk about it in a way that connects to the younger generation, which is unfortunate. All this said, no question the USA church (in general) is going through a time of transition and leadership will need to be very nimble to navigate these waters.

    Reply

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