Dear Pastor: What is your church's career path?


Most modern churches are founded around a shared set of values. God often gives someone (or a group of someones) a blueprint, a vision of some aspect of spiritual life that has been neglected in their generation or their region. A community then grows around these values. Over time, communities with shared values find one another, and they group together for support, encouragement and synergy.

This is essentially how new church denominations are born. (If you're Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox, this generally doesn't apply to you.) I don't have a problem with denominations. I do have a problem when we focus on our differences and lose fellowship as a result, but as I see it, we serve a massive God with limitless expression and it will take all of us coming together to reflect that multi-faceted beauty.

I'm particularly interested in these shared values, these blueprints God gives people, which we gather around. Today I help lead a relatively new church plant, and before that, I spent over 10 years serving at the founding church of a new denomination, so I've observed a few things about values, vision statements, missional purpose and so on. Two questions that I find myself coming back to again and again are these:

What happens to your blueprint once the community is saturated with your values?
What is the future "career path" of these church members?

If God has given you something to carry, then you need to steward that vision, entrust it only to those who will value it, and serve your community in such a way that the values manifest themselves in the group. But the day will likely come when you reach a saturation point, and no one can consume any more of these values. When that day comes, I think you have three choices:


Keep feeding your community the same old values. Eventually, they'll choke and die and you won't have to worry about it anymore. Heyo! Except that you'll need to find a new job and your former community will be thrown on the ever-growing heap of people churned out from dying religious machinery. This is the career path of stagnation and I think we've all seen it before.


Change your values. Find something that your people do need, and start offering them that, in place of or in addition to your existing values. This allows you to keep the same people and to help them grow in a new direction, but it does present some risks. First, you're straying from the blueprint that God gave you in the first place and he may have things to say about that. You may discover, perhaps by accident, that you are not actually fit to model things that God hasn't given you a mandate for. Once your community has sufficiently replaced their values, there's a chance they'll replace you as well. This is the career path of the hard pivot, and sometimes it helps, but sometimes it doesn't.


Expand the community. Find people who don't have your values yet, and who need what you are offering. This option allows your existing community to be put to use training new folk in the values they have become saturated in. It allows you to stay true to the vision, while creating a forward-moving career path for those in your church community.

I'm still wrestling with this, and I'm not necessarily convinced that option 3 is always the right answer. And there might be other options I haven't thought of.

What are your thoughts? What have you observed as new churches start, grow, and then mature? Is it OK for values to change over time? Should pastors be more committed to the blueprint God has given, or to the changing needs of their community? Is that question just a false dichotomy?

I'd also love to hear from those serving in liturgical congregations, my Catholic or Orthodox brothers and sisters, about how these dynamics play out in your communities.

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