5 Ways Ministry Has Changed in 20 Years

It's gotten harder...

I began this blog a number of years ago for one primary reason of encouraging other ministry leaders. I came into ministry later in life – after a long business career – and, so I’ve always seen the role differently from some who have been spent their career in ministry.

Recently I was reflecting on how ministry has changed in the 15 years I’ve been in vocational ministry. This reflections was a result of two conversations. One was with a man who wondered with me why things can’t be like they used to be. Specifically such as why many ministers (like me) don’t preach three times a week anymore – and why the pastor doesn’t make all the hospital visits. The other was during the interview with Pete Wilson, who recently resigned from his church after recognizing the signs of burnout. During our conversation I remember saying, “Pete, ministry has surely changed in the 20 plus years since you entered?” He agreed.

But, how? How has ministry changed? What’s so different about being a pastor today versus 20 years ago?

I’m certain this is a list under development, but I decided to jot down some thoughts.

Here are 5 ways ministry is different over the last 20 years:

Access to the pastor has dramatically increased.

The volume of communication has to have dramatically increased for ministers as it has for all of society. I get hundreds of emails every week. My church interacts with me on Facebook dozens of times a week. A large number of our church has my cell number – and are free to text or call me regularly. I get Twitter DM’s daily. I am even contacted through LinkedIn by people who attend our church. I can’t imagine people handwriting that many notecards in days past or even typing out that many letters. It means I get more suggestions, questions, and complaints. And, honestly, it probably means I get more encouragement. But, certainly with social media and technology improvements the pastor is easier to find than ever before – and all of this communication takes time for the pastor to respond.

The type of ministry we do has dramatically changed.

I’ve read numerous articles – and talked to educators – about how the teachers role has changed from the 50’s until today. God bless those who choose to serve in public schools. The classroom has certainly gotten more difficult to manage in recent decades. It has become more difficult, because society has become more difficult. Running in the hall and chewing gum being some of the biggest discipline problems of the past. Now they deal with drugs and guns in the school. And, the same is true for ministry. Who would’ve thought pastors would be dealing with guns in the church. Or abductions of children from preschool. Security has become a major issue for pastors. And, this is just one of many examples of how societal changes have impacted the role of a pastor’s work.

(And, frankly, hasn’t every career changed in the last 20 years?)

Family needs have changed.

Pastors have to deal with children who are facing pressures every other child faces. And those pressures are bigger today than they were 20 years ago. According to one Time magazine article I read, anxiety among children has dramatically increased in the last 30 years. Nine of ten children ages 8 to 16 have accessed pornography, many wile supposedly doing homework, according to another study. Time management is much more of an issue for families today than it was when my kids were at home. All of those impact the ministries of the church and the interactions a pastor has with families. 

People are less committed and the message is less received.

It takes far more energy to get someone in the doors of the church then it would have 20 years ago. The competition for time is so much more severe. Travel ball, dance competitions, and community activities which used to never occur on Sunday are drawing people’s attention. And, keeping people engaged during a sermon is so much different. People can now watch a message – great messages – 24 hours a day. And, they can follow the world on their phone while we preach. 

Leading people is harder.

It just is. I’ve been in leadership for over 30 years. Leading people used to involve loyalty and commitment simply because of position – or paycheck. This was true whether someone had a paid or volunteer position. This isn’t always the case anymore. It’s made us lead better, but it takes far more time than it used to take.

Bottom line. The world has changed. And, so have the expectations and demands of ministry.

Please understand, I’m not complaining. I work for God – if I’m going to complain it will be to Him. (I’ll be like the grumbling Israelites.) I’m simply pointing out an observation. Working with 100’s of pastors every year – seeing the stress they face – watching many churches treat them horribly because they don’t meet all their expectations of time and commitment – I simply want to speak into something I see.

During pastor appreciation month – pray for those in ministry. Support them as you can.

Pastors, what other ways has ministry changed for you since you’ve been in ministry?

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5 thoughts on “5 Ways Ministry Has Changed in 20 Years

  1. Ron, all great points.

    It also seems the way church is being "done" needs to change to be effective and that may be radically looking at different models and methods. Also, youth sports has become the Sunday school for many families. The time and money poured into weekend youth sports has moved away from church giving.