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Twenty-First Century Ministry Requires Adaptability

by Robert J. Young
©, 2006, Robert J. Young

[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Those involved in ministry today face a changing, shrinking, increasingly complex and interconnected world. We can e-mail a message to someone half a world away in seconds. Libraries of information are at our fingertips through the Internet. Computer word processing, Bible software programs, and other computer programs make Bible study, preparing presentations, classes, and sermons, and keeping up with increasing amounts of information easier.

What has not changed is the need to develop a solid foundation of knowledge and skills, to keep skills updated, and to continue learning. Half a century ago, college graduates were likely to stay in the same job their whole career. If some preachers changed pulpits frequently, in one sense they also stayed in the same job for a lifetime. The needs of one church were not much different from the needs of the next church. The demands of ministry were fairly constant. Further, most churches defined ministry similarly and expectations varied little from congregation to congregation.

Recent statistics suggest that a person graduating from college today may have 17 different jobs and three to four different careers. Ministry is increasing complex, and the demands and expectations, even in the same congregation, may change from year to year. More necessary than ever is a balanced portfolio of education and skills so that ministers are equipped for lifelong learning and able to stay connected, up-to-date, and relevant. Even though ministry is increasingly specialized, it is still essential that the solid foundation of a general practitioner be in place. Those who have the ability to adapt to fresh ministry demands and can develop new ministry methods and activities in our changing world are those who shape the future of the church.

The hope for effective ministry is the ability to see things that others cannot see. That ability comes from a good foundation in Scripture and critical thinking skills that can apply the text to the circumstances of our world. Effective ministers are those who can couple that foundation of textual and historical knowledge with the task of ministry, to develop the ability to see things and do things that others cannot. Most anyone can copy or imitate what someone else is doing, but cloned ministries-simply adopting the processes, procedures, or sermons of another growing church-are seldom as effective as the original ministry effort.

In today's world, some skills will never go out of style, including the ability to communicate effectively in person and in writing and to think analytically and critically. Another desirable skill is the ability to work in teams. And of course, keeping up to date with the electronic world, remaining current in the area of computer literacy, is essential. Today, the ability to use the Internet, to use word processing programs, to develop PowerPoint presentations, and to create web pages is assumed.

International awareness will serve to sharpen awareness of missions. Further, the international scene impacts our world more and more each day. We live in a global world. When ministers understand what is going on in Thailand, or the Sudan, or Iraq, they are more capable of applying the message of God in the midst of the experiences of the contemporary world.

In summary, the key is adaptability-the ability to reflectively consider the biblical foundations of ministry, understand the context of ministry, and anticipate the shape of the world into which God calls us to take the gospel.

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Last updated November 7, 2006