No doubt, if you’re reading this, I bet you’ve heard about the recent survey by the Pew Research Center. As Josh mentioned last week, the religious landscape in the U.S. is changing and now we have analytical proof. In response, there has been a plethora of blogs and articles that I’ve encountered online.
Maybe you’ve read a response that is based in fear: “The ship is sinking and we’ve got to do something! Find the holes and plug them!”
Maybe you’ve seen a different take that’s celebratory: “See! We’ve been doing it right and you’ve been doing it wrong. I feel bad for you but…I told you so. #sorrynotsorry”
Or maybe you’ve encountered someone that simply says, “Duh. This surprises you?”
Surveys like this are important. If you’re a pastor, they confirm what we’ve likely been sensing for quite some time now. They affirm that we’re not the only ones seeing this change that is happening.
Although, as a pastor, I have to wonder, does it matter?
In an interview, Eugene Peterson said this:
“The way I understood the uniqueness of the pastoral vocation is that it is insistently personal. You cannot do pastoral work in a programmatic or impersonal or organizational way. You’ve got to know the names of these people, know their lives, be in their homes. The unique vocation of pastor is to know those people.”
I’m naive. I don’t doubt that. But as I read the various responses to the changing religious landscape of our context and then I think about the people of Inland Church, the people I pastor, I don’t see the connection. Sure, you could say that the study is a product of people just like Melissa, our artist-in-residence who is the quintessential “religious none.” But I don’t care about how to pastor religious nones, I care about pastoring Melissa.
Again, I’m naive. I know that. For all of you that have to make decisions on behalf of an organization, denomination, or something of the like, I understand the difficulties you are facing and how potentially helpful this survey could be.
But for those of us who simply claim the vocation of pastor, allow me to encourage us with this: Love and care for your people. It doesn’t matter who they are. If they are in your flock, care for them. Have them over for dinner. Go to their kid’s baseball games. Invite them out for coffee. Get to know them and care for them.
In this manner, as pastors, we can simply be faithful. In the end, faithfulness is a more worthy measure of success than a research survey.
By Michael Mills, Pastor at Inland Church in Spokane, Washington