Posted: Sunday, July 27, 2008, 8:25 (BST)
The biggest problem a pastor faces depends on where the minister is located. That was the message from speakers at the Baptist World Alliance annual conference in Prague last week.
For pastors in North America, the greatest challenge is the cultural shift away from Christianity, said David Laubach, the North American presenter at the BWA workgroup about church health and effectiveness.
Five decades ago, 80 per cent of Americans attended church regularly, Laubach said, according to the Associated Baptist Press. Now, the number has fallen between 20 and 42 per cent depending on self-reported attendance or actual Sunday seat counts.
Moreover, three-quarters of US churches report a membership plateau or decline. Out of the churches that are growing, nearly a quarter are doing so by taking members from declining churches. Only one percent of US churches are growing by attracting new members from the unchurched population.
"Shrinking resources, absence of biological growth, aging mainline denominational populations, mobility, consumerist/entertainment culture, a sometimes-hostile environment, increased pastoral expectations and role overload, dramatically shifting ecclesiology, church change and conflict" are some of the stress North American pastors face, Laubach said.
He noted that the stress faced by “emotionally drained pastors” can cause them to “succumb to moral failure and personal and family breakdown”.
But churches in east Europe and South America, in contrast, are reporting growth.
Bulgarian pastors and those in many former communist nations in east Europe are seeing rapid growth, but face the problem of not being able to keep up with the demand for trained leaders, said speaker Teodor Oprenov.
Another issue for Eastern Europe Baptists is that their growth spurt has stirred animosity among those Christian traditions with deep roots in the country, such as the Orthodox Church.
The government in Bulgaria, for example, is said to tacitly or openly discriminate against Baptist pastors in favour of Orthodox clergies.
Baptist pastors also face discrimination in Chile, but their greatest difficulty is poverty, Rachael Contraras, the Latin American representative, said. Many Chilean Baptist pastors lack education and are poor, making it difficult for them to reach out to well-educated young adults. Their lack of education and inexperience also can reflect poorly on the denomination when they are invited by the government to participate in social work, she said.
"Their income is very low compared to the people in his church and in society in general. He will live in a society in which everyone has a car, but he won't. Others will have houses, but he will not. He will live in a parsonage. Not having a place to live in retirement, he will preach until he dies," Contraras noted.
Many Baptist pastors in Chile have to work long hours at a secular job to support their families. The stress from managing two jobs has created health problems for these pastors such as ulcers, burnout and depression, she said.
Other topics discussed at the BWA meeting included an organisational restructuring proposal, human trafficking, international relief and an open letter from Muslim leaders.