Pastoral challenges in the next 20 years

Joel Rainey is Executive Director of the Mid-Maryland Baptist Association. He is on the adjunct faculty of two seminaries, and the author of two books: Planting Churches in the Real World and Sidestepping Landmines: Five Principles for Pastor Search Teams. Joel works closely with numerous pastors in a state not known for its evangelical values. He is a strategic thinker on many things related to the kingdom of God.

On his blog, themelios, he recently wrote on the nature of pastoral leadership in the next 20 years. Joel asked a question once posed to him, “Are we really up to this?” This post is adapted from his writing.

American society is morphing at an unprecedented rate. This means more for the church than perhaps any other area as we claim God’s unchanging truth in changing times. Rainey asks whether pastors are “up to this”? I wonder if churches are.

If Rainey’s thoughts are on target, I think three things will happen as it relates to churches (and denominations) in the United States. First is capitulation. Many will simply agree with the surrounding culture that truth is maleable, subjective and suggestive. These churches will become indistinguishable from other societal organizations whose purpose is “to make the world a better place.” They bother not with sin, judgment or a cross. Second is separation. As in every generation these are they who are not of the world, but neither are they in it. They have no actual influence and their loudly sounded trumpets of culture wars fall mostly on deaf ears. Third is contextualization as the remaining churches seek to exegete culture, relate to it and bring the uncompromised gospel to everyone in a way that both illuminates their need and introduces the remedy: Jesus Christ. For these, mercy truly triumphs over judgment.

From Joel Rainey:

Scenario One: A pastor is called to a church with the expectation that he will “help us reach the young families.” Problem is, everyone in the church is over the age of 60, and more than 50% of the community within 10 minutes of the church is also in that age range.

By 2030, it is estimated that more than half of the U.S. population will be over the age of 50. This “graying” of America is presently going almost completely unnoticed by most churches, who tend to go after the prized “young families with children” category. Yet 80% of those over 50 live in a multi-housing situation (“55 and older” apartments, duplex communities, retirement and assisted living communities), and 98% of all multi-housing residents are without a relationship to Jesus. Are you keeping pace with the generational shifts that are taking place around your church, and how your church should respond to those shifts?

Scenario Two: Multiple families visit the church who do not speak English, politely nod and smile, and never return.

By 2025, Hispanics will outnumber African Americans by 3 to 2, and will comprise approximately 40% of the U.S. population. Over a decade ago, Oscar Romo noted that America, “hardly the ‘melting pot’ described by history texts, has become a land marked more by diversity than homogeneity.” In no area is this fact more clear than in the area of language.

Scenario Three: A married homosexual couple with three adopted children visit your church.

This is one of those issues when if you are a pastor, you need to go ahead and check all your political arguments at the door. What we believe society should or shouldn’t do in this situation is of absolutely no consequence, because they are doing it anyway!


Truth is, we live in a nation and culture in which our understanding of marriage has been devolving for decades.

Now that this is a reality, how will we minister to the parents and their children? How should our children’s departments be equipped to minister to the kids? How are you equipping other couples in your church to interact with and minister to these precious souls? How can you uphold clear Biblical standards in love?

Scenario Four: A young person who has visited your church for a while repents of her sin and receives Jesus as Lord and Savior. As you prepare for her baptism, you discover through her testimony that she was born male, but had gender-reassignment surgery a few years ago.

Scripture has no category for an “androgynous Christian.” There are Christian men, and Christian women, and the discipleship models spelled out for us in the New Testament tend to be described in conjunction with one’s gender.


Are you prepared for the Biblical, moral, psychological and bioethics questions that will necessarily be part of that conversation?

Scenario Five: More and more people, it seems, are asking you to perform funeral ceremonies for their pets. You have noticed over time that the grieving process for a family losing a pet, as well as the elements of the funeral itself (pictures, memorials, poems, etc.) indicate a much greater value on animals than in the past.

We are already witnessing attitudes in our culture that betray a gravitation towards increased “equalizing” of animals and humans, and too many in the church have bought into this idea. Are you prepared to lovingly confront the false idea that “all dogs go to heaven,” and re-assert the essential distinction between human beings, who are created in God’s own image and likeness, and pets, who are not?

Scenario Six: Because of growth, your church starts a “video venue,” and begins live-streaming worship and sermons via the internet. You notice that you have a growing “online” audience, many of whom log in every Sunday, and who financially support the ministry. Through connections with these people on social media you discover that, although they may live hundreds or even thousands of miles away, they consider your church their “church home.”

Today’s advanced and inexpensive technology means that churches are asking questions that would never have been considered even 20 years ago, and one of the biggest questions today has to do with the legitimacy of the so-called “internet church.” In the future, how will your church ensure that the Biblical principles and practices commensurate with a covenant community are observed in this environment?

Scenario Seven: You discover through casual conversation that a yoga class has been started by leaders in the church, that participants freely greet one another with “namaste,” and that Christian meditation has been confused with the emptying of the mind that is endorsed in many Hindu communities.

Over the past decade, there has been a huge increase in ancient pagan practices, much like those that occurred in the days of the Old Testament. The digital age, among other things, presents opportunities for the “blending” of faiths that was unheard of even two decades ago. In what ways should you be prepared to bifurcate for your people between what can, and cannot, be part of the life of someone who follows Jesus according to Scripture?

Scenario Eight: You receive a call from a mainline church in town. The size of their congregation has dropped to less than 20 members. They are fearful for their future, and they ask for your help.

It is simply a statistical fact that theological liberalism kills churches. As such, expect the mainline protestant churches in your town to continue slowly bleeding to death. Yet, the people in those dying churches need someone to love them by ministering to their needs and reminding them of what their faith once stood for. Are you prepared to raise up leaders who can utilize those facilities to start a second campus for your church, or start a new church altogether?

Scenario Nine: Parents come to you for counseling regarding their son, who has been diagnosed with multiple “generic” disorders, but doctors have been incapable of specifying the problem, and the child has been largely un-treatable by psychiatrists. You suspect the presence of demonic activity.

I truly believe that we will see a sharp rise in obvious demonic activity in the west, and I believe it will unfortunately be mis-diagnosed as a solely medical or psychiatric problem. As a result, too many children will grow up expressing the personality of a psychotrophic drug unless wise and godly pastors in the west learn to recognize the presence of demonic activity.

Scenario Ten: In this “brave new world,” God continues to seek worshippers, and Jesus continues to save people from sin, Satan, death, and hell in miraculous ways.

What I’ve described above is a culture that is emerging, and that is filled with people Jesus died to save. And it is in this environment when I hear evangelical Christians having the dumbest arguments!

What would you add? Is Joel right in his assertions?

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • Bob

    I do not know if he is right, but his scenarios are not far fetched. As one pastor shared with me even now regarding ministry: “Pastoring is not for the faint of heart.” I can see it getting no easier in the future. That having been said, what has not changed is God’s Word, God’s Son, God Himself, and God’s supply of Grace. Whatever our situation as pastors, His grace is sufficient and will be to “speak the truth in love” in whatever situation we find ourselves to be in. Additionally, if one is really called to the pastorate, while difficult situations do and will occur, we look to God and rely on the “joy of The Lord which is our strength.”

  • Gina

    I believe Joel is right to ask tough questions like these. I do not think he is right in the way he answers some of them. Unless he himself has died and gone to Heaven, how can he say that pets/animals do not go to Heaven. The bible says, ” For God so loved the WORLD, that he gave his one and only Son, that whomever believes in him shall not parish, but have everlasting life.” So…what if my dog believes in God and Jesus, and who is Joel to say otherwise? Or if God so loved the world, would he sentence his creations to a life that is just over one day with nothing afterward. I’m not saying that I know the answers, but I’m pretty sure Joel doesn’t either. Also, I don’t believe being a pastor/priest or teacher of Christ has ever been an easy job (not that I’m a preacher!). Jesus probably didn’t think so. The world will always have tough issues to deal with, and pastors will have to evolve their way of thinking and teaching if they want to remain relevant. We should not use the Bible as a tool to condemn others – as parts of it have been outdated, edited, and translated (and mis-translated) many times. We must instead look beyond the hatred and fear that clouds our hearts and learn to love and respect each other as Jesus taught us. To get through these, “challenges of the next 20 years,” preachers must do this by example. Marty, one reason I love to read your blog and respect your opinion is because I believe you do a great job at leading by example! One of my favorite quotes (used in one of my favorite movies Pollyanna), “If you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will.”

    • martyduren


      Always a surprise, but so good to hear from you. Not surprised at all you honed right in on the animals. lol

      I think there is some distinction in the “animals in the afterlife” scenario that many people do not make. While the Bible does talk about animals being a part of the new heavens and new earth, it does not explicitly say animals will be in heaven. As far as believing in Jesus goes scripture limits “belief” to those created in the image of God, ie, humanity. That is, Jesus died so individual people who have eternal life, but not that individual animals will.

      According to scripture God is at work fixing everything about this world that is broken. The basis of that correction is the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. In the end all things will be made new and in that newness will be sinlessness and life. Since animals were a part of the original creation, I think they will be part of the new creation. Not because they are saved as humans can be, but because God creates them new.

      As far as Bible interpretations go, I encourage you to order this book, “The True Story of the Whole World,” by Goheen and Bartholomew. (
      I may be able to recommend some others in short order. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar for these to make sense either!

    • martyduren