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H.B. London sends out wake-up call to pastors

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–If the average person in the average church were to accept Christ this Sunday, he or she would drop out of church altogether within two months, according to a recent study.
H. B. London, vice president of ministry outreach/pastoral ministries for Focus on the Family of Colorado Springs, Colo., visited with a group of both current and potential pastors on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Aug. 29 to discuss this and other problems presently facing the church.
London, co-author of “Pastors at Risk” and “The Heart of a Great Pastor,” said the problems have to be addressed not only for the church to grow, but also for the church to survive at all.
Hundreds of pastors are dismissed by Southern Baptist churches each month just from people not wanting them there or for moral reasons, London said. The average pastor spends between 50 and 70 hours a week in ministry.
“A lot of them just get burned out.”
Not only are pastors getting burned out, but London said many aren’t getting renewed spiritually, either. “The average pastor spends less than 20 minutes a day in Bible study and prayer,” he said.
Quoting from a “Survey of Pastors” by the Fuller Institute for Church Growth, London said 80 percent of pastors surveyed believed that pastoral ministry affected their family negatively, 90 percent felt they were inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands, 70 percent said they have lower self-esteem now than when they started out and 70 percent said they do not have someone they consider a close friend.
The rate of turnover and other concerns with both pastors and the church itself have left an indelible mark, London said.
According to recent studies, he said, there are less than half as many churches per capita in 1998 as there were in 1900. Of those, 85 percent of Protestant churches have either plateaued or are in decline, 14 percent are experiencing growth through people changing churches or children joining the church, and only 1 percent are growing through professions of faith in Christ. Protestants close 4,000 churches a year and roughly 3,500 people leave the church every day.
In addition, he said, the United States is now the second-highest receiver of mission work in the world.
“The biggest problems in the Protestant church today are, first, the limited term of pastors and, second, the lack of respect for pastors,” he said.
At least some of the problem, London said, is due to the role the church currently is playing in the world and how, in some cases, it has tried to reinvent itself at the cost of its own spirituality.
“The church mirrors society rather than society mirroring the world,” London said. He added the church is changing its music to sound like secular radio, practicing more informality (in dress and such), letting its morality slip into a gray area where the church won’t take a stand, accepting conflict in its congregations and letting sound biblical teaching be replaced with self-help, feel-good sermons.
In such an environment, pastors have lost their identity and some have become what London calls the “CEO” or the leader who looks after the “business.” In the process, he said, the church has lost the idea of the pastor as servant.
“A CEO is interested in style more than substance,” he said. “A servant/shepherd is interested in the last, the least and the lonely. Within minutes, you’ll be able to tell whether he’s a CEO or a servant.”
The pastor’s ministry, London said, should be a “ministry of presence” in which the congregation truly believes that their pastor is caring for them, even though he can’t be everywhere at all times.
“It’s not that you’re always there,” he said, “but there’s a sense that you would be if you could be.”
London said it was the little things that made a ministry so effective, and later added, “Standing at the door. That’s a lost art among churches today.”
As for the state of the church, London said the church is going to have to alter its plans and present method to survive into the 21st century. He said the church will have to incorporate new methods to reach people and keep them. London said the question comes down to conserving people, who are looking to “mesh” with a church.
“The church is like an individual and has its own personality,” he said, and until people find a church that meshes with their personality, they’ll be aloof.
London said he wishes he could be on “the other side,” namely, in the pulpit, during the present crisis.
When asked what he would do, London stared into the ceiling wistfully for a moment, smiled and said in a faraway voice, “If I could go back and do it again, I’d do it so differently.
“First, I’d try to simplify the church — cut down on all these committees and such — and then just train people to be like Jesus.”

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