Biblical Manhood, Pastoral Ministry and Shifting Economic Sands: A Convergence of Ideas
Over the past few weeks, I have been critiquing the biblical manhood movement on a number of levels. While those first four posts were crucial in the series I am writing, I want to strike out on a bit of a different tact in these final two posts. In this post in particular, I have no one to critique. But rather, I have some thoughts to suggest when it comes to helping men be more biblical men. This post is not so much about the men being shepherded as it is the men doing the shepherding. I want to suggest that as youth unemployment continues to move higher and as poverty continues to grow, that these phenomenons will no longer be isolated to inner city elements. Indeed, both of these situations will centrifugally move away from their primarily urban center to less urban environments. And as this transformation occurs, it will become increasingly important that pastors don’t just call for biblical manhood from the pulpit (though this is undoubtedly a crucial element) but that they actually get their hands dirty in helping men through certain aspects of this calling. Let’s start by looking at the prevailing economic trends facing young men in western societies.
Europe is currently facing a dire debt crisis in which it appears there will be no way out, save some sort of sovereign debt restructuring by the most peripheral euro zone countries such as Greece. But the European crisis is not unique to certain euro zone countries, it is a problem of western civilization that threatens to utterly level the “empire” that is has built for the past few centuries. Or perhaps, more correctly, it is a problem of the welfare state in which leaders seem to have forgotten that resources are scarce. And any attempt to deny such economic reality by overspending with currency that has no asset backing will ultimately lead to fiscal ruin. This is no longer a matter of debate but a matter of reality as the European crisis seems to deepen with every passing day, no matter what central bankers and politicians do in an effort to slow it down.
One of the most spurious side effects of this sort of centralized economic planning is that youth (age 16-25) unemployment is currently out of control in Western Europe. During 2010 in the United Kingdom, youth unemployment stood at 19.1%, up from 14.4% in 2007. The 2008 financial crisis was a real game changer when it comes to employment opportunities in the younger demographics. Spain’s situation is particularly frightening where youth unemployment stood at 41.6% for 2010. Yet this disease is currently spreading to American shores (I would love to explain why this happens in a welfare state but space is too limited here.). The youth unemployment rate in America as of July 2011 stood at an astonishing 18.1% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (though it may be much worse since it seems that the BLS is more akin to the Chinese Department of Truth these days).
From where I sit, I can see one of two things happening. Either the growth of urban populations will rapidly accelerate and the hardships of unemployment and poverty will find themselves increasingly concentrated in this environment. Or, these problems will begin to break the bounds of the common perception that views them strictly as an urban phenomenon as they creep into more suburban communities. There is such a confluence of factors that will determine which of these two scenarios become reality, that it is impossible to say which will prevail. Yet a severe crisis in this regard should never be ruled out. Indeed, for all the naysayers, a catastrophic sovereign credit event CAN happen and does have devastating consequences on a nation both across income distributions and populations in various geographic outlays. Take as an example, the Argentine debt crisis in the early part of the past decade, that saw people living under the poverty line hit 54% and standard unemployment across the population at nearly 20%.
So what does this mean for future shepherds who will pastor God’s flock? If nothing less, it means that in the coming decades, their job will become increasingly challenging. It also means that pastors of every sort will have to start thinking more like missionaries or urban ministers and less like suburban pastors who are often afforded the luxury of studying 30 hours per week for a sermon. Ask an urban minister if he can spend this type of time on a sermon and I can assure you that the vast majority will say, “No.” In settings where poverty, unemployment and a host of other issues are a real problem, pastoral ministry takes on a uniquely different flavor. Pastor’s in these areas are often viewed as much more than just pastors. They are community organizers, they are the voice of the helpless, they are developers; true focal points of their communities.
A few years back, I found myself reading through a phenomenal essay by Roger Greenway entitled Getting David Out of Saul’s Armor. In the article Greenway argues that the traditional seminary model has proven itself utterly incapable of training men for ministry in the urban complex where they must deal with diverse economic problems, educational differences, etc. Greenway goes on to argue for a new approach to training men for ministry that focuses on character and certain skills needed for urban ministry. I believe Greenway is correct but I also believe that what Greenway is calling for will no longer be something strictly applicable for those looking to minister in an urban environment. As economic conditions deteriorate, the skills that were once perceived as strictly urban ministry skills, will soon be needed in many geographic settings.
When it comes to pastors and biblical manhood, they must recognize we entering a time in which young men are often unemployed because they are being affected by broader economic conditions. While it may have been true in the past that you could get a job anywhere just by being diligent and putting in job applications, this is no longer the case. Certainly, nothing excuses laziness in a young man who will not apply for work and these young men should be called out on this. But we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves in situations in which young men (or women for that matter) are diligently searching for work and simply cannot find it. This is an economic problem, not simply a personal discipline problem.
In terms of practical suggestions, I strongly recommend that all men training for the ministry begin to diversify their knowledge spectrum in order to properly understand principles of development, law, economics, education, etc. Don’t misunderstand me. A pastor/elder is a preacher of God’s word first and foremost but he is also more than this. And as these economic problems begin to take root in more and more communities, the feet of Christianity risk being cut out from under the gospel witness if all a church is prepared to offer is a Sunday sermon and Wednesday bible study. Pastor’s need to be prepared to get their hands wet with developmental ministries to help young men. The biblical call to manhood must be present but so must the incarnational aspects of ministry that help men reach that call. To put it Christologically, “our” Jesus needs to have his human elements magnified. He is not an unattainable deity sitting in the clouds but he is the one who, “had to be made like them, fully human in every way…” (Hebrews 2:17).
Secondly, I want to suggest that men in ministry learn the ever so crucial skill of networking. This is not networking for the sake of career advancement but this is networking to create strategic partnerships with other Christians who can help with various forms of nitty-gritty ministry. Surely, no single elder or group of elders is capable of being able to cope with every situation that presents itself. This is why strategic partnerships with local ministries and other local churches are so crucial. It will help to provide a practical and cohesive witness in challenging economic times.
Undoubtedly, the ideas that I have presented here, seem to add another burden to pastoral ministry. Yet, men preparing for ministry should not take what I have said here and simply add it to what they already perceive to be the proper course of ministerial training. I am advocating something else entirely. I am advocating an approach that seeks to spend less time studying how to diagram Greek passages and more time studying knowledge fields that can have far reaching practical effects on those that they minister too. As the youth unemployment situation intensifies and poverty moves beyond traditional urban boundaries, it is crucial that the next generation of ministers have the tools to help young men become biblical men.