The journalism industry did itself a grave disservice when they started giving news away online. News companies thought that the more viewers, the more people would see the advertisements and the industry would survive the internet. However, the more the news agencies gave away the news, the more people came to devalue real journalism. No longer was the audience willing to pay for newspapers or watch the commercials required to pay for the journalist. Fake news cropped up, and the standards of journalism practically died because of the unintended consequences of devaluing the service of providing the news.
I wonder if the Church in America might be doing the same thing to the work of pastors?
We see shrinking numbers of people engaging in church services, so we rapidly put our sermons online, even live-streaming them. We blog and podcast everything (I realize that am a contributor of the sea of free info.) People struggle to listen to a 40-minute sermon, so we cut Bible teaching down to 30-minutes until they can't take that and then we drop it to 20. Soon enough, sermons will be limited to 140 characters. Christians no longer desire to read books, make time to study, pray, or invest any resources in their growth, so we seek other ways disciple them into maturity that requires less and less commitment. If it's not free of cost, people don't seem to want it.
When local churches struggle to give financial support for the mission of the church or the needs of the pastor, the congregation demands that the pastor works for free. Pastors end up bi-vocational, sacrificing time with family, struggling to find the time to study well, hurting the value they teach the church well. When church planting is costly, the new normal is a bi-vocational guy.
We plan and scheme and plan some more. Business practices become more popular than Scripture. We push out the power of God in exchange for well-conceived attempts to grow something that meets our minimum goals.
Now please don't think I'm exempt from this problem. I blog and podcast. I post my sermons online. I plan and scheme too. I have multiple people on staff who are bi-vocational because our church plant is not yet self-sustaining. And I know bi-vocational guys doing more than full-time guys. I want people to hear the gospel, so I put it out there for people to find it easily (if they try). I want Christians to grow, so I try to give away as many resources as I can afford.
But might there be unintended consequences to downgrading the ministry?
Yes, we want to empower the church to be the Church, but does that mean we don't need trained, equipped, empowered ministers to help equip the saints? We don't often demand those who tend to our physical needs (like doctors, accountants, and lawyers) to shorten it up, give it away, and be bi-vocational, so why do we expect that of those tending to our spiritual needs?
There are a Scriptures that demand we handle the gospel well as we teach and preach. There are Scriptures that demand we financially care for those who preach the gospel. And as I read the New Testament, I don't often see pragmatism leading the charge; yet, pragmatism is greatly shaping the Church in America today. (It might be better if we let the Holy Spirit do the shaping and trust him with the results, even if the fruit doesn't look like we might expect.)
Decades after the seeker-sensitive movement, we see the problems. A decade after the purpose-driven programs, we see the problems. I wonder what problems we'll see after we conclude that the pragmatic movement didn't accomplish what we hoped?