CHURCH IN THE INVENTIVE AGE PART 3 – “The Evolving Role of the Pastor”

I remember when I first started to understand that the role of the pastor/priest had evolved over the centuries. In fact, I remember when an undergraduate professor had made the claim, “At one time, the pastor was the smartest man in the town and the doctor was second.” I thought it was a joke and I laughed out loud. I remember being scowled at for mocking the honorable vocation of the pastor and so I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Come on, the town doctor was second? More like seventh …” ;-)

But back in the good old days, it was the pastor/priest that was among the most educated of society. While we are still fortunate to have the brilliant minds of people like pastor-theologians like NT Wright, Alister McGrath, Tim Keller, and countless others, I think there are some whose names that even the kind-hearted John Calvin would not quite equate with brilliance. Indeed, the role of the pastor and the type of pastor has changed over the years.

Back in January I got to hear Doug explain this in the context of his analysis of the past 200 hundred years of American Christianity. I was sitting in Don Heatley’s church, Vision one Sunday night when Doug chronicled the changing role of the pastor. For obvious reasons, I was intrigued and it made great sense. The other part that made a great deal of sense was how he explained the nature of these ages: They exist simultaneously, build on one another, and have unique rewards systems. I mentioned the ages briefly in post 2 and here’s an outline of the pastor’s role in each age.

The Agrarian Age (the Little Church on the Prairie) is what you think it means – the little white church on the hill built my the good-hearted people of the town. For those living in the early 1800’s, much of life was about survival and depending on one another. Most likely, there was one church in the area and theology was secondary to geography. The pastor was the shepherd of the congregation, the “moral compass” and tended to the needs of the flock. Doug mentions that even today there are Agrarian church exists in downtown Parish style churches in many urban centers like Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

Then came the Industrial Age and just like the factories were to churn out products with efficiency, the role of the pastor was to teach the congregation the theology of the denomination and to make it compelling enough hat people would come back for more… The pastor’s job was like a factory foreman, to build Lutherans (or Methodists or Episcopalians), to make sure the denominational distinctive were carried on. They were building a denominational brand. ” (p. 20). [Side note – you should read and meditate on the part where denominationalism is born out of the industrial age. They even designed their churches to resemble factories.]

In the Information Age, the educational aspect evolved and Doug lists that churches offered learning centers offering parenting classes, marriage seminars, women’s Bible studies, men’s devotions, youth groups and preschools. “While your denomination still mattered, the real test of a church was what you learned there. If you weren’t learning anything, you left. Non-denominational churches exploded onto the scene, focusing on the soundness of their teaching techniques and the correctness of their content …. The Information Age gave us the pastor as teach and eventually pastor as CEO. his sermon topic was advertised on a sign outside the church – it was the message, the lesson for that day that was important …” (p. 23).

In the Inventive Age, the role of the pastor of course will still teach, preach, lead a church, etc. but the pastor will need to be able “to create and facilitate open source faith experiences” for the people in the faith community. Said another way, the pastor’s role will include facilitating and networking skills. That’s exciting to me and worthy of a separate post later.

Though I think many pastors can understand Doug’s reasoning, I believe it makes a lot of sense to those serving as youth pastors. A huge part of the responsibility is to care, teach tradition and practice, and facilitate. Many of us are quite accustomed to teaching and breaking into discussion groups allowing the listener to not only share what they have learned but also share what they disagree with and/or not like. Doug’s personal ministry takes it a step further as his community is also an active part of the sermon. Sitting in circle of couches, they interact not only with the one giving the message but with the person on the other couch. Indeed, I think many youth pastors are among those that will have an easier time with the ideas of the Inventive Age.


I learned yesterday that Doug’s mother passed away late Wednesday night. I’m not sure I will get over how easy it is to be in touch with people that seemed unaccessible prior to the internet generation. Initially, I thought of not posting about the Inventive Age this week, because I was afraid it seemed trivial and maybe even insensitive. This morning I woke up and thought the opposite. He posted a brief and beautiful thought this morning – thought I’d share it with you. It’s in these days that we ought to never hesitate to share beautiful stories, important truths, and share needs with one another. So to you who read this, I’d like to ask you to pray for Doug and the Pagitt family. May the God of comfort and peace be with them during this time.

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