Pastor’s Column: The State of the Church in Minnesota

There is a lot of pessimism within the Church about the state of Christianity in America, but I see a lot of reasons to be hopeful in the Church.

In recent months I’ve had the opportunity to hear directly from leaders in churches about life in ministry. I’ve hosted listening sessions with small groups of diverse church leaders, I’ve been a part of conference planning teams and retreats with pastors from rural communities and cities across our state, and I’ve traveled with 30 pastors on a 4-day civil rights pilgrimage.

As we interact with and serve leaders in our evangelical network, I’m encouraged by Christ-centered, Biblically rooted, mission-minded pastors in many churches. Across Minnesota I am inspired that the Church has so many good pastors working to lead their congregations toward effective mission.

Compassionate Evangelism

Our pastor’s hearts are filled with compassion for people who need Jesus. A consistent value I hear and observe is a desire for people to experience a relationship with Jesus. It’s that compassionate heart for evangelism that informs how pastors preach, organize their congregation, design ministry activities and care for people.

When I listen to a group of pastors socializing with each other what makes them the most excited is exchanging stories of how someone they know recently met Jesus, or repeating a testimony of someone whose life is being changed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

While those of us in the pew expect a lot of our pastor’s time and energy to feed and care for us, their flock, what fulfills many pastors even more is reaching lost sheep. In fact many pastors wish that those of us in the pew would be willing to shift our focus and attention more towards those lost people outside the church.

They’ve acknowledged to me, that many of their church’s existing practices are developed with the Christian in mind, and aren’t best practices for reaching people outside the church. Many pastors whom I meet are well aware that the activities and practices of church life need to be adapted and centered on connecting with and taking Jesus and the hope of the Gospel to people who will never come to church otherwise.

Need for Unity

American society is segmented and divided in many ways today, and pastors are acutely aware that the forces of division are at work within their own congregations too.  Politics, race, social class, generations, and geography are all powerful forces shaping the lives of American Christians today, and pastors have to lead their congregations through these minefields.

The good news is that when we make being a “follower of Jesus” our primary identity we have a basis for building relationships that cross these social divisions. But that doesn’t eliminate all of these other identities and the real differences that they represent. And unless we behave as mature Christians, these human differences and worldviews can make for tense church life.

Pastors are sensitive to these pressures and try to navigate them carefully (so show your own pastors grace and charity as they teach and lead your congregation).

Even more encouraging is that many pastors whom I talk with, accurately recognize that they need to help Christians nurture their own identity as part of the Body of Christ, their role as a part of God’s kingdom, and prophetically lead their congregations to be forces for harmony in society.

Strong, Godly Leadership

I am heartened to know personally the many leaders who make up our evangelical network in Minnesota. These Godly pastors have hearts that ooze with compassion for people who need Jesus, and they accurately recognize that Christians must emphasize our identity in Christ and unity of the Body to bridge societal divisions.

In particular, it’s Biblically-grounded and missionally-focused pastors who make me optimistic about the church. Pastors who anchor themselves and their congregations in the Bible as their guide for faith and living, and are driven by a passion and focus to see lost and hurting people transformed by Jesus, will ensure that the Church continues to offer God’s compelling message of hope.


Carl Nelson is the President and CEO of Transform Minnesota.

August 24, 2017