Technology is changing the ways we conduct church, three panelists agreed at a Dec. 5 Grindstone discussion focused on pastoral ministry. Panelists talked about trends affecting the ministry, essential character traits for pastors, and how to achieve a balance between the ministry and family life.

All panelists agreed that technology is the most important trend in pastoral ministry today. Technology “is changing everything we do,” said Deron Biles, professor of pastoral ministries and preaching at Southwestern. “Is virtual membership possible in your lifetime? Probably. Technology is already changing how we do everything in the ministry and maybe even is changing how we do church, and what it is to be a church.”

“We can’t jump on trends because they work for other churches,” said Tommy Kiker, associate professor of pastoral theology. “We need to think through the ramifications based on what we know from Scripture.” He talked about watching a video online of a woman being baptized in her own home. “In some ways, the internet is robbing us of joy and celebration of time together.”

“Be cautious of what you text, how you say it in a text, maybe just refrain from texting,” advised Dante Wright, senior pastor of Sweet Home Baptist Church in Round Rock, Texas. “Somebody can catch a sound bite of something you said in your sermon and not convey what you mean.” Additionally, he said, “people used to value church, but now people attend in person less frequently. Instead, they watch by internet.”

Pastors will confront numerous challenges early in ministry, Biles said. “People today are questioning the relevance of the church. Church was once part of our culture, part of the community. Now, we’re facing a day when we’re no longer just battling for the truth. We’re battling for relevancy.”

When a seminary graduate begins a pastoral ministry, “the learning is just really starting,” Kiker said. “There are a lot of things you have to learn by doing, even if you make some mistakes.” And, he said, “the landscape is changing so much faster. There are constantly new issues to determine how they should be faced. How can I respond with a biblical response? The word is our constant and the message is our constant, but the issues around us are going to be changing quicker and quicker.”

Every pastor should “be able to lead in such a way that when you go to a congregation, you can herd the giraffes and the sheep at the same time,” Wright said. And, he added, “not everything that we learn in the academic setting works in a practical setting.”

“The Bible gives us a very clear idea of the standards of what we should be,” Biles said. “Holding to these standards is essential. However skilled or competent you might be, if you’re not a man of character, you are ultimately useless to the Kingdom, and I wish you’d go drive a truck, because the consequences of those who fall in ministry for reasons of character are catastrophic.”

Wright addressed the concept of pastors as the CEO of a church. “A pastor needs theological training, a business background, and counseling expertise.” However, he should think of himself “not as a CEO, but a CSO—chief servant. Focus instead on building a team.”

Wright talked about a pastor’s struggle to balance ministry and family. “There’s never going to be a balance,” he said. While he worked long hours, he missed out on family time, he said, and made changes to accommodate his family. “I left a job making six figures to take on a church making $25,000.”

Wright did not want his children to compete for his time, so now he sacrifices sleep to have his devotional while they sleep. When they come home from school, he can now give them his full attention.

“That was my balancing act,” he said. “You have to rearrange how to do things the best for your family, so you can say, ‘God first, family first.’”