Author Archives: marcusjcarlson

Building the Church Around the World

As published in By the Word

Over my ministry career, traveling to developing areas and providing training to pastors and ministry leaders who have no access to training has been one of the most life-giving activities. This type of work is parts of the work I do for Preparing for Amazement Ministries.
In January and February, I spent almost two weeks in Africa with two Lutheran bodies in Uganda and Kenya. The Kenyan Lutheran group is an established group, and
I previously trained their youth leaders in February of 2019. The group from Uganda is a brand new Lutheran body, seeking to plant churches throughout Uganda. They created this new group to ensure greater alignment with scripture and Lutheran theology. The vast majority of these pastors, staff, and ministry leaders have very little training and education, especially by North American standards. Contextualized education focused on the Scripture while honoring their culture is extremely scarce.
This trip was deeply powerful for these ministers who were hungry to learn. Just 3-5 days of education were deeply transformative for them.

Following are several comments from ministry leaders:
“I learned many things which will assist me in doing the work of God in the right way. Like health leadership and also the way to organize the youth, value them and equip and empower them so that they can be the leader of tomorrow in the church. I thank God for this wonderful teaching I have received. It will assist me in the work of God.”


“This training has helped me to do discipleship and evangelism.
It has helped me learn to manage unhealthy church and to plant churches.”


“I have benefited much about discipleship and mission lifestyle out of being well translated to me. I have received the lifestyle to go and disciple others and others disciple others continually.”


The beauty of this work is that it not only allows for the transformation of these individuals and the churches they serve, but also their communities, culture, and even nation. It has tremendous impact for such little time and resource, as we can train over 60 pastors, staff, and ministry leaders for the cost of what it takes to send 4-5 people to a conference in the United States.


The training is always geared toward the needs of attendees. On this trip, a wide variety of topics were covered such as mental health ministry, discipleship, a basic understanding of baptism, leader health, church health, equipping youth, developing leaders, and much more.
This trip was not only transformative for the participants, but it was transformative for those leading it. I preached two Sundays, one in Uganda and one in Kenya. When I arrived at the church in Uganda, the pastor informed me there would be baptisms. He then let me know I was going to do them!


In a space filled with more children than adults, I baptized 21 people from infants to senior citizens. Additionally, I was blessed to have a young adult working with me and helping me for this trip. He is from Kenya and has a clear call to ministry. He was a tremendous asset and helped lead activities, translate, and teach about youth ministry. He is now working with our team, and we are helping him get a seminary education from a U.S. seminary.
Africa is ripe with potential. The median age is 18-19 years old. There is a hunger for Jesus’ transforming love. These church bodies are hungry to learn more, be empowered, and be equipped to bring the Gospel to their communities.


It is also a continent with a lot of needs, many not financial. Leaders in Africa are hungry for practical ministry training, theological training, and training to address local needs. Because of this desire, pastors, staff, and ministry leaders are looking for more theological, ministry, and worship books and are in need of paraments, vestments, and computers.
There is much more workto do. We are excited to develop an educational model in partnership with a U.S. seminary, as well as build new partnerships in developing areas. Our ultimate goal is to train leaders to do the training and to utilize technology where possible to maximize impact and be able to serve as many groups as possible.


Our next trip to Africa will be in November 2023 and will include at least Kenya and Uganda. We will focus on worship leadership training, theology, and other needs.


If you want to learn more about our recent trip or this work, do not hesitate to reach out to us on our website, amazed15.org. We are always looking for churches, pastors, and individuals to partner with us in a variety of ways. If God is calling you to build the church in this way, we would love to talk to you. Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters building the church around the world.

Dr. Marcus J. Carlson is an LCMC certified pastor, professor, consultant, and non-profit ministry leader. He is the Executive Director of Preparing for Amazement Ministries (amazed15.org) focusing on church and leader health. He, his wife, and two teenage children reside in Northeast IN. You can also visit his professional site: revdrorange.com.

The Pastor Crisis

A blog post written for Preparing for Amazement Ministries

We are facing a full-blown pastor crisis. 

Currently, there is a massive shortage of clergy/pastors and other church staff.

The signs are everywhere. 

Because of the work I do, it is much easier to see the negative than the positive. That said, I generally tend to be a hopeful, optimistic and positive person. I am not taking the alarmist approach, I am instead confronting the challenging reality that we are facing.

Almost half of Pastors in the United States are thinking about leaving ministry altogether. Leaving ministry, not just their current church or role.

This number has been rising at breakneck pace. Consider the following numbers  Barna published regarding the number of pastors in the US seriously considering leaving ministry:

•       In January of 2021, it was 29%.

•       In November of 2021, that number rose to 38%.

•       In March of 2022, that number hit 42%.

•       Today, it is around 50%. That number is higher for pastors serving in mainline denominations.  

The number of active pastors shrunk greatly in the last 2-4 years in the light of the pandemic, most to retirement, some to burnout, others to death. It was a large exodus. 

Seminaries are shrinking. Many have closed and are merging with other seminaries.  One large denomination started offering seminary education for free at its seminaries to try to attract more pastors. The result was only a small increase in seminary enrollment, not nearly enough to even replace retiring pastors. Churches searching for pastors are struggling to find any candidates, let alone quality candidates who are a fit. I know of churches that have been looking for pastors for more than 2 years! 

While many of our numbers reflect the reality in US churches, the pastor crisis is not limited to North America. In central Africa, many countries are struggling to find and keep pastors. The pastor crisis is a global crisis of varying degrees depending on the nation. 

In the United States this may be one of the hardest, if not the hardest, season of ministry for pastors and church staff in the history of the church. Certainly, the Christian church is facing the most perilous (and simultaneously opportune) time in its history. We have entered the Post Christian Era in the United States (you can see my blog on the post Christian era for more). 

There is more division in society in general, but specifically in the church as well. Even the kindest of church members now have an edge post-pandemic that they did not have before. Just as in our society, there is more meanness and conflict in the church than in the past. Expectations have increased and resources are at best flat. In adding online programming and broadcasting to our ministries, we did little to no subtraction. There is growing emotional fatigue amongst people, including pastors. 

There is not a week that goes by where I do not talk at least one pastor or church staff member off of a ledge. There are weeks where I listen to more than a dozen different pastors express their struggles in tears.

Consider the following recent numbers from Barna:

In just seven years, pastors reporting ‘Excellence’ in their:

•       Spiritual well-being dropped from 37% to 14%.

•       Mental and emotional health plummeted from 39% to 11%.

•       Physical well-being fell from 24% to 9%.

•       Overall quality of life dipped from 42% to 18%.

•       Level of respect they felt from the community tanked from 22% to 10%.

•       Level of ‘true friends’ dropped by 50% from 34% to 17%.

•       Satisfaction with being a pastor dropped by 20% from 72% to 52%.

According to Pew Research, only 31% of pastors in the United States consider themselves to be healthy.

While all statistics can be manipulated or challenged, we must not deny this clear pattern. Confirmation bias is a powerful thing, and the church is notorious for denying problems. 

Barna also found that somewhere between 1,500 and 1,700 pastors quit ministry each month (2019). That is 50-57 pastors who leave ministry each day!

We have a pastor crisis on our hands. 

Pastors are usually the caregivers, but even caregivers need care. Even pastors need love, support, and encouragement. This is truer than it has ever been in the US. Pastors need pastors too. Without healthy pastors, church staff, and leaders, we cannot have healthy churches. Healthy churches are critical to healthy communities. The stakes are high.

While there are many elements to this crisis, it is primarily a crisis of leader health. There are plenty of pastors serving who desire to continue to serve. There are many leaders in our churches who desire to embrace God’s call on their lives. 

As leadership guru Patrick Lencioni notes, ‘health trumps everything.’ Our corollary is simple: “Outside of the work of God through the Gospel, health trumps all. In leaders and in churches. Health is the greatest factor in the effectiveness and longevity of pastors, ministry leaders and churches.”

We must continue to focus on the primary call of the church to make disciples. We must pursue excellence in all things, including the care, support, and encouragement of our pastors, church staff, and other leaders. We must empower current and future leaders, especially those under 25. We must join together to improve, guard, and sustain the health of the pastors and staff in our churches and ministries. 

We have a pastor crisis. It is a crisis that demands our response.

Half of US pastors are considering leaving ministry.

Only 3 out of 10 pastors in the US consider themselves healthy.

Communities need healthy churches. Churches need healthy pastors. 

Our Pastors need us.

We do not have another generation to get this right. 

To learn more about more about church and leader health, contact us at amazed15.org.

Post Christian Era

A blog post written for Preparing for Amazement Ministries

Has the church in the United States entered into a Post Christian Era much like Europe?

Without a doubt, yes.

This question, however, while important, points us to a greater question.

Is the emergence of a Post Christian Era in the United States good or bad news?

But first, a little more on the Post Christian Era in the United States:

I have had the privilege of studying churches in Europe that managed to thrive in the midst of the decline of the church there. Europe is 20-25 years ahead of the United States in the emergence of the Post Christian Era. They are joined by Oceana (Australia, New Zealand, etc).

All the data, both objective and subjective, points to the reality the United States has entered the Post Christian Era. It is not clear if the Covid-19 pandemic was the tipping point to bring the United States into the Post Christian Era or if the pandemic simply revealed the reality that we are in the Post Christian Era. Either way, many missiologists, scholars, consultants, and evangelists alike see that the Post Christian Era has come to the United States.

Ironically, what most people do not realize is that the passionate attempts to infuse government with religion actually does more harm than good when it comes to slowing the emergence of the Post Christian Era. Churches are in decline. Pastors are leaving ministry in once unimaginable numbers. Seminaries are shrinking, merging, and closing.

American Christians are notorious for doubling down on the culture war when things are not going as they might hope in churches, the government, or culture. My greatest fear is not that we have entered the Post Christian Era, but that Christians might waste what is ultimately the greatest opportunity in the history of the church in the United States.

Is the emergence of a Post Christian Era in the United States good news or bad news?

The answer depends on our response.

The emergence of the Post Christian Era in the United States may be a reality, but it can either be good news or bad news. It can be an opportunity for the Holy Spirit or for the Enemy.

As it turns out, our response to this moment in history really matters.

The church has two choices: embrace this moment and look to how the Holy Spirit might want to use and redeem it, or ignore this moment.

Ignoring this moment comes in two forms. Doubling down on the culture war or sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring the realities that surround us.

Embracing this moment means seeing this season as a great opportunity for revitalization and revival. It is an opportunity to get back to our roots, the roots of the Gospel and the early church from the book of Acts.

Is the emergence of a Post Christian Era in the United States good or bad news?

In this moment, it is both, but whether or not it is good news or bad news in the long run depends on us.

One of the best things that could happen to the church in the United States is for the false, heretical, biblically illiterate cultural and political Christianity to die. Unfortunately, in the process, some local churches might have to die as well.

Every Easter, I ask myself and others the same question. What needs resurrection? What needs resurrection in our lives? What needs resurrection in our culture? What needs resurrection in the church?

For me, the answer to the last question is simple. Our perspective needs resurrection the most in the church in the United States.

We have to get back to the Gospel. We have to get back to our mission, to the movement of Jesus. We must return to our roots as a church, looking to live out the early church from the book of Acts in our context.

The United States has entered the Post Christian Era. In the midst of the challenges that come with this reality are even greater opportunities. Will we, the Church, allow for God to bring resurrection to our perspective and partner with the Holy Spirit for revitalization and revival?

It’s up to us. It’s up to me and to you. We are unquestionably in the most challenging time in the history of the church in the United States, which means that we are also in a season that presents the greatest 

Pastors4Pastors

An article for the LCMC newsletter.

One of the most exciting things about LCMC 3.0 is the emphasis on leader care. This has long been an issue in churches and even more profoundly so now. Research from Pew, Barna and others has tracked a dramatic increase in the number of pastors
who are considering leaving ministry altogether (not just their current role or church). In November 2021, 29% of pastors in the U. S. were seriously considering leaving ministry. As of now, that number hovers between 46% and 49%! A dramatic increase. Almost half of pastors are considering leaving ministry right now.

The leader care initiatives could not come at a better time.

Pastors – as well as church and ministry staff members – need encouragement, care and support now more than ever. Part of the work I get to do in leading Preparing for Amazement Ministries is helping pastors, church and ministry staff with leader health through our Pastors4Pastors ministry. I have never seen a season in my career where church leaders are struggling so deeply. I have more heartbreaking conversations than I care to count.

That said, the good news of the Gospel is that in the darkest, most challenging moments come the greatest seasons of opportunity for renewal, revival and revitalization. In doing this work, I have learned that outside of the work of God through the Gospel, health trumps all in ministry leaders (and in churches as well). I have been forced to reflect on my own ministry career and how much I needed pastoral care and support in each of the places I served. Pastors and church staff need pastors too.

For our ministry, church and leader health is one of our three areas of focus, with Pastors4Pastors being our flagship ministry for leader health.

The main focus of Pastors4Pastors is on self-care and the overall health of leaders. The ministry is open to all church and ministry staff, not just pastors. While the focus is on self-care and health, professional support, advice and mentoring may naturally be a part of the Pastors4Pastors ministry. We do not want to be one more task on a to do list or another appointment in an already busy calendar, but we desire to initiate and provide transparent, authentic, empathetic support. Pastors4Pastors includes:


• One-on-One Support – Pastors will receive one-on-one initial support and ongoing support throughout the year.

• Pastors4Pastors Network – This includes monthly network zoom calls with other pastors, church staff and ministry leaders around the world where the discussion is centered around leader and church health.

• Resource Support – Pastors will receive connection to network, ministry partners and other resources through Preparing for Amazement Ministries.

Pastors and church staff need multiple layers of support: congregational, local and support outside of the congregation and local community. Pastors4Pastors seeks to provide that kind of support.

We are excited to provide resources to churches, pastors, church and ministry staff and we are looking forward to complementing the great things happening in the leader care initiatives for LCMC 3.0. We believe God’s redemptive power can take any season of challenge and bring about revitalization in our churches, their pastors, staff and leaders.

To learn more about Pastors4Pastors and our other ministries, visit: www.amazed15.org
or email info@amazed15.org

Health Series Part 3

Pastors Need Pastors Too!

By DR. MARCUS J. CARLSON

Executive Director, Preparing for Amazement Ministries

Recently I was asked to preach at our home church, where my family and I attend. Before the sermon, the Lead Pastor of the church interviewed me about healthy churches and healthy leaders. His final question was this: “What does it say that you work with church and leader health and you choose to attend here?”

True to Pastor form, I answered with a story. When I started college, one of my classes was with the most well- known faculty member at the school. He was also very
well known in Christian circles. I expressed a frustration
at the lack of good churches in the area and asked him for recommendations on a good church. Leaning in, he looked at me and said, “Marcus, if you find the perfect church, don’t go there, you will ruin it.”

There is no perfect church, but there is a difference between a healthy church and an unhealthy one. We attend the church we do because it is healthy, but is nowhere near perfect.

Healthy leaders lead healthy churches. If a church is unhealthy, one of two things is true: either the leader is also unhealthy, or the leader is healthy and will either become unhealthy or leave.

The church is often reactive rather than proactive. Sustainable health is not possible through reactivity alone. Health, both for leaders and churches, requires proactivity.

While I never want my identity to be found in my title and role as a pastor, pastoral ministry is an honor. It
is deeply humbling to be allowed to serve God in this way. Being a pastor, working in a church, earning a living by doing ministry, is a joy and a gift. Serving God vocationally through the church is also isolating and exhausting, perhaps more so now than ever. Serving in ministry of any kind, especially in the church and as a pastor, can be a very lonely and isolating work. It is hard to open up and to allow people to care for you as a pastor, but every pastor needs a pastor too.

I have two dogs. They are purebred border collies. They are very energetic, affectionate and smart. They know 30-60 commands and can open doors. Early on, when they were puppies, I took them to dog training classes. If you have ever done this you know that you go not to train the dogs, but to train the owners of the dogs! Dealing with high-energy dogs is not easy. I remember after one class the instructor told
me that I could tire my border collies out more effectively with 10 minutes of trick/command work than I could with hours of throwing the ball in the field. It would
be easier on me and save a lot of time if I learned that this breed tires out more quickly from intellectual effort than they do from physical effort.

As I was driving home, I got to thinking and reflecting about this revolutionary truth. Border collies get more exhausted by intellectual work than any other type of work. It struck me that we as humans get far more exhausted by emotional work than we do by physical or intellectual work. Serving in ministry and being a pastor requires a lot of emotional work, good and bad, beautiful and painful.

In the midst of a pandemic, the emotional workload has been higher than ever. Pastors are tired and hurting, and often have to deal with their hurt and exhaustion in isolation. A study recently indicated that about 1/3 of pastors have in the last year seriously considered leaving ministry, not just their current ministry jobs, but ministry altogether. This statistic is accurate to my own experience. At least once a week during the last six months, I have talked to at least one pastor, ministry leader or church staff member who is at a breaking point.

Now more than ever, I recognize how badly pastors need pastors too.

Pastors need pastors!

Pastors need people in their lives to mentor them, whether they have been leading for a lifetime or just for months. To be a disciple of Jesus and to be a leader means that we must be life-long learners.

Pastors need people in their lives to serve as counselors. This could include professional counselors, other pastors and friends. So often pastors and church
staff carry burdens alone, only sharing them with their spouse and family, adding to the burden of ministry to their families.

Pastors need people in their lives who will proactively seek them out and help them attend to their health in a proactive way. Just as pastors help those in their congregation to find health, they need people to do the same for them.

Pastors need pastors too.

Part of my own call in this next season of life is to be a pastor to pastors and ministry staff. When I first started attending our church after leaving full-time church ministry, I asked the lead pastor how I could best serve him and the church. The first thing he asked me was to care for his staff. I have done my best to honor that request, and it has been a great honor and joy. Pastors need pastors too.

If you are a pastor, church staff member or ministry leader, make sure you take care of yourself. Make sure you have a pastor.

If you attend a church, love your pastor and ministry staff. Make sure they feel safe to proactively attend to their health. Make sure that your pastors have a pastor too.

Note:
This is the third in a four-part series focused on the health of pastors, staff and other ministry leaders. The next article will look at the types of health for leaders to consider.

Dr. Marcus J. Carlson is an LCMC certified pastor, professor, consultant and non- profit ministry leader. He is the Executive Director of Preparing for Amazement Ministries (amazed15.org) focusing on church and leader health. He, his wife, and two teenage children reside in northeast Indiana. You can also visit his professional site: revdrorange.com.

Health Series Part 2

Leader Health

By DR. MARCUS J. CARLSON

Executive Director, Preparing for Amazement Ministries

Patrick Lencioni in his book The Advantage notes that “organizational health trumps everything.” Not only have I found his premise to be true in the church to a high degree, but I have also found it to be true for the leaders of the church as well. Outside of the Gospel, the most important factor in the effectiveness and longevity of a church is the health of the church. Outside of the work of God, health is the most important factor in the effectiveness of pastors, staff and ministry leaders. Health trumps. At least 29% of pastors in the United States seriously considered leaving ministry (not just their current call) in the last year. Pastors, church staff and ministry leaders are struggling deeply.

There are five key principles about leader health that have been essential in my leadership journey, both successes and failures. Understanding these principles can help any leader discern what health looks like for them.

1. You cannot give what you do not have

In my office is a print of a painting of a man holding large chalice. Below him and the chalice are the shadows of a large number of people. Above him is a heavenly image, representing God. From heaven, oil pours out over the man’s head, over his body and into the cup. The cup overflows and pours out onto the shadows of the crowd. It is an image of the Scripture, “you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.” All that we have comes from God. Often, as leaders we try to do things with our own effort and only rely on God in times of desperation. If we do not intentionally allow God to pour into us, we have nothing of value to offer others.

2. No one will do it for you

Churches are filled with wonderful people who love their pastors, staff and leaders. No church wants an unhealthy pastor. The hard reality, however, is that no one will do health for you. No one else will protect your health, set boundaries for you or make your health a priority, no matter how much they might want to. No one will do it
for you: it is something you must do. It is an intentional commitment that requires effort (not works).

3. You cannot do it alone

One of the many beauties and joys of the Christian faith is that it was never meant to be experienced and lived in isolation. We cannot fully follow Jesus and experience the abundant life He promised us without the help of others. As Luther is often quoted, “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.” Most pastors, ministry
staff and church leaders live lives of deep loneliness and isolation and are in need of others who will care about their health and wellbeing. Transformational health is impossible without the help of others. We need others to hold us accountable, help us set and maintain boundaries, and make health a priority and a reality.

4. It’s a matter of obedience

Health is a matter of obedience. Every human being is created in the image of God and is loved by God. Every human being is invited to be adopted into God’s family. Self-care, health and boundaries are a natural part of love. One key aspect to leader health is embracing sabbath. Sabbath is not a suggestion: it is a command. It even made the top ten list of commands! Most pastors, church staff and ministry leaders blatantly ignore sabbath. Our culture worships work and performance, abandoning the rhythm of rest. Sabbath is not always about doing nothing, it is about not doing our normal work and doing only those things that give us life. It is a rhythm of rest, one day every seven, not two weeks every year. Sabbath reminds us that we rely on God and that God does not need our work. In Sabbath, we delight in God and step away from self-dependence and the worldly idol of busyness. God rested. Jesus rested. If sabbath is good enough for God, then who are we to think that we do not need it. Health is a matter of obedience.

5. Unhealthy leaders are toxic

One of the areas of focus for the ministry I lead is helping churches revitalize through health. I have worked with many churches over my career as a volunteer, youth pastor, children’s pastor, associate pastor, senior pastor, intentional interim pastor, and consultant. When churches and other organizations have leaders who are unhealthy, it has a negative and often dramatic impact on the organization. This is why it is critical that churches care about the health of their pastors, staff and leaders. Unhealthy leaders can cause churches to become unhealthy. Unhealthy leaders often have unhealthy families. Unhealthy leaders reproduce unhealthy disciples.

The ministry I lead has an inventory for Christian leaders to do some self-evaluation of their own health. This free inventory has questions organized in seven different categories and can be found by visiting inventory.amazed15.org. In this season of ministry, I am doing some of the best work and ministry of my career. Why? It is not because I am older, wiser or more educated (though none of that hurts). The reason I am finding the greatest effectiveness, joy and peace in ministry in this season is because I am the healthiest I have ever been, in every way (with plenty work still to do). Health trumps.

Leader health matters. For those who lead churches and Christian organizations, as well as for those who are Christian leaders in secular settings, health trumps. Health trumps skill set, education, programs, preaching and just about everything else. Outside of the work of God through the Gospel, health is the most important factor in the effectiveness of any leader who follows Jesus. Pastors, church staff and ministry leaders must make health a priority if they want to make the kind of Kingdom impact they desire. Churches must come alongside their pastors, staff and ministry leaders to ensure that they are able to experience lasting and transformational health so that all our churches may be the light that the world so desperately needs.

Note: This is the 2nd in a 4-part series focused on the health of pastors, staff and other ministry leaders. The next article will examine the nature of church health and how congregations can emphasize organizational health.