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Who Shall Lead Them? The Future of Ministry in America, by Larry A. Witham

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Who Shall Lead Them? Future Ministry

Who Shall Lead Them?: The Future of Ministry in America, by Larry A. Witham

For decades the social status of clergy has been in decline: whereas before they were among the educated elite, today they appear almost irrelevant at times. As America becomes increasingly secular and religious Americans turn away from organized religion in favor of more personalized spiritualities, what is the future for American clergy? Can clergy earn enough money to live on? Will the clergy become increasingly female?


Title: Who Shall Lead Them? The Future of Ministry in America
Author: Larry A. Witham
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 0195166973

• Large amount of detailed information from interviews, surveys

• Little analysis on why things are the way they are or where they are going

• Description current state of American clergy: problems, changes, improvements
• Argues that America is changing and the clergy has to change with it

Book Review

As a profession, the clergy in America are being buffeted by two different forces: sociological and personal. On the sociological side, there are conflicts over the status of women in churches generally and the clergy in particular, conflicts over the role of gays in churches and the clergy, extreme differentials in pay between clergy of different denominations, power conflicts between clergy and lay councils in churches, declining attendance to traditional churches, and more.

On the personal level, many clergy feel called to a “higher” purpose in their lives but are then faced with an inability to earn enough money to take care of their families. There's also the high expectations people have for clergy which can’t always be fulfilled, stress from the pressures placed upon them by demanding congregations, and so forth.

All of this is explored in Larry A. Witham’s Who Shall Lead Them? The Future of Ministry in America. The times are changing and America’s clergy will have to change with them in order to keep up; whether the clergy is up to the task is still an open question, but Witham is ultimately positive and upbeat about their chances. He doesn’t mince words about the serious problems which face the clergy, but he also doesn’t think that these problems are insurmountable.

Witham relies on extensive surveys, interviews, and studies of church histories in order to build a very interesting picture not only of the state of America’s clergy, but also of American religion. The status of clergy in America is of course inextricably bound to the fluctuations and shifts in American religious sentiments, so while Whitham may have designed his book to provide a picture of the clergy, it also provides an interesting perspective on the current problems facing American churches overall.

Who Shall Lead Them? Future Ministry

Who Shall Lead Them?: The Future of Ministry in America, by Larry A. Witham

That said, there isn’t much in the way of theological, sociological, or historical analysis about how and why American churches got to the point where they are now. Witham is a newspaper reporter and the book is written like a good newspaper report: lots of interesting information about what is going on and what has happened in the last 50 years, but little abstract analysis that one might find in a more academic volume. There also isn’t much about where churches and the clergy might be going in the next 50 years or so.

Being written by an experienced journalist, the book is aimed at a general rather than an academic audience, so the writing style is fluid and approachable. There are many personal stories alongside the general surveys so readers are provided a very immediate connection to what America’s clergy is experiencing. It’s probably not going to be very interesting to the average reader, though, because of the specialized nature of the subject. I expect it to appeal mostly to those involved with church administration, clergy themselves, and those with a particular interest in American religion.

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