If I were to write about the burdens of the preacher as I have experienced them and as I know them," declared Martin Luther, "I would scare everybody off."
A glance at 21st-century headlines about religion and the church would not have made Luther feel any better than he did in the 16th. We live in a context of ominous bulletins about the value and place of religion in society. Many people still believe in the classic secularization theory, that modernity inevitably entails the steady decline of religion.
With magazines like Newsweek announcing "The End of Christian America," it is easy to give in to fear and the perception of decline. Not only can worries like that become self-fulfilling, more often than not, they also blind one to the enduring nature of the visible church in our world.
It would be hard to find a century when the church and clergy have not faced challenges in ministry and concerns about decline. Just counting the number of historical studies detailing the "crisis" and "anxiety" of ages past suggests these labels are too worn-out to be descriptive anymore.
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