The Life of JaWS

A blog by Jason Sansbury

Monday, August 28, 2006

For a Younger Clergy...

From the Atlanta Journal and Constitution:
The need for young blood is acute, agreed the Rev. Ed Tomlinson, executive assistant to Bishop G. Lindsey Davis of the North Georgia United Methodist Conference. The organization, the largest Methodist congregation in the nation, represents about 342,000 Methodists attending more than 900 churches.

Occasionally an article like this pops up in a paper or magazine somewhere as denominations are looking for younger pastors. In short, most mainline denominations have difficulties attracting younger people into pastoral ministry and it happens for a variety of reasons. And the truth is that most Methodist seminaries are full of second career people who won’t serve for the 35-40 years someone straight out of college might. Here are some thoughts I have about that process:

We need to pay for people’s education. Do it liberally, do it loudly and make the hoops to get it as easy as possible to jump through. The truth is that right now the process of knowing how to secure funds for education rest largely in the hands of the senior pastor. And if he or she has better things to do, like cut grass when they are supposed to be officiating a wedding, then you are pretty much up a creek. I just left a church that has three students who are now sophomores in college all pursuing ministry and everyone of them is having a difficult time paying for their undergraduate degree. Bishops, District Superintendents, people in leadership- it is time to put your money where you mouth is and help pay for the significant need for education if you want another generation of pastors.
(And as the article stated, a starting pastor makes around $30,000 a year, the same as most teachers. But the pastor also has significant and substantially more education and the cost that comes with that.)

Second, help students succeed in ministry. The truth of the matter is that most conferences see new pastors as the whipping posts of the conference. They get sent to places where no one has had successful ministry in 20+ years. They get kicked around by old and stubborn church goers and they have the life sapped out of them. The Methodist church needs to begin to realize that young people need mentoring and training in places that are functioning and supportive. If the best we can promise people in seminary and coming out of seminary is a three point charge in PoDunk, then no wonder our young people aren’t flocking to be pastors!

Third, invest heavily in college and young adult ministries. Every conference I read about and hear from is currently talking about ratcheting up significant young adult ministries. The issue is that we seem to have no idea what that means. The truth of the matter is that we have no idea how to do it well. Too many times I see college and university Wesley Foundations get pastors appointed who aren’t entrepreneurs and who don’t understand college kids. (I can imagine Cabinet meetings…"So that pastor is left, the one we don't know where to send. Let’s make him the Wesley Director at the local U. Meeting adjourned!”) We need to build, understand and focus on vibrant college and young adult ministries. And to do that, you need people with a willingness to constantly be challenged. Think about it: if you are a pastor/leader of a Wesley Foundation, you essentially are having to completely re-create your leadership every 4-6 years. The average pastor in Methodism can't handle that.
(And I completely realize I am being completely unfair to some talented, gifted pastors and shepherds who are doing phenomenal work in Wesley Foundations and on campuses everywhere. But those are the exceptions and not the rule in my experience.)

And where God is at work, we need to partner. Why not put a recruiting station at the upcoming Passion conference? Sure, it is outside the box but the box isn’t working! We need to find people that are passionate about Christ and building His kingdom!

Fourth, let new pastors try new things. To be bluntly honest, in my experience it isn’t that young people aren’t going into ministry, it is that they are doing it outside the bounds of the mainline denominations. I know of 6 or 7 church planters who seem to be doing great ministry that are all 35 or younger. When we expend so much time, energy and money in holding up some dying congregations, it is eating up the potential for young people to do new things. With our polity and our egos exclude young people from being used by God, we have a problem in leadership and theology. (David, Timothy for instance.)

Lastly, broad our definitions of who can be “pastors.” The truth of the matter is that churches are incredibly political machines. In certain denominations, the leadership and polity are absolutely homogenous, one sided and narrow. Essentially it is “You must think, act, breathe and talk our way to be a pastor.” And that narrow minded philosophy is part of what is killing mainline churches. I dread the day that I may one day decide to become a United Methodist minister because I know I will stand before some pastors, be honest about who I am, what God has lead me to believe and maybe not be “good” enough for them. My theology may differ slightly in certain test-case areas and exclude me from being a UMC pastor. Let’s focus on the things that bind us together and quit using smaller issues and agenda to tie us down. When we limit and put agenda driven, political constraints on who can and cannot serve congregations, we are only opening the door to people leaving, doing their own thing and hindering the long term growth of the church. God is bigger than our small disputes and agendas. Let us act like we believe that!

May God guide us to find more shepherds and more minister because as Jesus said “The harvest is ripe.”


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