“Attract” young clergy?

I invite you to read the article Leaders share best practices to attract young clergy by the United Methodist News Service. After you have read it, I want to hear what you think.

I am glad to hear that the denomination is concerned with the lack of young clergy. I believe that this is an issue across mainline denominations and not just for The United Methodist Church. However, I think that this article exposes some errors and outlines some good things in the approach to address this issue. Here is what I read in this article and my response.

  • Use of the word “attract” – I think that we are discovering as a denomination that an attractional model of church is no longer effective. I think that this is true for clergy as well. As a young clergy person, I am not particularly attracted by the denomination, but I am excited about the opportunity to be in mission, renew the church and change the world. I think words like encourage, empower or equip may be more appropriate.
  • Focus on the annual conference – I believe that it is a false perception that the annual conference is critical in encouraging young people to be clergy. The annual conference provides a role in the ongoing process of becoming clergy, but I would argue that the primary encouragement and culture in which one hears the call is the local church. I suggest that the focus for creating a culture of the call at the level of the local church.
  • Presence in seminaries – Amelia Sims, director of Residency in Ministry of the North Alabama Conference is quoted as saying: “It is up to us to really think about and be able to articulate why younger adults would be able to grow and flourish in their ministry in this annual conference.” I think that along with a focus in the local church this has great potential. Some of the best students that I knew while at seminary were not pursuing clergy orders. Empowerment and the desire from all people for young people to be an integral part of ministry is important.

I am passionate about young clergy being in ministry. I am certain that The United Methodist Church will continue to offer a distinct way for people to live out their faith in Jesus Christ that is both relevant and faithful. This will depend on current and future generations of leaders.

How do you respond to the article? What do you think about my responses?

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7 thoughts on ““Attract” young clergy?

  1. Of course, we’ve been hearing about this for several years. I’m with you; I think the bulk of the “process” is nurtured in the local church. That church should wrap their little holy hearts around those potential leaders and the pastor(s) should embrace the opportunity to direct a young person towards the decision to hear God’s calling.

    The quote from Sims is great; that’s an integral part of this whole ordeal.

    Perhaps in these articles and most of these sessions there is an assumed link with prayer. However, I have felt many times that the true spirituality of these types of matters has fallen aside to the particular model or strategy we want to engage. Pastors, the church, the DS, the bishop (everyone) needs to be in prayer for those young people (and those not so young) considering ministry and those whom have no clue about their involvement–serious prayer. And not just because we’re worried about what the average age of our clergy will be in 10 years, but because theirs is a serious calling demanding integrity and the love of our Lord.

    I’m thankful, as a young candidate, for the relationships I have been exposed to in this process. Unfortunately, I know many others who do not share my enthusiasm. Their process has been filled with inconsistency, apathy and mere duty (on their part and the part of their mentor). That’s probably another post.

  2. John, great thoughts, especially re: prayer. As one nearing the end of the ordination process I agree with you about witnessing peers in the process who have not had as great an experience as mine.

    Andrew, I agree with your dislike of the word “attract” for the reasons you said, however I think the article itself gave some indication of pursuing young people in the local church. I also affirm in the article the encouragement for all pastors to reflect on their call discernment, and all the persons involved along the way. However, in regards to building the culture of the call in the local church… we have far too many dysfunctional churches that can’t even build the culture of the kingdom, yet those are the appointments where we routinely send our youngest pastors, where they get burned up, chewed up, and/or spit out, or where children of the laity there grow up witnessing the dysfunction and want nothing to do with it and leave church entirely.

    Two thoughts from the article though… it states that in the next decade, 50% of active elders will be retired. Yet, we’re also talking about discontinuing guaranteed appointments, which I think has its pros and cons (see my blog). My question is, if half of our active elders will be retired in another ten years, and we’re encouraging younger pastors to enter the ranks, how does factor into doing away with guaranteed appointments? Would it be necessary still to do so?

    My second thought comes from the quote that the North Alabama conference only has 16 elders under 35… I think Virginia probably has fewer. At our annual conference this past June, a motion was made encouraging all to vote for “young adult” delegates. Fine for the laity… but one clergy spoke up and said they would vote for them, if they had eligible (ordained) under 35 clergy! If all goes according to plan, I will be 29 when I’m ordained, by God’s grace. I think this could call us to question the length of the process toward ordination. Truth be told, I value the rigorousness of our process, but I just wonder if the length has to be so long, and if that might be a detriment to young people considering vocational ministry.

  3. Andrew,
    You know this is also a key issue for me, one that I am glad to see taking shape on a national stage.

    You point out that local churches are the areas where call is most clearly heard, and I agree. I wonder, however, if the annual conference is the place where the chain has been most clearly broken or neglected. We have scads of people in seminary and few entering local church ministry. I think this is because churches get people to their education and then AC’s drop the ball on NURTURING through the candidacy process into professional local church ministry.

    I remember so many people who in school who were dragging their heels in the credentialing process. Who from their home AC was holding them accountable, helping them discern, etc? No one. They were going to school and being ignored at home.

    Dan I think the process is too long, and too combative. We have devised a system that tries to put up as many gates as possible to prevent the repeat of past mistakes. What would a positive system look like? I don’t know.

  4. Language in this article seems to imply that young clergy are yet another commodity in the marketplace that can somehow be obtained through “best practices” and strategic planning.

    When might we be able to expect United Methodist dialogue on calling and vocation to be unapologetically centered on theological speech and the particular nature of Christian convictions? My reading of the New Testament reveals that those who choose to align themselves with Jesus and his early followers witnessed a contagious way of life which they themselves wished to be part within the context of a dynamic community with a compelling vision for the future.

    We are currently stand amidst a generation which believes they can make a difference. They have energy which they are willing to give, but only to a cause that appears worthwhile. Is there currently a compelling vision in the life of local congregation and varying conferences which generate energy, excitement, and passion concerning important aspects of our identity such as evangelism, mission, or even worship of the Trinity? If there is a compelling vision, is it being well communicated?

    God is currently calling people (young and old) into his service across United Methodist contexts. I’ve experienced this personally. What I’ve also discerned as I’ve listened to teenagers is that many currently exist in local contexts where they are not discipled, invested in, prayed for, or encouraged. They have a call, yet are detached from caring adults who will help them discern the direction that God might be leading them.

    We have a deficit in the transmission of wisdom. May we pray that God would raise up leaders (clergy and laity) in this generation, and may we be receptive to Jesus’ leading to invest, love, and care for those people whom God may use to strengthen the Body. While we do so, may we have faith that God will sustain us and accomplish his purposes, and that we have no need to panic or be fearful.

  5. First of all, thanks to each of you for your comments on this subject. It seems to be one that “attracts” a great deal of conversation 😉 (Okay, I couldn’t resist…)

    John – I agree with your emphasis on prayer as a key part of the process. I think that prayer should continue to be an integral part of all that we do as a people of faith. I have also had a generally good experience with the relationships that I have formed as a result of the candidacy process, but this is certainly not always the case and I have found that the experience varies widely from conference to conference and even from person to person.

    Dan – You make a great point about local churches and building the culture of the kingdom before being able to effectively build a culture of the call. The priorities need to be straight here – if there is no clear picture of what it is that one might be called to (servant leadership in God’s kingdom, among other things) then it is nearly impossible to create environments in which people might feel and respond to a call.

    Amy – I did not think about the responsibility of the annual conference to continue nurturing the call, and I think that you are right on. There is a responsibility on the conference to make sure that the ball does not get dropped in follow up and continued contact with those who are interested in ordained ministry. A comment that I have heard from time to time is that it is the responsibility of the candidate to make sure that she is following all steps of the process and not missing something. I do think that this is important, but it could certainly be the responsibility of the conference and the personnel involved to make sure that accurate and timely follow up is received. I have appreciated the follow up that I have received from you.

    Ben – I truly appreciate your wisdom. I particularly like your articulation of life of the early church as living out a contagious way of life. Good stuff. I think that the articulation of a compelling vision on a large scale is one that is missing. Some local congregations may be good at casting a vision for the future, but as a denomination there is not a great vision for the future. What I have generally heard about a vision for the future is – it won’t be like the past 40 years. I do not find that very compelling. However, when cast in terms of an increased vibrancy in communities of faith and living together into God’s kingdom it sounds like something of which I want to be a part.

  6. Andrew:

    I’m a little behind in posting a reply, but I think this is a great post, and I’m glad you initiated some dialogue around this news story.

    Like you, I take issue with the use of the word “attract” and the approach that word implies, as if it’s about marketing a product for a target audience. It reminds me of the kind of thing I’ve heard declining local churches say over and over: “We just need to attract some young folks and everything will be okay,” or “We just need to attract some new members.” When disciples are passionate about their life in Christ, it seems to me that spirit is contagious all by itself!

    In my experience, the Gospel itself presents a compelling vision for an abundant life in Christ, and I find such purpose and meaning in authentic community that is about the work of healing a broken world. Shouldn’t our focus, then, be on creating and leading communities of faith that are true to the Gospel vision? And doesn’t it stand to reason that where young adults are experiencing life transformation, they will also experience the call to ministry, without any top-down, bureaucratic strategy for being more attractive?

    It’s not about being “attractive.” It’s about following Jesus more faithfully. It’s about striving to love God more fully and love our neighbors more deeply. It’s about striving for authenticity in our communal life. It’s about being the Body of Christ. It’s about being the church.

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