Once more there was chuckling among the Bishops at the Council meeting. But I wasnít laughing; instead I was shouting out ìYes!î
Dr. Weems reminded us that a few decades ago, nearly 15% of clergy were under the age of 35. Now itís less than 5%. In many conferences, itís about 3%. This is deeply disturbing. Yes, God continues to provide many persons for ministry of all ages, and these bring rich gifts to ministry. But the lack of young adult clergy leadership means we have lost perhaps our most effective voices in reaching the generations who are not present in our churches.
There are many causes and results of our shortage of younger clergy. (Maybe one of the causes is our lengthy and complex candidacy and ordination process that takes more than 35 years to complete! Sorry, Iíll refrain from such outbursts as best I can.)
A result of so few young adult clergy and laity in our churches is that our leadership becomes disproportionately skewed toward older adult perspectives, issues, worship styles, and ways of understanding, experiencing and communicating the gospel. This means that at most discussions about what to do to reach young adults, most of the people leading, talking, and deciding are older adults, myself included. (I can say this now. I just turned fifty two months ago, making me ìoldî by the standards of our culture, (qualifying for AARP discounts!) while at the same time being the second youngest of US bishops) .
I dream of a church that cares about what young adults care about instead of one that seeks to make young adults fit our mold. We all want young peopleÖ.as long as they act like old people! That will never work.
People make several of their most important and enduring major life decisions while they are in their twentiesÖabout love, relationships, and marriage, about vocation and career, about parenting. I dream of a church ready to offer the heart of Christ and the wisdom and relationship of God in a manner that is approachable, appealing, and authentic.
Recently, I gathered a group of benefactors and leaders of the Missouri Conference to discuss how to use their leadership and resources to impact the future of the church. They expressed a particular interest in reaching young adults. So I asked them to fund a gathering, a first attempt, an engagement with our young adult clergy. Rather than asking two or three young adult clergy to meet with a room full of older folks, we decided to fill the room with younger adult clergy, with only a couple of us listening in. After the first of the year, weíll invite (all expenses paid) all the ordained and commissioned clergy of the Missouri Conference under 35 years of age (there are about 30 of them) to meet together for twenty-four hours. I look forward to asking them how they would do annual conference, what they would suggest to attract younger adult clergy, how they would initiate change, foster mission, start churches, do appointments, reach youth.
Every conference must find its own way on this issue. But I consider young adult clergy to be our endangered species. In the natural world, when scientists declare a species endangered, they endeavor to learn about where they come from, what they need, where they are going, what feeds them, how to help protect them, and how they can benefit us all. Maybe thatís the discussion that needs to begin across all of United Methodism. Thanks, Lovett!
Grace and Peace,
P.S. If you would like to receive an emailed copy of each new blog entry, please subscribe for free.