As a young clergyman myself, I feel compelled to respond to today’s UMNS story about a lack of young clergy in the United Methodist Church. First off, it only refers to elders in the UMC. I am a provisional deacon and wonder what the statistics would look like if we include deacons. Many of my age-cohort colleagues in seminary have gone the route of the diaconate.
For those unfamiliar with the UMC’s orders of deacon and elder, deacons serve in specialized ministries while elders are predominately pastors of local churches. Most studies of young clergy focus on elders since the church leadership focuses on filling pulpits. Herein lies one of the difficulties of bringing in young elders.
In my conversations with cabinet members (those advising the bishop regarding appointments of elders) and board of ordained ministry members in several conferences this past year, I heard of difficulties in finding enough positions to place each pastor. Some of these conferences solved their problem by not commissioning all candidates who otherwise might have been eligible to become a provisional elder. How many young candidates are being held back from entering the ministry due to the inability of congregations or conferences to support them in this tough economy?
Working with many of the general agencies of this denomination, I know several elders who have lost their positions outside of the local church. Some of these elders return to their home conferences looking for a position in the local church. Our system in the United Methodist Church says that all elders in good standing should be appointed. I agree with this policy, but also think we need to be creative with ministries and support those who want to serve God outside of the typical parish setting. These persons do not need to be elders unless they are starting new congregations as this denomination has committed to do. I am confident that the UMC will find young clergy candidates as long as we support the forms of ministry to which God is calling them.