Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Young Methodist Pastors as the "in-demographic"

(click on the title above for the original article. Any quotes from the article are made in the lovely olive green that you see in this sentence).

So why aren't young people going into local parish ministry? I believe it's no coincidence that the young adult voice emerged from "an environment of youthful collegiality with two non-United Methodist presenters and hardly a conference or denominational heirarch on site."

We have grown to view the heirarchy itself with at least seeds of mistrust - because it says one thing and does another. We are supposedly the "in-demographic" but that language simply doesn't capture the reality we experience. Have you ever been to an Annual Conference that aimed itself for young people as its target demographic? Of course you have. Those young people sure like Roberts' Rules of Order, don't they? They like sitting in endless mind-numbing meetings discussing the amendment to the amendment on the recommendation that doesn't have anything to do with making disciples for Jesus Christ.

If you couldn't tell, that was sarcasm.

We are an action-oriented generation. We don't like to sit around and talk about it - we like to do something about it. Don't mistake us for the Boomer generation who liked "contemporary" worship (meaning a worship show for a congregation to come and watch) - we like praise and worship music and screaming guitars and drums, but we also like traditional hymns and quiet music and candles. We don't like tradition simply for the sake of tradition ("that's the way we've always done it" is anathema to us) - but we love traditions that point us and move us intentionally into the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This is part of why many sense that "the church has not created space for young adults to be faithful disciples as they understand it." We're faithful disciples by doing, not by listening. When our churches focus on Sunday morning services, especially those that do not draw us into the presence of the Spirit, we come up with an "I can worship God better on my own" attitude.

An attitude that is detrimental to the Church.

I want to comment on the two concerns that emerged as universal themes from the article.
First, that nobody approves of the candidacy process. I agree that the process itself is focused more on bureaucracy than on discernment: my personal journey typifies that. There were some positives within the process, if it so happened that your supervised years group ended up working like mine did (after the first year, we threw out the required reading and instead of simply doing the prescribed paper-pushing and hoop-jumping, we focused in on living life together and uplifting one another and in the process some of us made some life-long friendships and ministry partners). On the other hand, I've yet to hear anyone speak highly of their "mentor" or of that process. "Mentors" seem too busy to actually mentor a young pastor-in-training. I was told twice that certain pastors would "mentor" me - one never contacted me or returned my phone call. Another was somewhat a buddy but by no means a mentor (I feel too strongly about this part to even comment on it on a public forum).

As for the second "universal theme" - I wonder seriously if they invited anyone from Asbury Seminary. Though I wasn't ready for certain aspects of ministry (like backstabbing church people, including clergy), I felt like the entire MDiv course of study pointed me to servant leadership, that everything was about making disciples for Jesus Christ, that there was little (if any) disconnect between the class and the world. I did have a professor or two who I thought were "off" - one was absolutely against women in ministry (and anyone who wasn't Wesleyan in theology), another was totally against all things "contemporary" in worship, another hated Southland Christian Church and its "watered down evangelism" (I think he was jealous), and still another seemed to have little to no "real world" experience. But those were 4 professors out of four years' worth of courses.

My professors actually cared about their students - much like pastors care about their parishioners. They were open to talk about progress (in and out of the classroom). Jerry Walls and Jim Thobaben played sports with us. Ben Witherington joked with us. Maxie Dunnam hugged us (and prayed specifically for us, and let us know that he was doing so). Joel Green taught me (outside the classroom) how to read the scriptures more critically and more deeply than I had done before (and read one of my papers so fast that I thought he was just blowing me off... until he started commenting on little parts of it). It seemed like all of the professors worshipped with us.

I felt like Asbury Seminary knew what it took to be effective church leaders and prepared me for it.

Many felt called to be agents of change — prophetic voices within the institution, calling it to renewed faithfulness for a new generation.

“This 'young clergy' demographic has a voice, but it's not one that will fit previous molds. … Great renewal and great change are coming with this new generation.”

I sure hope so. I experienced hope when I met with other under 35 clergy at annual conference this year. It was the highlight of 6 years of attending conference. Really. It was the first time I really felt hope (then, again when Adam Hamilton taught).

In the end, gatherings such as this should both delight and frighten those in power who enjoy talking about young Methodist clergy. This "young clergy" demographic has a voice, but it's not one that will fit previous molds. Hope and fear, people of The United Methodist Church. Great renewal and great change are coming with this new generation.

Here's something to think about, however: with all this talk about young clergy, I don't feel like the church is doing anything new to attract or to keep us. And all the talk seems to do is to make older clergy feel disconnected and alienated as well (what I've heard multiple times is that they feel like the denomination is abandoning them or at least belittling them with all the talk about us). But all talk and no action doesn't help anything.

But as hard as it is for young clergy in the UMC, sometimes it seems almost like the Grand Poo-Bah of the KKK wondering "why don't we have any black members?"


The Sister said...

But do you think that the fact the UMC is writing about this, posting it on its website, might at least be a step? (I would hope so.)
The fact is that at least they've recognized the value of you young-uns and recognized that the hierarchy/structure isn't necessarily building up the next and next and next generations...
Hmmmm. Hope they're thinking long and hard about it... and while they're at it, getting the young people into leadership that doesn't suck the life out of them but allows them to lead and make differences that work....
Yikes, this soapbox I'm on keeps grabbing my feet and making me stay on... :)

Rev. Dulce said...

This post was well worth the wait. I can, totally, relate to your mentor angst. I still have a mystery mentor out there that I have never heard from. One that never met with me, and the list goes one.

Luckily for me, I have some really good friends that have taken over the mentoring role. They have been invaluable to the process.

It's not just the "young clergy" crowd that is totally fed up with the Annual Conference scene. I love the worship services, the fellowship with friends but I sit voiceless in the deadly dull meetings. One pastor once threw his leg over the pew back and loudly exclaimed, "This is sucking the life out of me!!"

One of the best worship services that I ever experienced was a Taize Service and I love mission trips and DOING ministry. But I'm not important to the heirarchy because I don't fit into the 35 and under demographic. Of course, I was when I started this process.

The Thief said...

I do think that the UMC having a conference, writing about it, and putting it on their website is indeed a positive step.

The problem is that the ordination process seems to suck the life out of many qualified candidates, and then they are accepted only to find themselves in positions that suck their life out once more.

Jeff Greathouse said...

Very interesting read.

Asbury made my final two on the seminary choice and I went with the other - I may have made the wrong choice.

I am not really in a place where I feel comfortable talking about the issue. Except that I will agree that I think there are too many hoops and that the mentoring and support from what I observed in lacking.

From a conference standpoint - I have worked in 3 different UMC conferences (ym), I thought the North Alabama was the best.

The Sister said...

Pastor Heather says, "I know the ELCA faced this same issue a few years back, and now the momentum is swinging back the other way. More and more 'young' people are entering ELCA seminaries now, probably because the ELCA did something about it. They created some programs to reach out to colleges and camps, as well as something called 'Project Connect.'" http://www.projectconnect.org/index.php?action=showMainMenuContent&menuId=1