Young Clergy?

As the 2012 United Methodist General Conference approaches, I have been trying to bite my tongue and not get too worked up about things that have not yet come to pass.  With the possibility of radical changes to the church structure and the end of guaranteed appointments there have been many things that have gotten my dander up.

For as long as I have been in full time ministry, I have heard the leaders in my conference talk about the need for young clergy.  To their credit, they have actively worked to recruit and support young clergy.  At the same time though, I have noticed that with declining attendance and giving, we have also actively been making the compensation end of pastoral ministry less appealing to people pursuing ministry.

Teachers with only bachelors degrees often have better benefits and compensation starting out than a pastor starting in ministry.  One works nine months a year with a set schedule, the other has a graduate degree, is on call 24 hours a day, works 6 days a week for 11 months of the year.  As an aside, this is not to say that teachers do not deserve their compensation.  I get upset when we as a society argue for the lowest common denominator.  I think we should compensate our teachers well. As young people are trying to discern how God is calling them to be in ministry in the world (as United Methodists we believe we are all called to ministry) compensation will be part of that discernment process.

Pastors feel a call to ministry and we are willing to sacrifice for the mission of the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  I struggle though when our compensation is changing for the worse, whether we are being called to sacrifice to make disciples of Jesus Christ, or for the perseverance of the current system which is failing and cannot continue.

Yesterday I read this article about how some would like to change our current pension system.  I was upset.  Then I read this commentary and thought about how in the name of saving churches and making disciples, we will probably make changes to the pension system that will make ministry less appealing.  I started to wonder how this will impact the decision of young people about whether they want to pursue ordained ministry or stay in ordained ministry.  Could these decisions have an impact on the life of the church for generations in ways we are not counting upon in terms of young clergy?

What really gets me going is the power dynamic at play.  The people making the decisions are, on a whole, the ones who have the least skin in the game.  They are in positions of power and have the most protection from these decisions.  Young clergy (for the most part) are not at the table and will feel the sting the most.

I think the Reverend Becca Clark summed it up best in her twitter post:

I am thankful she has a voice at the table.

Ultimately though, we do not make disciples.  God makes disciples.  At best, we create environments where God can work through us.  God does not need the United Methodist Church to make disciples.  Young adults do not need the United Methodist church to be part of God’s disciple making process.

If the church decides to end guaranteed appointments and keep the itinerancy system, if the church asks young clergy to sacrifice future security in relation to pensions, while asking the clergy who perpetuated our current troubles to not sacrifice, why should young people feeling called to ordained ministry want to be United Methodist clergy? Do we as a church want young clergy?

Money” ©2007 Copyright Thomas Hawk.  Licensed Under Creative Commons.

Formulating Church

I have been trying to figure out ways of visually representing life in the church.  One idea I have been tinkering with is using formulas.  In many church meetings, we seem to struggle with not have a common language to talk about our ministry and the problems we are dealing with.  When looking at attendance or money, I often hear the question “what is our problem?”  From a systemic point of view though, there are several problems.  How though to convey the situation easily?

Using formulas to visually represent the information might be helpful.  Undoubtedly someone seeped in math or science would find this deeply problematic, but I think it might be helpful in conveying information and creating a common language.  Two formulas I have been playing with are:

  • Rootedness + Mission + Vision + Accountability + Passion = Thriving Church
  • Happenstance + Reputation + Opportunities + Invitation = Visitors

I worry formulas might seem inaccurate, crass, or too simplistic, and yet, the churches I serve need a common language and a way to think about our ministry.

Einstein’s Lecture notes.” ©2012 Copyright Martin Lopatka.  Licensed Under Creative Commons.

Life Lessons: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

I have often been accused of being “Captain Obvious.”  Yet, sometimes I find that what is obvious is the hardest for people to embrace.  In a recent church service, I was leading the announcements as I usually do.  I opened it up the announcements to the congregation and a person shared the church’s proceeds from a grocery store card program.

I was surprised, I had no idea the church had a grocery store card program.  So I made a comment noting my surprise.  One of my parishioners said something jokingly like “shame on you!”  I asked how was I to know about it when this was the first I heard of it?

I learned in divinity school “you don’t know what you don’t know” after scheduling classes for the first semester and then learning the United Methodist church and my conference had required courses.  It caused logistical problems for my remaining semesters.  In hindsight it seems obvious, but I had no idea.

One problem in churches is that we assume people know.  We take for grated that people know where something is, where to sign-up for something, or that a program even exists.  Yet, too often, we fail to communicate what seems obvious and in doing so we lose out.  If I had known the church had a grocery store card program, I might have shopped at the grocery store and used the card.  What I find really amusing is that even after I said I didn’t know about it, did anyone show me how to enroll?  No.

Socrates.” ©2003 Copyright Sebastià Giralt.  Licensed Under Creative Commons.