Commentary: Finding new ways to attract new clergy leaders
Feb. 19, 2008
NOTE: Photographs available at http://umns.umc.org.
A UMNS Commentary By the Rev. Meg Lassiat*
It's a phrase heard a lot these days: Leadership development.
Bookstore shelves overflow with "how to" guides for employees, managers and CEOs. Service organizations, high schools, colleges and universities profess leadership development as a core value as they work to attract students. Young children are even part of the leadership emphasis. Every morning on my way to work, I pass Tomorrow's Leaders Pre-School!
Equipping the right people with the right tools, and training them with the necessary skills to do a good job today and in the future, has always been important. Samuel grew up in the temple, where he received training and guidance from Eli. When God called Samuel to serve, Eli taught him how to respond. Mordecai gave Esther the guidance, motivation and instruction to confront the king at the right time and save the Jews from destruction. As a young man, Paul trained Timothy so that as he matured he would learn how to lead his faith community.
The church needs well-trained, well-equipped, effective leaders. That hasn't changed; but the world has. And the church is therefore challenged to respond to today's culture in meaningful, relevant and appropriate ways. Indeed, in The United Methodist Church, leadership development is the first of the four churchwide areas of focus for program development and funding for the next four years.
In 2005, the Rev. Lovett H. Weems Jr. reported that 850 of the 18,141 probationary or ordained elders in the United States were 35 years of age or younger. Only 4.69 percent of elders were in this age group--down from 15.05 percent of elders in 1985. This alarming percentage has helped to crystallize the church's need to critically reassess and retool its efforts to invite, train and retain young adult clergy.
Today's young adults approach the world differently than young adults did 50, 25 or even 10 years ago. Programs and structures that may have worked in 1985 will not engage today's young adults in the life of a local church, annual conference or even the general church.
At all levels--local church, annual conference and globally--The United Methodist Church must ask itself: Are we prepared to respond to young adults in ways that invite them into meaningful service and allow them to learn new skills and hone their gifts and talents? Furthermore, are we prepared to change outdated or ineffective practices to respond to the way that young adults are leading in the church today?
Missing the picture
As part of my work, I am regularly involved in conversations about the critical need for young adult leaders. The conversation often turns to the reasons we need them. More often than not, people say these new young leaders must be prepared to lead the church 20 years from now. They insist that we need people who we can train to "take over the reins" when today's leaders retire.
While this may be a legitimate goal, they are missing the big picture. Young adults are not only leaders for tomorrow's church. They are leaders in the church today.
If the church is to fully integrate young people in ordained leadership positions, all levels of the church must find new ways to invite them to consider ordained ministry and then respond to the gifts and skills that young people already bring.
The first goal of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry's strategic plan is to "reach young people to assist and support them in identifying and forming their vocations as Christians for leadership in the global church and the world."
I work with both the Division of Higher Education and the Division of Ordained Ministry to address systemically how the church can invite, train and retain youth and young adults as church leaders. In addition to several ongoing programs (EXPLORATION, Student Forum, the United Methodist Student Movement and the Young Adult Seminarians' Network), three new emphases are under development: www.ExploreCalling.org, The National Leadership Development Advisory Team and The Campus Ministry Internship Program.
New resources for new leaders
ExploreCalling.org is a Web site for youth, young adults and those who work with them that provides tools for discerning God's call to vocation. The site has links to United Methodist colleges, universities and theological schools; a resource page of books and articles about vocation; information on loans and scholarships available to United Methodist students; details about upcoming leadership development events; and links to other relevant sites. New downloadable resources are added about every two weeks, and news stories are updated weekly.
Additionally, visitors can e-mail questions about ministry and sign up to receive e-mail updates. It's the one place in The United Methodist Church where information about vocational discernment and answering God's call to ministry is centralized.
The National Leadership Development Advisory Team creates tools to train those involved in all stages of the invitation and candidacy process for young adults. The team writes articles and resources that can be used to ensure that young adults receive the information they need as they work through the candidacy and probationary processes. These resources will be used by pastor/staff parish relations committees, district committees on ordained ministry, annual conference boards of ordained ministry, district superintendents and bishops as they work with young adults.
The team also sponsored a meeting in October 2007 for representatives of annual conferences that are already effective at inviting and retaining young adult clergy. This group began developing "best practice" resources to be shared among annual conference leaders involved in young adult clergy development.
The Campus Ministry Internship Program, based on a program created by the Northwest Missouri State Wesley Foundation, will replicate throughout the United States an effective tool for engaging college students in vocational discernment and ministry development. Students will work with a team of other students and their campus minister or chaplain to serve a local congregation where they will lead worship and preach regularly.
Just as the world has changed, the church must change to meet the needs of the Millennial Generation--those born between 1982 and 2000. Most of us would agree: We need young adult leaders!
But how does the church accomplish this? We must use the tools that work. We must build relationships, equip and train young adults for leadership, find ways to assist them in the discernment and candidacy process as they explore ordained ministry, and work with annual conferences to find ways to retain young adult clergy.
You can make a difference as an individual. Find ways you can encourage young people and develop relationships with them as they discern how God is calling them to serve. Look to make changes that enable our church to invite, train and retain its newest leaders.
Young people are ready to answer God's call. Are you ready to help them?
*Lassiat is Director of Student Ministries, Vocation, and Enlistment at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
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