Being a young pastor myself (I’m actually the youngest Pastor appointed in the IGRC as of this writing), I am alarmed by the extremely low number of young clergy in the United Methodist Church. Let’s look at the actual numbers first, and then I’ll get frank with you about some solutions. My information and cause for alarm comes from a research study conducted by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary (read the entire study HERE). They got their numbers from the General Board of Pensions showing only “active” clergy, meaning that those who are retired, on sabbatical, maternity, or disability leave, etc. were excluded. Since the data is based on active clergy who are eligible for CRSP and Deacons, moreso than any other clergy, work in settings where they get their pension from sources other than the General Board, Deacons will be excluded from my article.
According to the study, there are 24,461 active pastors in The United Methodist Church. Of this number, only 1,277 (5.22%) are under 35 . Of the 17,480 Elders and Probationers in the UMC only 910 (5.21%) are under 35. 12 of the U.S. Conferences have 5 or less young Elders. The South-Eastern Jurisdiction leads the way when it comes to Elders and Probationers under 35 (6.60%). The Western-North Carolina Conference has the most numerically with 60 (8.12%).Local Pastors (full-time and part-time) number 6,981 in the denomination, with 367 (5.26%) being young clergy.
The United Methodist Church is superceded by 6 other denominations when it comes to young clergy: Church of the Nazarene (10.68%), Church of God (8.41%), Missouri Synod Lutheran (8.34), Assemblies of God (7.16%), ELCA Lutheran (5.92%), and Christian Church (DOC) 5.53%
How does the IGRC stack-up? According to the study, the IGRC has 558 active pastors; 21 (3.76%) being under the age of 35. The IGRC has 14 (3.62%) young Elders and Probationers amongst the total 387 . Out of the 171 Local Pastors in the IGRC, only 7 (4.09%) are under 35.
So what needs to be done in the UMC and especially in the IGRC. Perhaps we can glean something from the North Alabama Conference which is in the top 5 when it comes to young clergy.
Let me be frank with you:
- We have to make recruting young clergy a top priority! Bishop Willimon (resident Bishop of the North Alabama Conference) wrote in his blog, “faced with an aging clergy membership as well as a shortage of qualified candidates, we are moving into a posture of recruitment. We are devising means of equipping every congregation to notice, name and encourage top candidates for the ministry.” Our conference should engage in an agressive program to recruit and raise up young pastors.
- We have to re-evaluate the current candidacy process! I know how I struggled even to get to the point of becoming a Local Pastor, and I’ve heard countless times from other young clergy how they often wanted to just quit. I understand that our system is “tried and true” but we need to evaluate its effciency. We can keep the same general concept to the process, but it must be more user-friendly. Again, quoting Bishop Willimons blog,”we are reorganizing our Board of Ordained Ministry and the process of ordination in order to focus on recruitment of new, young pastors. We are determined to streamline the ordination process and to be more attentive to the fruit of the process-effective pastoral leaders for the Twenty-First Century.”
- We have to become the UNITED Methodist Church! Diversity is good on many things, but our division over theology and politics is unttractive to young people. We have to decide what we believe as a Church and stick with it. I can think of at least three young men who felt called to ministry but left the United Methodist Church and went elsewhere because of the theological crisis in our connection.
- Evangelsm, Evangelism, Evangelism! I was wondering to myself at one of the Forged in the Fire events, “in the 40% of our churches who had at least one profession of faith, how many were young adults?” Aside from looking for young clergy exclusively, we need to be actively engaged in ministry with the young adults in our communities. If we focused on evangelism, and churches came behind young adults to disciple them in the faith then it would be much easier to raise up young adults for ministry.
Finally, at the foundation of it all, we need to be praying that God will raise up young pastors for our churches. When all of our strategies, programs, and initiatives fail…prayer never fails!