Rebuilding the Pipeline

This past week I have visited six seminaries – Chandler, Gammon (ITC), Duke, Asbury, Boston University, and Harvard.  A seventh, Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. was to be included but could not be fitted into the schedule.  Perkins, Brite, and Austin Presbyterian (each in or adjacent to the Central Texas Conference) have been or will be visited.  Hopefully, additional schools will be added as we move forward. (Those above were chosen often because we have students currently studying at them.) Kyland Dobbins and Joseph Nader (both young clergy in Central Texas) joined me at various parts in the journey. The intent of the trip is simple.  We hope to rebuild the pipeline from youth groups & youth ministry through college & university campus ministry to the seminary and back to the local church.  Think of it as a circular pipe line that benefits all involved at its various stations.  Leadership development for next decade makes this a critical task.  Preliminary analysis of clergy age trends for United Methodism in Texas indicated that we should have a surplus of elders through (roughly) 2016 and a slowly widening shortage of seminary trained elders moving towards 2020. Visiting with our young seminarians was both exciting and hopeful for me.  We need more young ministerial candidates but it was delightful and encouraging to share with those I met.  A bouquet of great thanks goes to all the seminaries involved.  We were graciously received at each.  They are deeply interested in being engaged with the Conference and our local churches. A common theme was the deep missional engagement in love, justice and mercy.  This is clearly where our heart, passion and commitment are for the students and the seminaries.  The Wesleyan imperatives of personal and social holiness are alive and well.  Evangelistic outreach is something we ascent to but both groups (students and seminaries) wrestle with how to engage in evangelism.  We acknowledge the need for evangelism but are generally (there are some notable exceptions) deficit in the application.  I find myself ever reminded of the great missionary Bishop Lesslie Newbigin’s epigram, “Words without deeds are empty, but deeds without words are dumb.” There are abundant challenges for all of us but also a new future of hope and possibility beckons us forward.  I am coming home after 10 plane flights in 14 days (part spent on personal family time) believing that it was a journey well met.  We are rebuilding a crucial pipeline for a new generation of church leaders.  For this I give thanks to God both to and for the students we visited and the seminaries that partner with us in a great work of leadership development.