Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #5

(This Blog is a part of a series of blogs sharing insights from the “Findings, Implications, & Recommendations” reported by Dr. Weems about the Central Texas Conference.  This report analyzes key trends related to church size and clergy deployment over the past decade.  I will follow the reporting with some of my own reflections on these findings and recommendations.) Finding D: Little change in churches and charges served by an elder Implications The total number of elder positions has declined somewhat but not nearly so much as in other conferences. But the downward trend may continue, especially if the number of 100+ AWA churches continues to decline. The number of elders needed for new church starts and as associate pastors will impact the numbers. In 2012 there were fewer elders appointed to church staffs than in 2002. Despite these trends, there probably will not be an oversupply given the number of retirements coming. Recommendation Set high standards for elders to meet the challenges facing the church. While elders may serve somewhat fewer churches in the future, the demands on them will be greater as the church seeks to deal with changing cultures and contexts. More and more churches will require the full engagement of an adaptive leader who can guide the people in facing their challenges. Priority should be given to identifying new elders who have the spiritual, personal, intellectual, and professional skills to serve effectively in their early appointments and across the full range of church sizes over the course of their ministries. Most of us who serve in clergy leadership today were not trained to do so in this environment.  By that I do not mean to blame seminaries, or Boards of Ministry, or Bishops & Cabinets, or clergy or lay leaders.  Rather, I write to simply reflect reality.  The very nature of training and skill development needed to be a faithful and fruit people is different today than when I entered the ministry. Back in the day (I was ordained a probationary Deacon in June of 1974), we were instructed “stay close to God and close to your congregations” and your ministry will be successful.  Pause and think for a minute.  Who is left out of that equation?  The answer is all those who are not a part of any church or Christian movement.  It assumes that evangelism and discipleship engagement through the church will be engendered through a culture that encourages people to be active in local churches as a basic part of being a spiritual person.  Such is obviously not the case today! I tell lay people and clergy in speeches that if you think it is harder to be a pastor today than it used to be, you’re right!  It is harder today!  The culture is no longer our ally.  The demands are greater.  This makes ongoing training and learning an absolute must!  It means Boards of Ordained Ministry have to follow the stated recommendation – “set high standards for elder to meet the challenges facing the church.” I think that is exactly what makes this an exciting time to serve.  No longer can the Board of Ordained Ministry be a union shop designed to protect clergy.  No longer can Bishops and District Superintendents simply serve as mangers.  No longer can the laity passively assume that the clergy will do ministry for and to them.  Today all of us are engaged in mission and ministry to often unbelieving society. We are in a situation akin to the refrigerator salesmen sent to Alaska.  One replied to management, “I’m ready to come home. Nobody has refrigerators here.” The other urgently call back, “Please sent more order forms!  Nobody has refrigerators here!”  One saw only winter with little need.  The other beheld the coming spring and the great opportunity before him. With Paul let’s give thanks as we proclaim that we are “a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for God’s good news!” (Romans 1:1).

[1]               Based on A Lewis Center Report on Changes in Congregations, Clergy, and Deployment 2002-2012 South Central Jurisdiction The United Methodist Church, Central Texas Conference Report