Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #6

(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 E: Changes in ages of elders Implications In the past ten years, the United Methodist Church has shifted from being a church primarily served by middle-aged elders to one in which over half of elders are older (55 to 72 years old). This trend has depleted the number of middle-aged elders available for appointment. And it brings a challenge for the coming decade as this huge cohort of older clergy moves into retirement. Your conference has maintained a strong and growing cohort of young elders. But you have suffered the same decreased in middle-aged elders and increase in older elders seen across the denomination.  Recommendation Continue efforts to identify, enlist, and retain gifted younger clergy. Apart from clergy supply and demand issues, gifted young clergy are needed for their energy, passion, and closeness to the culture of emerging generations. No conference is in danger of having too many young elders, especially given their relatively low numbers across the denomination. When I first came to the Central Texas Conference, I visited every congregation.  It took me eight months and was one of the most marvelous experiences of my life.  Learning from so many lay leaders and clergy around the Conference, I gained immense insight and wisdom.  A common refrain I would hear (especially from lay leaders of smaller churches was “how about sending us a young person for our next pastor?” A part of my response was to ask every congregation to tell me about the last person to go into the ordained ministry or some form of dedicated Christian service from their congregations.  I heard some wonderful stories of the Holy Spirit moving in the lives of people and churches.  I also ran into a fair number (far more than I would like!) of comments that went something like this. Lay Leader X turns to Lay Leader Y, “What was the name of that guy who became a pastor from here?”  Lay Leader Y in response, “Who are you talking about? Oh, do you mean that guy (gender neutral) back in the 60s?”  I kid you not.  I am not making this up!  The number of times I heard a dialog extremely similar to this one was a fairly high, double figure amount (it may have even reached triple figure).  Such reports even came from people serving in Wesley Foundations (our College and University ministries)! Pastoral leadership doesn’t fall out of the sky or grow on trees.  It comes from vibrant healthy congregations.  There is a direct correlation from the way a congregation treats its pastors to its production of ordained clergy.  The effort to “identify, enlist, and retain gifted younger clergy” is everyone’s business! A key element we are wrestling with is the development of the next generation of clergy leadership.  I have said it before, but it is worth restating.  Thank God for the number of faithful second career clergy who have provided leadership across the congregations of The Central Texas Conference.  We have been incredibly blessed by their faithfulness and service.  And yet, it doesn’t take a genius to know that we absolutely must raise up new generations of young clergy.  This is a mission and ministry imperative!
[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