Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #7

(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 F: A few more churches served by typically part-time clergy Implications Your conference serves most of its churches and charges with full-time clergy. However, it is likely that part-time clergy will play an increasing role in pastoral leadership. If this develops, new systems and structures are required to account for this reality.  Recommendation Develop a plan to supply those churches where part-time clergy are appropriate. Develop a specialized enlistment, training, and mentoring plan for those called to a part-time, bi-vocational, or supply ministry built exclusively around the context and needs of small membership churches. Develop a tailored program of enlistment, encouragement, and support for retired pastors willing and able to continue serving churches. The findings and recommendations of “a few more churches served by typically part-time clergy have an air of déjà vu about them.  This was the original Methodist Movement!  We were largely a movement of lay preachers, many of them part-time.  We are going back to the future. I believe the Holy Spirit is leading us back into a day and time of clergy and lay leadership that is “close” to the people.  Put differently, we are moving away from having a mostly classically seminary-trained clergy and back to a clergy who need the specialized training and support that comes out of the licensed local pastors and lay supply network.  We must carefully note that this is not anti-seminary education.  We will still have and need many high quality seminary-educated clergy.  Rather it is a Spirit-driven opportunity to go back to our roots. We will have to re-think and re-apply training for local pastors and lay supply clergy.  Such training will need to be in conversation and careful interchange with a host of partners – Boards of Ordained Ministry, District Committees on Ministry, Cabinet, Seminaries, special study opportunities (including offerings from par church organizations, etc.)  Last year a gathering of Texas Conference Cabinets (cabinets of the 6 UMC Conferences currently residing within the bounds of the state of Texas) began discussions of how such education needed to be shaped both formally and informally.  In September at the SCJ Bishops Conclave, we will be continuing discussions. In the Central Texas Conference, District Superintendents are always looking for quality leadership (both lay and clergy) who are willing to serve in a part-time or supply relationship.  We are on the front end of rethinking how we go about the full range of tailoring a program of “enlistment, encouragement, and support.”  Prayers are welcomed!

[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