Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Because You Are Young": My Presentation Notes From Today

(Earlier today, I delivered a presentation and discussion about the role, experience, and outlook that young clergypeople have in today's church.  It seemed to be well-received despite moments of bleakness in my notes--see below under "Next, the Facts" section--so I offer you an edited version of my presentation notes as a means of furthering of the conversation that has been happening here at the Project for some time now on the role of young clergy like me who are--and often seen as--an endangered species of sorts.  -E.A.)

“Because You Are Young”: When a Young Pastor Isn’t the Youth Pastor

We'll start with a few literary excerpts...

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.  Instead, set an example for the believers through your speech, behavior, love, faith, and by being sexually pure.” -1 Timothy 4:12 (Common English Bible)

“The clergy’s representative burden can also be a great blessing, a source of pastoral wisdom and power.  A parishioner emerged from a little church on a Sunday, muttering to her pastor, ‘you are not even thirty, what could you know?’  Her pastor drew himself up to his full height, clutched the stole around his neck, and said, “Madam, when I wear this and I climb into that pulpit, I am over two thousand years old, and speak from two millennia of experience.” –William Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry

“Please don’t use that phrase that all young ministers bust out.  Please don’t say, oh no, you just did.  You just said, “When I was growing up.”  You said it like it was over, like you’ve crossed from young man into wizened old gentleman.  But you’re only twenty-four.  The toughest decision you’ve faced in life so far was whether to get the full meal plan or the five-day-a-week meal plan at seminary.” –Jon Acuff, Stuff Christians Like, “Tuning Out if the Minister is Younger than You.”

Now, the Facts:

70% of young pastors are no longer pastors within five years of receiving their first call, usually for either emotional or financial reasons. (Carol Howard Merritt, 2011; some sources say as many as 80%)

The younger the pastor, generally the lower their job satisfaction. (Church & Faith Trends, 2010)

The following are the percentages of clergy under the age of 35 in these denominations: American Baptist: 5.10%; Assemblies of God: 7.16%; Church of the Nazarene: 10.68%; Disciples of Christ: 5.53%; Episcopal Church: 3.43%; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: 5.92%; Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod: 8.34%; Presbyterian Church (USA): 6.20%; Roman Catholic Church: 3.10%; Seventh-Day Adventist: 1.19%; United Methodist Church: 5.21% (Lewis Center for Church Leadership, 2008)

…And for some denominations, that percentage was as high as 15% in the mid-1980s. (Ibid)

But it’s not all bad news…churches are doing some pretty amazing things, such as:

The Lilly Endowment has invested over $38 million into local parish pastoral “residency” programs for young pastors just out of seminary to accept otherwise unattainable calls.

Many churches on their regional/conference/synod level now have formal or informal mentoring networks and arrangements for new pastors who receive a call in that region/synod/etc. 

Denominations are founding cross-country support networks specifically for young pastors, such as the Bethany Fellows in my own denomination, the Disciples of Christ.

Email, Twitter, and Facebook make it especially easy to find sources of pastoral support.

What has been your experience either as a young pastor (especially a senior or solo pastor) or in working with a young pastor?  What have been the benefits and drawbacks to that particular arrangement?  What, in hindsight, might you do differently now?

Yours in Christ,

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