Young Clergy and the United Methodist Church

I’ve been meaning to write this post for about a week, but seminary just started back up and I’ve been watching Abbie all week since our daycare is closed. So here we go…

I followed a link from the United Methodist Young Clergy page to a study done by the Lewis Center at Wesley Theological Seminary regarding the number of young clergy (under 35) in the United Methodist Church. (You can find the report here) The statistics are rather disheartening as someone who is in the ordination process in the UMC. This particular study tracked Elders (and those commissioned yet in their probationary/provisional period) under 35 and gave a break down of each conference. Let me give you some of the statistics from the report- with some thoughts afterwards.

According to the report…

  • 5.21% of Elders are under the age of 35. This is a decrease of almost 10% since 1985 (15.06%).
  • As of 2008, there were 910 Elders under 35. In 1985, that number was 3219.
  • In 2007, there were 40,100,000 young adults age 25-24, with only 876 Elders in that same age range…a ration of 1 Elder for every 45,000 Young Adult.
  • In 2006, there were 26,083 Pastoral charges and 881 Elders under 35. A ratio of 1 Elder under 35 for every 30 churches.
  • In my conference (Peninsula-Delaware), as of 2008 there were 2 Elders under the age of 35, comprising of 1.08% of our ordained/commissioned clergy. (I believe that number went up to 4 for 2009)

The report list some other denominations statistics for ordained clergy under 35 and the Methodist Church is not alone in this. Only two denominations report that more than 10% of their ordained clergy is under 35 (Church of the Nazerene, Reformed Judaism).

Linked to this issue, I believe, is our feeble attempt at reaching out to college age/young adults in meaningful ways and inviting them to be apart of the Kingdom of God. I’ve heard it said that a pastor can generally connect with people 10-15 years older and younger than themselves. That could be true as the average age of our ordained Elders is 52- many may have difficulty connecting culturally, relationally with those younger than 35.

So what can we do?

  1. More Young Clergy: To this I will say yes, and no. On the yes side- The United Methodist Church (and the Christian Church as a whole) needs more young clergy to help effectively share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world around them. People need to hear this Gospel from their peers- and most importantly, see it lived out from someone their age that they can relate too. Having more young clergy in pulpits and in leadership can be inviting to a young adult who is exploring his/her faith.

    Certainly seminary takes time to go through- but the entire length of the ordination process is too long. I started at 26 and will be lucky to be ordained by the time I am 35. Many young pastors are burnt out on the process and by their poor placements in charges that are not willing to allow creativity and passion to be evident.

  2. On the “no” side of this answer- it takes much more than having younger clergy to reach a world who are thirsting for the living waters of Christ. I have heard (in my annual conference and on blogs/websites) that more young clergy is the way to solve our lack of young adults persuing their faith in the church. It’s brought up like a cure-all. This is false thinking. As a denominational level, I feel that we are very much stuck in the 1980’s or 1990’s in our thinking (maybe in earlier than that). We have failed to keep up with the cultural changes that have taken place.

    Since our newest slogan is ReThink Church- we must be willing to really rethink how we go about our ministries. I fear that this is just a catching tagline that the UM marketing department has developed rather than the heart of our leaders in our General and Annual Conferences. In my own conference, I have seen very little dialouge on what it means to rethink church as clergy.

    If we were able to Rethink Church; If we were able to live Church as a verb- people (including Young Adults) would be attracted. It happened in Acts when the Holy Spirit came upon those gathered in the Upper Room. They lived life differently and people noticed and wanted to join in because of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. If that was the case today- we would see more people of all ages seeking to live out their faith, and in turn, have more people (of all ages) desiring to serve God through (but not limited to) ordained ministry.

I pray for myself and my brothers and sisters who are pursuing ordination that we would not lose our passion. That we would have the strength and courage to rock the boat, to go against the flow, and to seek to allow God to work through us in ways that we could never imagine.

About Steve LaMotte

Husband of Andrea and father of four amazing children. Pastor at Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, Delaware.
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2 Responses to Young Clergy and the United Methodist Church

  1. Anonymous says:

    As a cradle Methodist and as one who has been what I call a “vagabond Methodist” for several years, I take issue with the current hand wringing about the lack of young clergy. I do not believe that only young clergy can relate to young people. This is an expectation that does not spply in any other relationship. We do not categorize teachers, or attorneys, or doctors, believing that only the young can relate to the young.

    Much, much more important is the authenticity of both the messenger and the message. Our own son entered seminary after practicing law for 11 years. Most of his clasmates were also second career people in their late 30's. These men and women have lived and worked in the world those 20 somethings are struggling with. When he graduated from seminary our son was much better equipped than was his Dad, turned loose on the parish at the age of 26 never having had to work in “the real world” Men and women who have never known the defeat of applying for a job they did not get, of losing a job they needed, are, INHO, not as ready to minister to all ages and states of people as are those “coming home” to the ministry after some years of work in other endeavors.

  2. Thanks for your comments, anonymous! We agree that just having younger clergy is not a cure-all for reaching out to more people and discipling them in their faith. You are correct on saying that we do not catagorize teacher/attornys/doctors, believe that only the young can relate to the young…but these professionals must stay up to date with the changes in their practices and professional cultures in order to do their job effectively. Otherwise, people will go to someone who can do it more effectively, effeciently, etc.

    Likewise, in the Methodist Church (or any church) a pastor of any age must see and adapt to cultural changes (Web 2.0, multi-media, social networking, etc.) without compromising the message of Jesus Christ as a tool to reach those who do not have a relationship with God through Jesus.

    If the UMC is going to ReThink Church, Pastors of all ages must rethink how we do ministry within our communities.

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