The Blog of Bishop Will Willimon of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
A New Generation of Clergy Leaders
One of the North Alabama Conference priorities is to call and cultivate a new generation of clergy and lay leaders. Why have we made new, young clergy a priority? The average age of our clergy is 59. We are facing massive retirements in just a few years. In the past decade, we have been ordaining only about a third of the clergy we’ll need to replace retiring clergy and the average age of our ordinands has been rising.
This priority has been one of our greatest challenges: most of the leaders in our Conference, nearly all of the pastors of our most vibrant congregations, are over 50. In fact, at a recent conversation I declared, “this has been the most difficult priority of all our priorities to realize.”
Well, I was wrong! Bill Brunson, the new chair of our Board of Ordained Ministry, reports that at the end of 2007, our Conference was forth in the entire connection in the percentage of elders under 35 years of age. Here are the top four: Arkansas - 284 Total Elders - 25 under 35 - 8.80% Holston - 322 Total Elders - 28 under 35 - 8.70% Oklahoma - 329 Total Elders - 28 under 35 - 8.51% North Alabama - 368 Total Elders - 31 under 35 - 8.42%
Sadly, that percentage, just twenty years ago, was about 30%. Still, I am gratified that we are in the lead in the calling of a new generation of leaders.
Bill Brunson has led our Board of Ordained in a complete overhaul of the Board’s procedures for naming, noticing, and nurturing new clergy. They have changed scholarship funding procedures, visits to seminaries, and revamped the interview process.
I am pleased to report that already the Board’s work is bearing fruit:
This year we have 24 applicants for Provisional Membership. The average age of those 24 is 38.5 years. 22 are applying for Provisional Elder with an average age of 37.68. 12 of the 24 applicants are 35 or under. This is marked progress over the past two years. However, it also indicates that we have much work to do. This is still only about a third of the young candidates that we need, just to keep pace with retirements.
Robert Lancaster, pastor at Wesley Chapel, Northwest District, testifies to his congregation’s commitment to this priority: “Our Lay Leadership Committee has made it a priority to elect young adults to each of our committees. We also put youth members on many of our councils and encourage them to speak up and be heard about their needs in the church. Several of our older members are coming off committees, after many years of service, this year. Please be in prayer they will also see the need for younger leadership to be trained, involved and supported…. Our Lay Delegate this past year to conference was under the age of 30…. He came back and gave two reports to the Sunday Morning congregation about the need for young pastors and leaders in the church. We have made younger committee members a priority at Wesley Chapel.“
It is gratifying to see positive results for our efforts. I call upon every congregation to pray and to make intentional efforts to notice, name, and nurture prospective new pastors. ALL new clergy come before the Board of Ordained Ministry because one of our congregations has sent them there. How many new pastors has your church produced in the past decade? The 2009 Annual Conference will focus on this priority. We are asking each congregation to identify and to send as member of the 2009 Annual Conference your most talented young adult.
It is wonderful to see progress being made on this priority. Thanks for your efforts to give our church a vibrant, faithful, future.