Losing 37-4

Did you notice that this year at Annual Conference we lost 37-4?  No, that’s not the score of the competition between the Bishop’s Cabinet and the Youth.  That was the retirement/ordination score.  We retired 37 elders this summer and ordained just 4 new ones who were under age 35.  To be fair, we also ordained two more for whom age 35 is somewhere in the rear view mirror.

However you count it, we’re falling behind.

For reasons I can’t fathom, I’ve been a fan of the Cleveland Browns all my life.  I’ve seen my team be behind by 33 before.  And any football coach will tell you that coming back from a deficit is all about adjustments.  What does the team need to do differently to catch up?

The same is true about recruiting young clergy.

My friend Reverend David Rittgers looked into this losing score for his doctoral dissertation.  He surveyed dozens of current young clergy to determine what was most influential in having them answer their call to ministry.  His top five:

  • Mentoring by a local pastor
  • Opportunity to lead as a layperson
  • Opportunity to preach as a layperson
  • Exercising spiritual gifts
  • Practicing spiritual disciplines.

What about that list stuck out for you?  For me it was that all of these things happen in the local church.  We can look at a scoreof 37-4 and think the Bishop should do something, or the Cabinet or the Board of Ordained Ministry.  And I can tell you that all of them are working on this.

But like all truly effective things in the church, it all boils down to one congregation under one steeple on one street corner.

I have to believe that any pastor paying attention can recognize a potential clergy candidate.  But does that minister take the time to cultivate that call?  To have those discussions?  To give them the opportunity to preach or teach Bible study?  To find their passion in the church?

At the end of every Confirmation process, Adam Hamilton asks his group of middle schoolers who in the class would best make a minister when they grow up?   Invariably, the class lifts up one or two names and nearly every member of the class recognizes these gifts.

The next generation of ministers is out there.  They’re in our confirmation classes, our youth groups, our young adult and even older adult programs.  They sense a call but they don’t know the next step.  A conversation, a cup of coffee, an opportunity to lead that does or does not happen can be the difference between us having enough pastors to lead our denomination into the future and us having a critical shortage of clergy leadership.

Have that conversation, nurture that call, see what happens.  The future of United Methodism depends on it.


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