Monday, July 15, 2013

Learnings From Bishop's Week 2013- Endangered Species- Young Clergy and Barbers?

About once a month I visit my local barber shop.  In my thirty some years on the planet, I've had two barbers.  A few others attempted cutting my dwindling hair, but I've basically had two barbers throughout my life.  In my hometown, my dad went to Jim the Barber, so I went to Jim.  After moving away from home to attend college and grad school, I continued to come back to Jim.  He is an excellent barber.  He offers great conversation and cuts my hair the way I like it.  About fifteen years ago, I slowed down on my pace of going home due to the weekend commitments (first appointment to the local church).  I searched and searched for a barber to cut my hair the way I like it.  I did so with little fruit.  I even tried a few of the "chain" hair places.  Finally, about nine years ago I met Bob, my current barber.  A great conversationalist from religion to the weather.  In one of our spirited and lively discussions, he confided that in a few years he might be retiring.  He is slowing down a bit, so much so, he has no desire to take new clients.  He likes things the way they are and when he retires, he will close his business.  A few years ago he believed he might sell his shop to some young guy starting out in the profession.  But alas, he feels today that "young men just don't want to be barbers anymore".  He then said that beautician schools were booming all over the place.  Times were changing, and he was rather indifferent as to whether the changes were bad or good.  We commiserated over the state of the world, and I was quickly dispatched as a few of the other regulars started to line up.

I've heard a few similar statements about seminary.  "No one wants to go to seminary anymore.  It's just too expensive, too long and does not train clergy to lead the church."
It is a fact that there are less young clergy today than in years past.  One of my good friends says it's because we don't have a military draft going on right now.  If we had a draft, the line to seminaries would be overflowing.  Maybe so.
But it seems that younger clergy might be an endangered species, as are young barbers.
Bishop Schnase said to us, "I can't send you someone you didn't send me first."  Too true.
With many churches dying, our pool of leadership is dwindling.  The traditional Sunday school hour is slowly fading from the menu of local church offerings.  The pipeline, as it were, has become rusty, which was the title of some gathering Bishop Huie attended in the 1980's.  The lack of younger clergy leaders and younger people in church is not a new phenomenon.  It's been going on for some time.  The  decline of attendance and members in the local church is not something new either.  But, right now, we are talking about it like never before because our Episcopal leadership has taken quite seriously the Call to Action report.  Their leadership, significantly and especially at SCJ Bishop's Week, should serve as an opportunity to start doing something about it.
If you remember the ecosystem reference a few blogs ago (read here), then you realize that the problem is systemic.  The ecosystem must be altered and changed by park rangers to allow for young clergy to survive and thrive.  We don't need General Conference legislation or permission.  There is no one thing to turn the tide.  This will not be easy.  A few possible easy ways to get the ball rolling might be:

1. Promote younger clergy into leadership positions so that when younger people enter the process, they encounter someone close to their age (DCOM/Mentors/BOOM)
2. Promote younger clergy into larger churches as Senior Pastor.
3. Develop opportunities for clergy of all ages to interact in learning groups so wisdom and innovation may be shared.

Some of these things have already been tried and met with some success in the Missouri Conference.  My hope and prayer is that we might set aside our institutional mindset of old school stair stepping into local church, district and conference leadership.  And maybe we could value a diversity of age on all teams, committees and boards.  Honestly, in Missouri, we are doing this as well.  In 2012 we put forth the youngest and most balanced slate of leadership in the last twenty years.  It was a huge victory for diversity and an amazing victory in Jesus Christ.  We are better when all voices are at the table
Go in peace and go with God.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Reflections from Bishop's Week 2013- Learned or Learning

In one of Bishop's Schnase's talks, he shared about Wesley and the Early Methodists.  He said:
Wesley and the Early Methodists
-Bold Originality
- Outward Focused and Future Oriented
- Creative and Experimental
- Risky and Countercultural
- Mission Driven

They were also not afraid to push back against a system of learned scholars and challenge many long held assumptions about church, religion, faith, community and evangelism.

Methodists pastors should be committed life long learners.  Always the student, walking together with others on a journey of discovery and faith.  Once out of seminary, it takes a great deal of drive, passion and courage to begin the learning process again.  There is a strange middle ground when you have achieved so much (graduating seminary, probationary membership, ordination) when you feel prepared to preach, lead, teach, care and serve.  Walk into any pastors office, there are probably books on the shelves, scattered about, some even on the floor.  That is the life long learner.  But, learning can only take you so far.  Like paint in a can, it must be applied.  Fruitful leaders apply the best teachings to their situations.  A life long learner knows that the more they know, the less they understand.

Fruitfulness is then born of a life completely devoted and souled out to God.  That life is shaped and formed daily by deep spiritual disciplines.  One of those disciplines, not often shared, is the desire and appetite to learn.  We grow by learning, listening, praying and seeking God daily.

To be bold, outwardly focused and relevant to those who seek God, we must become life long learners.  No longer are clergy seen most in the culture as the authority of much more than weddings and funerals.    So, we listen, we learn and we cast of the title of learned and become someone is always learning.

Go in peace and go with God.

Reflections from Bishop's Week 2013- A Culture of Call

How do young people find their way into ministry these days?  Is there a traditional route?  Is that route still viable?  Maybe there are multiple and diverse routes into ministry?  The Call to Action report pushed us all to dramatically reform clergy leadership development, deployment and evaluation.  We are suffering from a crisis of relevance as a church and in our clergy system.  More and more young people are choosing to find other ways to serve in ministry instead of the route of seminary, commissioning to ordination.  Each Conference at Bishop’s Week was asked to prepare a “Community of Practice” paper about how they develop fruitful clergy leaders from entrance to retirement, or exit.  These papers were similar, but also vastly different.  Similar in that most focused on the entrance of clergy.  Different in that some only focused on clergy entering their ministry and “residency in ministry” process.  
The Conferences that seemed to be really focused on excellence and fruitfulness found ways to celebrate success, equip and train anyone willing to learn and keep working to open the call process to a wider pool. Reading these papers brought me great joy in knowing that numerous Conferences are truly working to make things better in their respective forests.  On the other side, it looks like there is a lot of work to do for some.  
As we all think about how to develop a culture of call in our respective areas of ministry, a few thoughts come to mind.

1. To take the metaphor offered by Bishop Huie a bit farther, I wonder who the invitational park rangers in our ecosystem are and do we encourage them or even acknowledge them? 
To develop a culture of call means that we begin as early as confirmation classes, planting the seed that maybe someone in the in the class could one day become a pastor.  A continued focus in youth ministry and college aged ministries helping people discern their call, whether into ordained ministry or another avenue of service, is a vital part of this process.  We have some churches in Missouri that have produced numerous fruitful and effective leaders.  How?  They train, equip and resource them.  It is done with great intentionality.    We have several of those invitational park rangers in Missouri.  Some are clergy, some are laity.  You know them by their fruit.  

2. Our Director of Pastoral Excellence works closely with the the Board of Ordained Ministry to equip, train and resource our Residents in Ministry Program.  She also works with every new certified candidate through our candidacy summits.  We also host two ministry inquiry events every year.  Finally, through our Seminary and College student internship programs, we are broadening the opportunity for young persons to explore ministry on site.  In transitioning our clergy process from one of pipeline/weed out/check list to a program of discernment and training has radically changed the conversation for exploring candidates.  

3. In developing our culture of call, innovation and experimentation must be valued.  A more open and welcoming attitude to churches that are seeking fruitfulness in new ways is foundational to changing how people come into leadership in the church.  As the culture and country become more global and multi-cultural, the pace of change in the church needs to be accelerated to adapt and better relate to the major shifts in expectations of candidates.  Leaders that demonstrate and desire and gifts toward risk taking, innovation, missional service, a sacrificial life, depth of spiritual life and invitational spirit must be moved through the apparent hoops quickly.  The great impediment to some younger people with a desire to enter ordained ministry are the massive amount of hoops and the length of the overall process.  Anything that a Conference, DCOM, BOOM, DS or Bishop can do to expedite the process will be greatly beneficial for candidates.  

An openness and willingness to discuss cultivating fruitful leaders before ordination, even before seminary needs to be part of our ongoing learning process.  Our Pastoral Leadership Development program is mostly playing catch up to the things that we should already be gifted and trained in.  

Changing a culture or an ecosystem does not happen overnight.  It also does not happen from the top down.  All these changes must come from the margins, as Bishop Schnase often says.  

Go in peace and go with God.