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.

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