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.