Monday, February 25, 2008

response to UM Reporter article

Wrote the following in response to Meg Lassiat's article. "Wanted: Young Clergy" posted here http://www.umportal.org/article.asp?id=3158 on February 21, 2008.

Though I agree with most of Ms. Lassiat’s observations in her recent article re: the absence of young clergy leadership, as a 34 year-old candidate in the ordination process within the United Methodist Church, I find that her commentary misses two key points that are at the heart of why young clergy are absent from United Methodist leadership: 1. We are not being asked to lead, and;2. We are not attracted by slick Web sites and three-day conferences. I do not presume to speak for all young clergy or candidates, but I can say that what my observations come from a great deal of conversations between myself and other young adults within the United Methodist Church. Regarding point one, I added emphasis to the word "lead" because for many young adults, leadership is synonymous with creation, innovation and autonomy. What I believe the United Methodist Church tends to offer young clergy in the area of leadership is the chance to maintain, operate and report. Clergy are more involved, it seems to me and many other young adults testing the ordination waters, with paying apportionments, keeping congregants happy and battling congregational apathy and disinterest through programming. There are few young adults currently in leadership within the United Methodist Church because young adults are seeking (and finding) the opportunity to lead in the terms I described above within a multitude of other industries and organizations that seem to them to provide a much more positive impact on the world than is currently being offered by organized religion or the institutional church. Young adults have been cultivated and educated to think outside of the box, to bring their creative skills to the table and to constantly be looking for ways to innovate and revolutionize the systems that exist. Sadly, this skill set is not largely desired by those currently in institutional leadership who value efficiency, maintenance,and the ability to work within parameters. Call it the difference between modern and postmodern, but the reason that the church, as Ms. Lassiat points out, is still operating under “out-dated or ineffective practices,” is because a majority of those leading it are still operating under models of ministry that are out-dated and ineffective.

Ms. Lassiat also points out the necessity for those currently in leadership to see that “Young adults are not only leaders for tomorrow’s church; young adults are leaders in the church today.” Look around the episcopal leadership of our church and you will be hard pressed to find a multitude of young faces. If we want to see young adults in leadership positions, then elect and appoint more leadership under the age of 45. Please don’t misconstrue my desire to see young adults in leadership as ageism. My point is that if we want the church to be diverse in age, race, gender and culture then we must be willing to appoint or elect leadership that reflects that desire. If we want to inject new and innovative ideas into leadership, then we must be willing to accept that those ideas may come from new people. If we want to attract young adult leaders we must show them that we are willing to offer them opportunities to truly lead.

Regarding point two, youth and young adults will not be attracted to exploring ministry based on the design and maintenance of a Web site, slick printed publications or well-planned and organized conferences. Youth and young adults will be attracted to exploring opportunities to serve in ordained ministry because of their encounters with young ordained ministers who live out their faith holistically, authentically and relationally. In speaking with young adults seeking ordination around me, I hear in all of their stories the presence of a person or persons in ordained ministry who lived out their call to serve Christ authentically in the presence of others. It is in the healthy, positive relationships that young people and clergy cultivate between themselves that young people will be attracted to and encouraged in seeking ordination as well. These relationships will endure hardship, be honest in struggles and offer the opportunity for both the young person and the clergy to support one another. We will also continue to attract young people to ordained ministry when we begin to honestly and openly untangle the web of red tape that is the ordination process. So many young people that have been raised United Methodist and still hold a uniquely Wesleyan theology are stepping outside of the denomination to seek ordination in other traditions because of the process and time involved. Young people who feel a sense of urgency to live out the call of God on their lives see little value to a process that leads them through so many hurdles and takes so much of their time. Top that off with the fact that after they reach ordination most are being asked to serve in opportunities that do not match their gifts and graces and you get us all the way back to point No. 1.

I agree with Ms. Lassiat’s article as a whole, but feel that it points out just one of the issues we have at hand within the United Methodist Church as we approach General Conference. I also feel that this issue in particular points to a larger condition that the church as a whole is moving towards: irrelevance. When we fail to reach and compel younger generations to serve and lead, we multiply our risk of falling out of relevance, which translates into death within this culture. As we abandoned our movement in order to operate as an institution, we set ourselves up to fail at reaching and compelling younger generations who, as I have already mentioned, are seeking to make a positive impact upon the world around them at an early age. Wesley himself wrote that his biggest fear was that the people called Methodists would exist as, “a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power.” As an institution, we need to seek to reclaim our roots as a movement and take some bold moves by offering young adult clergy the opportunity to innovate, create, and truly lead the church away from irrelevance. If we fail at this juncture and hold fast to our identity as an institutional model of church, American United Methodism will most assuredly exist, but possibly only as an entry in Wikipedia.

3 comments:

Meg said...

First off, I want to thank you for taking the time to respond to the commentary I wrote that was posted on the UM Portal and by UMNS News Service. It’s encouraging to see people’s response to that. We’ve received many responses, from many different perspectives, so I know that this has hit a nerve within our connection. I also want to say that I agree with the points you raise below.

For point 1, I was alluding to that with the comment:

“At all levels--local church, annual conference and globally--The United Methodist Church must ask itself: Are we prepared to respond to young adults in ways that invite them into meaningful service and allow them to learn new skills and hone their gifts and talents? Furthermore, are we prepared to change outdated or ineffective practices to respond to the way that young adults are leading in the church today?”

I am often frustrated by local churches, annual conferences and other organizations that bemoan the fact that they don’t have young adults leaders, however, when I ask them what old structures they are updating to attract young adults, or what they are doing to intentionally reach out to young adults, they have no answers. It’s evident that many organizations say they want young adult leaders but don’t want to make the necessary changes that, as you point out, give young adults the chance to truly lead. I continue to work on new ways to address this issue – including coming up with resources for annual conference boards of ministry, district committees on ministry, and bishops and cabinets as they work with young adult candidates and find appropriate and exciting ways to encourage young adult leadership in their districts and annual conferences. Two resources have received particularly positive response. One article is written for candidates and entitled “Top 10 Ways to Wreck Your Candidacy Process” (http://www.explorecalling.org/pdf/Top10WaysWreckCandidacyProcess.pdf ). The other is written with conference and district leadership in mind and is called “Top 10 Ways to Discourage Ministerial Candidates” (http://www.explorecalling.org/pdf/Top10WaysDiscourageMinCand.pdf ). Both of these are posted on the www.explorecalling.org web site and are available in PDF format for download. We continue to post new resources as they are developed and hope that what is produced there will work toward changing attitudes of how young adults are perceived as leaders.

I hope that in working on changing these attitudes we can help more established leadership get past the idea that young adults need to change how they lead in order to conform to old systems and outdated methods for ministry. My sincere hope is that the church will find ways to respond to the creativity, innovation and autonomy that young adults bring and will respond to the leadership that is offered by young adults. I believe that young adults are not only future leaders, but are being called into leadership now. The church needs to honor that and respond to the gifts that young adults bring.

Your point that the church will attract leaders based on those who are in leadership positions (Episcopal leadership, young clergy, General Conference, etc.) is also well taken. As we head into another year of General Conference I hope that the voices of youth and young adult delegates will not be lost among the politics and debate. The prophetic voices young adults can bring will continue to challenge our denomination as we look for ways to be a relevant denomination for a changing world. Our denomination faces many challenges – we need the voices of all who care about the life and future of this church as we seek new ways serve in today’s culture.

I don’t believe for one second that events like Exploration, Student Forum, Youth 2007 or annual conference events will ever be completely sufficient to encourage young adults who are called into ordained ministry. They are one time events, whereas a local community and the relationships developed there have a consistent, ongoing effect in someone’s life. The importance of mentors, those who encourage young people, and other adults in a local church, campus ministry or similar setting is crucial. These people are often the ones who help youth and young adults understand and develop their gifts and respond to God’s call in their lives. In the resources we are currently developing, we continue to encourage adults to reach out to young people who are developing their gifts and responding to God’s call. Leadership never develops in a vacuum and those who are part of one’s faith community play a pivotal role in inviting and developing the next generation of young leaders.

There are many, many facets to changing how the church invites, trains and retains youth and young adults for leadership – both for laity and clergy alike. I am encouraged by much of the work I see, challenged by the things that still need to happen, and appreciate your response. You remind us that many people are thinking about these issues from a variety of perspectives and that we are challenged to continue to think creatively and find new, relevant ways to engage young adults in true leadership in our denomination.

Sincerely,

Meg Lassiat

Stephanie Moore said...

Great articles...both of them. I especially agree with your comment about slick websites and slick conferences. I think we have all been marketed to death.

jenny said...

Hey...I'm working on a documentary on people discerning a call to be a young clergy or not. I'd like to link to some of your comments on the website for the film. Is that okay? My email is jkbsmith@gmail.com. Thanks!

The film website is http://www.umcyoungclergy.com.