Thursday, February 27, 2014

Where Will Our Next Pastor Come From?

If your congregation has a settled pastor, this may not be the question at the forefront of your congregation's thoughts... but perhaps it should be.

The mainline church is in the midst of significant change, but that's not news anymore. One of the often overlooked components of that change is what the future of pastoral leadership looks like. Here are some startling facts: 
·         80% of all authorized ministers in the UCC are over age 50.
·         Only 6% of all authorized ministers are under age 40.
·         From 1992 to 2012, the number of employed ordained ministers decreased by more than 1,300.
·         Licensed Ministers now account for 9% of all authorized ministers.
·         There is some good news - the number of female pastors is up to 46%. (although they are, on average, still paid less than their male counterparts)
·         70% of all UCC churches have a worship attendance of less than 100.
·         Here in Vermont, only about 1/3 of our churches have a full time pastor.

So, most of our pastors are over 50 years old, opportunities for full time pastorates have declined significantly, but even so there aren't enough new pastors in the pipeline to offset the massive upcoming retirements. Starting to think this is something to pay attention to?

The way we 'make' pastors is getting a lot of attention these days. I don't think our denomination's appreciation for a learned clergy is going away anytime soon, in fact I think the 4+3 (undergrad degree plus a Master's of Divinity) education model as part of a Member in Discernment process should remain the normative one.  And yet, there are significant obstacles before us, including:
·      With fewer churches who can afford one, there are limited opportunities for newly minted ordained pastors to be called to a full time pastorate.
·      Many seminarians graduate with more than $100K in total college debt, and face decades of student loan payments.
·      Local Church Pastor is not always the first career choice - even for those attending seminary.

At the United Church of Christ General Synod this past summer, one of the resolutions we considered tried to address at least part of this systemic problem. It was the resolution that sparked the most debate, more than mountaintop mining and divestment from fossil fuels and all the others. The initial resolution draft called for the establishment of a sixth all-church offering to be used for financial assistance for seminarians swimming in debt. In one of the closest votes at Synod, the resolution language was changed from "an annual all-church offering and other possible funding initiatives" to "an annual all-church offering or other possible funding initiatives." The amendment passed with 51.3% of the votes in favor. Our General Minister and President was for the amendment, stating that requiring a sixth offering would "tie the Collegium's hands...". The national setting of the church is working on options that will likely be brought to the next General Synod in 2015.

While the urgent matters before our churches call to us with loud voices, we cannot allow them to drown out the important matters that are also before us. Multiple Paths to Ordination and Licensed Ministry will have an important role as we go forward, but they are a partial solution to a larger challenge. How will we provide a continuum of support to those called to pastoral ministry to ensure that they are well prepared and unburdened as they begin their calling?

So, do you know where your next pastor is going to come from? It's not a rhetorical question.