Tuesday, September 18, 2007

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COMMENTARY: Let’s streamline ordination now Rebekah Miles, Aug 27, 2007

Rebekah Miles “Any sufficiently advanced bureaucracy is indistinguishable from molasses.” —Anonymous

By Rebekah Miles Special Contributor I disagree passionately with the recommendation of the 2004-08 Ministry Commission that General Conference not act on petitions that will “affect the ordering of ministry,” referring them all to a 2008-2012 Ministry Commission. General Conference delegates in 2008 will have a chance to consider ministry legislation that is critical for the future of our church and its mission. We should not discourage delegates from doing the work for which they were elected. The Commission’s report includes many proposals that could revitalize our church. I would like to focus here on one. At its final meeting, Commission members agreed unanimously that our church needs to streamline the process leading to ordination. Many of our leaders acknowledge that we desperately need more young pastors as well as pastors from new and growing ethnic minority groups. Streamlining the long, complex process leading to ordained ministry would help us attract those pastors. A few days ago I asked two young pastors to tell me what they thought about the process leading to ordination in the United Methodist Church. They contacted some of their friends, and within less than 24 hours I had received a dozen e-mails—many of them stretching four to eight pages long and almost all of them brimming with frustration. They wrote that a key obstacle for young people considering ordained ministry is that the current process leading to ordination is “bureaucratic,” “rigid,” “frustrating,” “long,” “discouraging,” “complicated,” “daunting,” “tedious,” “repetitive” and “labyrinthine.” They mentioned friends who had decided not to go into ordained ministry because the process was so “convoluted.” Here are two quotations from their e-mails: · “The length and the rigidity of the present system are the two greatest contributors to the young adult clergy shortage. If we do not change the present system we are only going to lose more young adults to other professions where they feel that they can live out their calling in an authentic and purposeful way.” —The Rev. Gena Anderson, Central Texas Conference · “I feel incredibly confident that God has called me into ordained ministry. However... [f]or a person my age (21 years old) the last thing I want to do is deal with a huge, long and frustrating process.” —Ani Trejo, Rio Grande Conference We have put into place a long, bureaucratic process with loads of paperwork, saying all the while that we want to attract more young adults to ordained ministry. Yet young adults (between 21 and 35) are members of two generations that tend to share several things in common: their deep dislike of bureaucracy and red tape, their suspicion of large, centralized institutions, and their frustration with hierarchical systems based on seniority and not merit. If we were to set out to design a system that was unattractive to Generations X and Y, we would have a hard time coming up with anything worse than the system we have now. As a church, it’s tempting to tell young adults, “We expect you to adjust to fit the system as it is.” In business articles about young adult employees, a common theme emerges: If managers tell young adults in their organizations that they need to get used to the current system, saying in effect, “It’s my way or the highway,” more often that not, young adults will take the highway. That is exactly what has happened in our church. Just over 20 years ago, our church had 3,200 elders under 35; now we have only 850. We’ve gone from 15 percent of all United Methodist elders being under 35 to less than 5 percent today. In an upcoming book based on surveys of young United Methodist pastors, Lovett Weems and Ann Michael write, “Forty percent said they had considered seeking ordination in a different denomination at some point during the candidacy and ordination process. When asked why, reasons having to do with the length of, and frustration with, the ordination process exceeded all others.” Elsewhere, Dr. Weems has called young clergy, “United Methodism’s endangered species.” If we do not fix the problems that put young pastors on that list in the first place, we as a church will also be endangered. Let’s not wait four more years to enact measures that would help keep our church and our young clergy off the endangered species list. Matthew Johnson, a young pastor in my conference, said, “My prayer is that I will listen to the concerns of younger clergy when I am 50, better than they have listened to me and my peers while in our 30s.” If General Conference decides to establish yet another study commission (the 15th study in 17 quadrennia), let’s try something new and ask that at least one-third of its members be under 40. At 47, I was the youngest member on the current commission. That’s a sad and telling fact. Friends, let’s listen to younger pastors and let’s be willing to change so that we can bring them more fully into our shared fellowship. Young pastors, we are listening. Dr. Miles, clergy delegate to General Conference from the Arkansas Conference and associate professor of ethics at Perkins School of Theology, is a member of the Commission on the Study of Ministry. She and six other Commission Members signed the minority report.

Rebekah Miles

For what it's worth--I got a call today from a guy in the district who wanted to give me his spot on a commission to revitalize the orders in the Oklahoma conference. It has been my experience that the older generations are willing to share the reigns, but I think my generation is reluctant to step out and let our elders know we are ready and willing to take them. My DS has enthusiastically responded to my messages to her that I'm interested to do things like being placed in the pool of nominees for General and Jurisdictional commissions. Young adult clergy generation should step up to the plate. IF there's only 850 of us, we are likely going to be in high demand!

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