Clergy Age Guidelines Focus on the Future of the Church
Clergy at this year’s Annual Conference are being encouraged to hear, and candidly debate, “Version 6” of a proposal to rebalance the age median of clergy serving in TAC – one that has been in discussion for almost half a decade and in editing mode for the last year. Board of Ordained Ministry Chair Reverend Carol Bruse knows the current wording will likely not be the final wording, but says Version 6 represents a wide base of input from hundreds of congregants, clergy and lay leaders who are grappling with how to best recruit enough young clergy to lead the church into the future. Versions 1-6 have resulted from five in-person executive committee sessions as well as input from the board (including 15 young clergy) the Cabinet, district committees and general surveys and feedback that will culminate in a policy approval at the Lakeview meeting in October.
“It’s a daunting task to make proactive changes in response to alarming trends that could impact the future of the UMC,” Carol admits, “but one our 70-member board takes very seriously, and one that was mandated by the Conference Strategic Assessment Team recommendations approved at the 2012 Annual Conference. The purpose behind this initiative is to prepare outstanding, passionate, diverse leadership for the next generation, as well as to address the challenge created by a disproportionate percentage of clergy retiring over the next 10-15 years.”
In response to Lovett Weems’ research on UMC trends, the proposal will be further discussed at Monday’s 10:30 a.m. clergy session. It encourages candidates seeking credentials as:
· An elder over 45 “to pursue licensed ministry, certified or other expressions of lay ministry”
· A deacon over 45 “to pursue other expressions of ministry”
· A licensed local pastor over 60 “to pursue certified lay ministry or other expressions of lay ministry”
· A certified lay minister over 70 “to pursue other expressions of lay ministry.”
Even if the BOM ultimately adopts this or a similar minimum standards policy, board members stress that it would 1) not impact current clergy, and 2) only serve as a guideline – not an outright ban on all older candidates. “This has sparked some debate over accusations related to age discrimination,” she adds, “but our legal and moral responsibility as the BOM is to be selective about ordaining excellent leaders that will be around to grow the church into the future. We strive to oversee the enlistment, recruitment, candidacy, mentoring, theological education, examination, and recommendation of clergy leaders on behalf of the Texas Annual Conference.”
While BOM members believe that God calls all baptized Christians to ministry, they know that all persons experiencing a call to ministry are not gifted for licensed or ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. Adds Carol, “Research tells us that elders 35 or older in the denomination made up more than 94 percent of all provisional and ordained elders, and 53 percent of all elders are 55 or older -- a percentage that is unprecedented in the denomination's history. Taking into account the many years it takes to be ready to ultimately pastor a larger church, we believe these minimum standards will provide a helpful tool for candidates and their pastors, Pastor-Staff Parish Committees, and District Committees on Ministry, as they seek to determine which candidates should be encouraged to pursue lay, licensed and ordained ministries.”
In summary, she says, “It is comforting to remember that Jesus was not ordained. It is also exciting to note that the church has grown strongest and to the greatest degree when lay are actively using their gifts and graces. This proposal is not about age, but about the excellence and future of the church.”
To solicit additional feedback after conference, the BOM plans to circulate an electronic survey and also welcomes additional input via an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.