TAC Leads the United Methodist Church in Developing Young Clergy
According to the Lewis Center for Church Leadership’s latest clergy age trends study, the TAC has the highest percentage of elders under age 35. Clergy Excellence Center Director Rev. Gail Ford Smith shares about TAC’s progress in this area and how making disciples takes a mix of laity and clergy of all ages.
“We value all of our clergy and need them all,” Rev. Gail Ford Smith, director of the TAC Center for Clergy Excellence recently told the United Methodist News Service, “but the truth is, many of us will be retiring in the next few years, and I am one of them.” Upon learning the Texas Conference leads in developing young clergy, Gail shared insight related to that intentional strategy.
“Our episcopal leader, Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, has made developing transformative leaders – lay and clergy – a high priority for years. Bishop Huie helped us realize that the traditional pipeline that once existed for supplying pastors — grow up in a United Methodist church, go to a United Methodist college or university, become active in a Wesley Foundation, hear a call to preach, attend a United Methodist seminary — has dried up. We have to develop an alternative system and we did — an entire ecosystem, really, which begins with the local church reclaiming its “culture of call.”
TAC leaders encourage local congregations to encourage their own gifted and talented youth to explore a calling via programs such as the TAC-created Texas Youth Academy (a 2-week summer theological reflection camp saturated with mission experiences and youth-run worship opportunities) and the College Pastoral Internship Project which provides stipends for students to participate in local summer internships and further explore pastoral ministry.
Another way the TAC strengthens relationships with young clergy prospects is to build relationships through seminary visits. “We work hard to support young clergy,” adds Gail. “We have the Ambassador’s Endowment for graduates to access for seminary expense reimbursements, and have the 5-year Advancing Pastoral Leadership program for ordained elders to intensively explore preaching, evangelism, stewardship and ministry in the public square.”
She believes this ecosystem has many parts and each part is critical to the whole. Shares Gail, “I don’t think it is any one thing but all of it and us working together that continues to make this wonderful Texas Annual Conference attractive to clergy. If researchers are correct in telling us that we attract folk 10 years older and10 years younger than ourselves, then we will always need younger clergy to reach the next generation for Jesus Christ. We know that the faith is best caught then taught. Some might say it takes a village to change members into disciples—laity and clergy. It is a blessed life to share Christ and then to live as a community of faith together in the Word; we need one another for that and we need a constant flow of our best and brightest leaders.”
Appointments, TAC Style
There is not a prescribed path that pastors must follow within the Texas Annual Conference. In fact, this conference is a known leader when it comes to commitment to mission field appointments. “Our conference is attractive to young clergy because we encourage mission field appointments,” adds Gail. “Bishop Huie and this cabinet are committed to matching gifts and graces of pastors and churches to serve those who do not yet know Christ or have not yet found a home among God’s people. Mission field appointments have made a huge difference in how we act and talk. Those who feel called to start new churches and have the gifts to do so are placed more quickly where they are called to be. That has been attractive as well.”
Why is the TAC intentional about developing young clergy? According to the 2014 Lewis Center’s Clergy Age Trends Report, the median age of elders increased to 56 this year – the highest in history. Additionally, the percentage of elders 35-54 has declined from 65% in 2000 to 39% at present.
“Younger clergy feel blessed to be in the Texas Annual Conference and are grateful for the mentoring they receive from wiser, more experienced pastors,” adds Gail. “We are all in this ministry together and we also feel blessed to serve Christ among such gifted laity. Younger clergy revitalize all of us, but we value every pastor who faithfully serves so that disciples of Jesus Christ are made to transform the world.”
See the report and a short video.