This is not my regular posting for the weekend.
Earlier this summer I posted “We Are Eating Our Seed Corn”. I pointed out that a number of conferences were down-sizing their youth programs. In it I wondered whether the United Methodist Church was more concerned about the present than it was concerned about the future.
Then the Study of Ministry Report to the 2008 General Conference was released (see “Thinking about the Future” for a link to that report). The Commission is going to recommend changes in the ordination procedure and the possible elimination of the position of “local pastor” in the ministerial hierarchy. But, instead of these changes being implemented following the 2008 General Conference, the Commission is suggesting further study and postponement of any decision until the 2012 General Conference.
In response to the Study on Ministry Report, Dr. Rebekah Miles (a member of the Commission) argued that changes are desperately and urgently needed. To postpone any changes in the process will only cause more damage to an already damaged system. She may be too late in her assessment of the problem.
Donald Hayes supported Dr. Miles’ assessment and pointed out that many of the individuals who serve on Board of Ordained Ministry committees do not have the same sense of commitment to the ministry as many of the newer candidates nor do they have a sense of the settings in which ministry takes place. As Dr. Miles writes, many of the BOM members come from a time when the minister provided the only income and the pastor’s spouse stayed home. Now, we live in a time when both spouses work and the minister is apt to be a woman.
The times are changing but the people controlling the clock aren’t.
When I began this path, my minister at the time jokingly (or so I thought), asked if I really wanted to walk the path toward the pulpit. He understood my disdain for bureaucracy as well as the bureaucratic nature of the United Methodist Church organization. Considering that he was a third-generation pastor and well aware of what he was warning me about and that being a minister was not his own first career church, I thought perhaps he was joking. At best, I know he was warning about the problems and difficulties that I would encounter. In retrospect, even if he was joking, he was speaking the truth.
A recent report by Benjamin Yosua-Davis outlined reasons why young people are not going into the ministry. One quote that was highlighted was ““There was a sense that for many, The United Methodist Church is not looking for gifted Christian ministers; rather they are looking for by-the-book, work-within-the-system professionals who would pay their dues, innovate only within the system and not rock the boat.”
Yosua-Davis also noted that “nearly everyone can tell stories about horrendous difficulties moving through a system that doesn’t really seem to want them and makes their lives unnecessarily difficult — from lost paperwork, to contradictory information from different church agencies, to one conference requiring that all forms be completed on a typewriter and refusing to make them available in an electronic format. People spoke about how discouraging it is to go through a process that seems more concerned about bureaucracy and less concerned about discernment and preparation.”
The Yosua-Davis report is also on another site. This copy of the report included a comment from a student pastor who has decided to leave the ministry. The reasons that this pastor gave match what others have said or reported on.
As I began to walk this path, I encountered a minister with whom I shared an educational heritage. She was working on a doctorate at the University of Missouri while I was working on my master’s degree and her major professor was on my committee. In her memoirs, she recounted the number of problems that she encountered along the way to becoming ordained. The only difference between her situation and the situation others have described is her problems were thirty years ago!
For the record, I am no longer walking the path towards the ordained ministry. Several years ago, when it became apparent that the bureaucratic responsibilities that accompanied the ministry that I was doing at the time would interact and conflict with my professional responsibilities, I made the decision to walk a different path. I could not give up my professional responsibilities since they were the means by which I met my responsibilities to my family. I continued in lay ministry because there was a church that needed my presence. This was the path I walked up until 2005 when I needed to leave in order to remove the stresses and strains that I was undergoing. It was not an easy decision to make but I could do no more for the church and the church needed other assistance (which it did not get). Since then I have done what I could where I could and I will continue to answer the call (or the e-mail) that comes from a church that needs my presence for a few hours on Sunday.
Following the 2004 General Conference, the Certified Lay Minister position was created as a way of supplying pulpit coverage for many small and/or rural churches. I am interested in the position because it was a natural extension of what I have done and what I hope to do. My interest in the Study of Ministry Report centers on the future of the Certified Lay Ministry designation in the United Methodist Church. There are suggestions that this position will be removed from the Discipline after the 2008 General Conference.
While I cannot speak for other districts and/or conferences, I know that my district and conference are not moving forward with the rapidity of the times. Other conferences have implemented the Certified Lay Ministry within in their boundaries; it appears that my own conference is not aware that there is such a classification in the Discipline.
After reading the Study on Ministry Report, I came away with the thought that the denomination is going to create a tiered system of ministry. In areas where there are several small churches, an elder is going to be appointed to oversee and/or supervise all the churches. The elder will administer the sacraments for all the churches in the charge. The local pastors who might be serving those churches will continue to service those churches, except on Sundays when communion is scheduled or a baptism or a wedding is scheduled. Then the assigned elder will preside and the local pastor will cover the elder’s church. Certified Lay Ministers will not necessarily be needed.
It isn’t just beginning pastors and the problems that they encounter on the path to ordination but the problems that they encounter after being assigned to a church. There is evidence that ministers are often put into assignments with little support for their own spiritual and physical well-being. We cannot expect the United Methodist denomination to prepare young ministers for the future if the denomination’s administrative structure is stuck in the past somewhere and its concerns for the health and well-being of the ministers is minimal (See “A Cancer in the Church”).
How can we expect the United Methodist denomination to prepare for the future if we are stuck in the past or minimally in the past? What direction will the church take?
The denomination and the church are faced with perhaps the greatest moral crisis of all times. The upcoming General Conference has the potential for being the most divisive and destructive General Conference since the 1844 General Conference and the arguments over slavery. The denomination remained divided as the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South until the merger of the two branches along with the Methodist Protestant Church in 1939.
There are those who will go to the 2008 General Conference and attempt to force concrete measures to be imposed in regards to homosexuality. It is an issue that has plagued churches of all denominations and has dominated the conversations of the church for the past few years. I know there are verses in the Bible which condemn homosexual behavior but it appears to me that, many times, those verses are taken out of context.
It is certain that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality and Paul’s words on the subject are confusing and misleading. It was Jesus who warned us about judging others for their actions when our own actions could also be judged. And we risk, as a church and as a denomination, more harm than good if we find that homosexuality is genetic and not a choice. More than once in our history, we have used the Bible to justify our actions. We have used Bible verses to justify the enslavement and murder of others because of their race or their religion. We may not be enslaving or murdering other races now but we are encouraging actions that may be the beginning of the slippery slope.
After I read the young pastor’s comments about leaving the church, I read the comments of another individual. This individual claimed that the reason the student minister left the ministry was because “today in many homes they are not brought up in the ways or word of the Lord. Second because The Lord Jesus said as the end times approach there would be a great falling away, which we are now witnessing throughout the world. This is just part of Gods plan and judgment of this wicked world.” (I have made some editorial corrections to clarify what was written).
This individual is correct in his assessment that we are in the end times but they are the end times for the church, not society or the world. Individuals are quick to blame and slow to provide support. The Epistle reading for the past few weeks has come from Paul’s letters to Timothy, letters of a veteran pastor to a young pastor. The young man who has walked away from the ministry should not be criticized nor is he to be condemned.
God has lost one committed to God’s work, not because it is God’s plan, but because others have become too busy with other matters. Is not the parable of the single lost sheep from a couple weeks past not applicable in this time and situation? Shouldn’t those who are charged with the responsibility of watching over those coming into the field have stopped what they were doing and gone looking immediately?
We cannot expect the denomination or the church in general to prepare for the future if we hold to interpretations of the Bible that run counter to the message of the Gospel. Jesus came to us because God loved us and Jesus died on the Cross to save us from our sins. We cannot expect the denomination or the church in general to prepare for the future if we believe that God’s plan is for the destruction of the human soul.
The plans about changing the ministerial hierarchy probably need to be done and as quickly as possible. But it is clear that the current situation must be addressed or the changes that are encouraged will mean nothing whenever they are enacted.
And if the denomination shows little or no concern for those who have been entrusted with bringing the message of Christ to the people, then there will be no one left or available to see that the changes are made. And in the long run, if there is little or no concern for the shepherds of the flock, how can there be any concern for the flock itself?
Right now, I am just wondering right now if there will be a denomination for me to serve in any capacity after the General Conference next spring.