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Leadership group fostering churchwide 'culture of call'

The Rev. Carol Bruse (left) discusses new resources to encourage young people to enter the ministry. The church's new leadership development advisory team includes (from left) Laura Sisson, the Rev. Karen Koons, the Rev. Sara Baron and the Rev. Herb Coleman. A UMNS photo by Vicki Brown.

By Vicki Brown*
May 16, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

One year after a startling report showed significantly fewer young people seeking to become clergy in The United Methodist Church, a new advisory team has mapped out a strategy to create a churchwide "culture of call."

The National Leadership Development Advisory Team is expediting information about the ordination process to district superintendents, boards of ordained ministry, candidacy mentors, pastor/staff parish relations committees and district committees.

"The approach we’ve been taking is: What can we do right now, within the process we have, to encourage young people to seek ordination and to improve the climate for young adults who are in the process," said the Rev. Meg Lassiat, director of student ministries, vocation and enlistment at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, which organized the team.

The group plans to create an information package that can foster sensitivity and support for young adults and those involved in the candidacy process – a sort of "tool kit" for annual conference staff and committees that work with candidates, and for those who work with young people in local churches or on college campuses.

"The approach we’ve been taking is: What can we do right now … to encourage young people to seek ordination and to improve the climate for young adults who are in the process."
– The Rev. Meg Lassiat

"The tool kits in general are geared toward helping create a culture of call," said the Rev. Carol Bruse, Texas Annual Conference.

The advisory team began its work last October and held its second meeting April 25-27 in Nashville. Its 21 members includes seminarians, clergy and college students who are under 35, as well as campus ministers, annual conference staff, agency staff and others who work with young adults.

The team is developing tip sheets – short, condensed information to help those involved in the mentoring process for ministry candidates. A worksheet with tips on helping youth and young adults explore their call already had been developed.

"The tip sheets will get a lot of information out to a lot of people in a basic fashion," said Chad Johns, Ohio Wesleyan University.

While some of the information is basic, Lassiat pointed out that some churches might have only one candidate for ministry every 15 years. The pastor and members of that church need to know where to easily access information to help a candidate.

Other priorities are:

  • Developing interview questions and suggestions;
  • Writing a Bible study for boards of ordained ministry members, district committee members or anyone who makes decisions about the candidacy process;
  • Gathering tips on best practices for annual conferences in encouraging young people and supporting young adults in the candidacy process;
  • Posting suggestions or liturgy for a worship service to recognize calling;
  • Developing short videos and testimonies of young people called to ministry or adults who are excited about young people in ministry;
  • Updating www.explorecalling.org, a vocational Web site, with these and other materials useful to both young people who are exploring a call to ordained ministry and those who work with them.

Saying that the church as a whole has begun to recognize its leadership crisis, several team members cited a 2006 report revealing that only 4.69 percent of elders in The United Methodist Church are under age 35.

The report was developed by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington and its director, the Rev. Lovett Weems. The center is working on a follow-up study, asking United Methodist clergy 35 or younger to share information about themselves and their ministries. Topics include factors influencing decisions to enter ministry, perceptions of how age influences standing in the church, the nature of current appointments, financial well-being and levels of satisfaction in ministry.

The Rev. Amy Aiken, an elder in the California-Pacific Annual Conference, said the candidacy process is so complicated that full-time pastors struggle to find the time to keep up. "The whole process is so elaborate and exclusive. Some of it is like hazing. I had to go through this, and so you have to go through this," she said.

The Rev. Ed Hoke, Illionis Great Rivers Annual Conference, hopes the work of the leadership team can create sensitivity to young adults that he does not see now.

Bruse noted that fear is also a factor. "Some worry that if a bunch of young people come in, other clergy will be threatened," she said.

Team members said plenty of useful information already is available, such as Bible studies, information about the candidacy process and how churches can encourage youth to explore ordained ministry.

But Hoke said condensing the information and collecting it on www.explorecalling.org will make it more accessible and user-friendly for those involved in the candidacy process or who work with young people.

*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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