Program seeks to call young people into clergy
Feb. 1, 2006
A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
A new program will partially address pastoral leadership concerns in
the United Methodist Church and other denominations by cultivating young
candidates for ministry vocations.
The program, “Calling Congregations,” will organize churches in
grass-roots programs to find and support the next generation of pastoral
leaders for Christian denominations. It is being launched by the
Atlanta-based Fund for Theological Education with a $6 million grant
from the Lilly Endowment Inc.
“Calling Congregations” will be rolled out later this year in the
U.S. Midwest, with additional regions being added in 2007 and 2008.
A broad range of mainline denominations and other faith traditions
are concerned about pastoral leadership in the future, according to
Melissa Wiginton, a United Methodist and vice president for ministry
programs and planning at the Fund for Theological Education. The fund
wants to help congregations understand opportunities related to ordained
leadership and encourage them to call forth gifted, young candidates
The concern stems from the fact that as baby boomers retire, a need
is growing for pastors, especially younger ones, she said. “It makes
sense that churches get stronger when they have multigenerational
clergy,” and young adults attend church when they see a younger pastor,
“Increasingly, the value of being a pastor has been almost invisible in
the imaginations of young people,” she said. Statistics indicate clergy
vacancies rank among the highest for professions requiring an advanced
degree and that the number of U.S. clergy under age 35 is relatively low
across numerous denominational lines. According to the Pastoral
Leadership Search Effort, fewer than 13 percent of United Methodist
clergy in the United States are under age 40, while half are older than
The Rev. Ann Svennungsen
While ministry today has become an uncommon calling for today’s
youth, there are committed students who want support in exploring the
call to ministry, said fund President Ann Svennungsen.
“Without encouragement, many young people defer, deny or hide their
interest in serving the church,” she said in a news release. “In today’s
environment, we’ve learned that potential pastors need encouragement at
an earlier age, for a longer period of time, and from a wider range of
institutions and individuals than ever before.”
Denominations also are concerned about developing quality leadership.
Much like in the business world, the need exists for high-quality
leaders, Wiginton said. Businesses want leaders who are smart, possess
integrity, are creative and can lead. Churches want someone with those
qualities but also someone who can “think theologically about the hard
questions that we have to grapple with at this time,” she said.
Craig Dykstra, senior vice president for religion at the Lilly
Endowment, noted that “congregations are critical to the faith
maturation and vocational discernment of young men and women,” and the
grant to the Fund for Theological Education “is an investment in
engaging congregations more deeply in this work” of developing future
leaders for the church.
The Fund for Theological Education is a national advocate for
excellence and diversity in Christian ministry and theological
scholarship. It provides $1.2 million annually in fellowships to support
future pastors and scholars, and also provides a network of support for
gifted young people from all denominations and racial and ethnic
The Calling Congregations program will establish a national network
of 500 congregations and church-related institutions from four regions
across the country by 2009. The congregations will be members of an
ecumenical partnership committed to supporting vocational discernment
among their young church members with particular emphasis on
consideration of ordained ministry.
Wiginton said the fund will provide congregations with tools to help
young people address the question: What will I do with my life in light
of my faith? The program also will help congregations, churches and
church-related organizations with nurturing youth gifted for ministry,
vocational discernment and the exploration of the call to ministry among
Assistance will be provided through workshops and conferences,
national training for adults mentoring youth, grants for local projects,
Web-based resources, youth scholarships to special events and up to 40
fellowships annually matching a congregation’s financial support toward
tuition and living expenses for a young church member’s first year of
For more information on the Calling Congregations effort, contact Kerry Traubert at (404) 727-1170 or email@example.com.