Summit focuses on need to recruit young clergy
The Rev. Meg Lassiat
May 9, 2006
A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
United Methodist leaders are forming an advisory team to help develop a plan for
recruiting young clergy — a group that one expert calls an endangered species in
Forming the team was proposed at a May 1-3 summit that brought experts in the
recruitment and development of young clergy leadership to Atlanta. Once it’s
formed, the team will devise a national plan that will go into effect during the
All 75 summit participants were invited to become part of the advisory team,
which will help the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry in
determining the next steps for young adult clergy development, according to the
Rev. Meg Lassiat, director of student ministries, vocation, and enlistment at
the board in Nashville, Tenn.
The summit was sponsored by the board and the Pastoral Leadership Search Effort
through a grant from the Fund for Theological Education and the Lilly Endowment.
The board is accepting applications for membership on the team.
Lassiat said attention is being given to the lack of young clergy in the United
Methodist Church because studies indicate only 4.69 percent of elders are under
age 35, while 50 percent of elders are over age 50, a statistic similar in most
“While a number of factors have been identified as causes that may contribute to
the low numbers of young adult clergy, at this time no one issue has been
identified as central to that problem,” she said.
Young clergy are “United Methodism’s endangered species,” said the Rev. Lovett
Weems, director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at United
Methodist-related Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. He identified
several issues the church must address to remove them from the endangered list.
“The church itself must change,” Weems said during his summit presentation. The
issue of enlisting younger quality clergy must be seen side by side with the
quality and vitality of the church itself, he said. The church’s overall health
is the most important factor determining who comes into ordained ministry, he
“Organizations tend to get the leadership they deserve, not the leadership they
need,” he said. “Until the United Methodist Church demonstrates that it can
reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people in life-transforming
ways, current clergy age trends will probably not change.”
The Rev. Lovett H. Weems Jr.
He told the summit that the church’s ordained ministry process needs to be both
“renamed and reframed,” and the language of placing new clergy on probation
needs to be rethought.
“New terminology less associated with the criminal justice system would help,”
he said. “The entry process also needs to be reframed from a hurdle to overcome
to a blessed entry into the high calling of ordained ministry.”
Susan Hay, director of youth ministries at the United Methodist Board of
Discipleship, calls the lack of young clergy in the denomination “a mixed bag.”
“With today’s young people, there are more vocations they see where their
Christian commitment can be lived out, so they feel called to live out this
sense of Christian vocation in the profession they feel they have something to
contribute,” she said.
The church is “not doing a good job mentoring our young people who may sense a
call to the clergy in helping them discern and respond to this call,” she said.
“We discourage when we don’t help them find adequate financial support in both
their undergraduate and graduate pursuits.”
The members of the proposed advisory team will be diverse in terms of experience
and perspectives in the area of young adult leadership development. The team
- develop a plan for the denomination’s future
- help carry out a denominational plan for
vocational discernment and young leadership development;
- research issues surrounding leadership
development and young adult clergy; and
- act as a liaison with vocationally related
ministries, such as regional and denominational events, Web site development
and so on.
Meet the millennials
Hay also provided insight about the characteristics of the millennial generation
— the 76 million Americans born between 1982 and 1999 — a population larger than
baby boomers and generation X-ers.
Millennials, she said, are a diverse population, with about 8 percent
identifying themselves as multiethnic and more than 55 percent saying they have
a friend of another ethnicity. Another characteristic of this age group is that
more than 75 percent of their time is spent in “structured activities due to
Hay also said millennials are “passionately tolerant and spiritual, but without
focus, which makes them vulnerable to the countless counterfeits in their
world.” They also are not quick to trust adults, a trait that shapes how they
relate to authority, and perceive truth and directions with which they live
their lives, she said.
According to Hay, a paramount need is relationships. Millennials rely strongly
on close personal networks of friends and family and have a deep desire to be
connected with others, she said.
Millennials are already impacting the United Methodist Church through their
“enthusiasm, hopefulness, willingness to take leadership roles, strong
mission/outreach sense and their desire for deep spiritual experiences.”
Also providing leadership was Bishop Woodie White, bishop-in-residence at
Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, who preached about
call during the opening worship service of the meeting. Soccorro de Anda,
president of the Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, Texas, highlighted how
the Lydia Patterson school has been effective in developing young leaders for
colleges and churches.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or