Young clergy crisis part two

December 13, 2011

I’ve been getting a lot of feedback on this post on the Young Clergy Crisis. I know of three people who wrote posts in order to contribute to the conversation (if you responded on your blog, you can link it in the comments and I’ll add it to the list). 

James Michael East, a young seminary student who realizes how much things are changing,

Dennis Sanders, a young pastor who cautions young pastors not to feel entitled, and

Jan Edmiston who delves deeper into the fact that there are high-energy, qualified pastors over 70 who need the money.

(As promised, here's an additional response...)

Theresa Cho writes about what they are doing in San Francisco. I'm particularly encouraged by the shift from "death" to "legacy."

Most of the personal feedback I’ve received has been with pastors who are in their mid-fifties, who are telling me that it’s very difficult for people on the other end of the spectrum as well. So one thing is clear--there's a job shortage. It's affecting all of us.

So what can we do? As we wander through this desert, where’s the milk and honey? What is God calling us to do and who is God calling us to be? There are many ways to solve this, or at least alleviate the pressure. Here are some possibilities which are focused on starting new ministries:

1) Make planting churches, recognizing new immigrant fellowships, and starting new ministries our top priorities. I know that we have a million things that we need to do as denominations, but when we have so many churches closing at one time, we will need to put all of our effort into nurturing new bodies.

I can hear the protests right now. Some people are thinking that we need to do social justice work, and they will act as if feeding the hungry is somehow at odds with starting new ministries.

It’s not. We can do both, and new ministries that are geared for social justice right from the start will be well suited for a new generation. I know that we’re used to thinking of things in red and blue, Republican and Democrat, evangelical and social justice.  But the new church development vs. social justice construct is tired and unnecessary.

2)  Support innovative ministers. One governing body leader suggested that we think of NCD pastors as “missionaries” and support them in the same ways that we have historically supported people who served overseas.

That way, we can allow women and men to understand their context and start the ministry that makes sense in their neighborhood. It also means that churches or denominational bodies come together to support that pastor with a salary and benefits. That would also free the pastor from the pressure of growing a self-sustaining body within three years.

3) Provide insurance and benefits for bi-vocational ministers. Many of us realize that bi-vocational ministry will be a reality in the years to come. And many are willing to take up that calling. But, if there’s a health issue in our family, then we usually have a calling to take care of our family that becomes louder.

You might be tempted to call foul right now. “Pastors are too entitled!” But… are denominations too entitled? Shouldn’t we be caring for the bodily needs of our leaders? Now you might be asking, “How do we pay for it?” That leads me to my next point.

4) Reinvest the money, property and resources. The PCUSA had 88 churches close last year, and there’s no sign of church closures slowing down any time soon. Are we reinvesting that money into hiring innovative pastors? If the property is in a good area and in decent condition, are we using it wisely? Are we making it into a bookstore, coffeehouse, art gallery, apartments, preschool or school? Then can we use the money to reinvest into new ministers and ministries?

5)   Encourage innovative partnerships. There are many churches with great resources, and a few of them would like to share those resources with a start-up ministry. I have seen this in a variety of ways. The pastor can be on-call staff at one church while she or he is starting another one.

There are also churches with little resources that wouldn’t mind a new church nesting in their building.

What ideas do you have?



People > Property

The red thread through these ideas is that people are more important that property. Once upon a time the way to plant a church might have been to buy some land, build a sanctuary and put a placard up saying "worship 10:00am". I have a hard time believing that was ever a faithful model, but it was at least a workable model when church attendance nation wide was over 80%. No longer.

It is time we had the courage of our convictions that the church is not the building it is the people, and translate that into investing in ministries rather than "churches".

I know we can't wait for institutional support. Myself and many others I know are already trying new things without funding or presbytery approval, but it would be awful nice for the institution to come alongside us. To catch up with us even, and to start to make concrete commitments. As Carol says, lets make the planting of new ministries priority number one. Lets commit to funding more new ministries than we shutter churches after next GA. Set quotas, invite grant proposals, promote wild ideas and innovation. Live.

As one of those pastors

As one of those pastors approaching my mid 50s, let me express my deep thanks to Carol for starting this conversation with the earlier post and for moving it forward with this one.  We need to spread this conversation into our presbyteries and congregations.


Nothing can change the dim prospects for younger clergy in the PCUSA. 
Nothing.  I am genuinely sorry, but that's how it is.  For over forty
years we have had it exactly backward.  We have fiercely held onto
liturgical/musical styles that appeal only to generations departing this
earth, and we have fiddle-faddled around with our theological
tradition.  We should have held fiercely onto our theology and
experimented with our worship.  Numbers don't lie (Pace, Mark Twain). 
More people in the USA attend Christian churches today than at any
previous time.  This holds true both in terms of the simple number of
worshipers and of percentage of the general population.  But in hugely
disproportionate numbers people now seek churches that deliver the old
Gospel truth in contemporary worship formats.  We can bemoan this until
the cows come home.  Just look at how well that's worked for us so far. 
Current trends indicate an accleration of the backwardness.  Hence,
"Nothing can change the dim prospects for younger clergy in the PCUSA.")

Clergy Crisis

Carol, our pension boards could also help by giving incentives for clergy to retire earlier. Right now, there is a greater incentive - financially - for clergy to retire later.

That would be great...

I know ministers who are dead-set and financially ready to retire, but when they add up the numbers, the incentive is just too good to pass up, so they keep working.

Someone commented from the BOP perspective on my last post. I don't agree with everything that was said, but it's interesting... 

There is Hope

I'm a 26-year-old first call, solo pastor at a rural/college town congregation of about 170 members, and for the 6 months I've been here things have been great.  Our worship attendance is up, we've had 8 new members join the congregation, our stewardship campaign led to a 15% increase for next year's budget even in this economy!  Our session is beginning to explore a congregational mission study to help us discern where God is calling us to focus our ministry over the next two to three years, and this last Sunday we had ten students from the local college in our traditional worship service (two freshmen ladies have even joined our choir!).

Two things I have found VERY helpful starting out in ministry.  One was when I realized while reading Carol's Tribal Church was that our senior adults are as nervous about talking to our young adult visitors as our young adults are about being in a room with so many gray-headed people.  Our congregation's default position has been that the new young pastor is who these young adults want to meet, and so I continually remind them that we're all the church and have started introducing the young attenders to our older congregants, finding a connection point between the two, and then just walking away.  I think it's having an impact...

Secondly, I've been reading Joan Gray's book on the spiritual leadership of church officers and have found her image of the rowboat vs. the sailboat a very helpful image.  It is such a check on when I feel that I (or we as the church) are responsible for everything that God is really the one guiding us, and our role is simply to catch the wind of the Spirit and ride it wherever God is leading.

I find it an incredible joy each morning to go to church, to send people birthday cards, to visit members in hospice and talk about death and the life to come, to go to my weekly lectionary group and to take college students out to lunch.  I chuckle when our older adults mention that I'm younger than their grandchildren and my heart swells with hope when a youth member says they liked the sermon that morning.

This is an amazing calling, and I simply wanted to voice the hope I have for the Church of Jesus Christ, and I don't think the Spirit is done with the PCUSA yet.

(I can't figure out how to submit my name, but I'm Andrew Whaley).

That's amazing...


First, you're doing amazing things. It's wonderful to hear! And I agree. There's all kinds of hope. 

Second, I'm so glad that TC was helpful in the process. Thanks for taking the time to comment... 



You are correct that Andrew Whaley is doing a great job.His enthusiasm and spirit are to be commended. And there are many young committed pastors who need to be encouraged to continue to trust God to direct their paths. Through their leadership, they may be able to pull the rest of us through the exciting times to come.

I'm not registered, but I'm Doug Hearl, Andrew.

Living Into God's Future


Thanks for this article.  I think it shows the kind of proactive agenda I was trying to talk about.

One thing that is going to be a challenge is the planting of new churches.  The congregation where I serve is moving to a new location which happens to be a new partnership of three congregations sharing one building.  The Interim Pastor has worked with the church board on what to do with the assets from the sale of our current building.  He wants to see some of the money go into the planting of two new Disciples churches in the Twin Cities.  He's recieved a lot of pushback from folk who think it should go to a local charity instead.  These folks can't see the need for new churches and see money going towards it as a waste (of course, some of the same people who are against new churches fret over how their church will grow).  I think that feeling is found throughout mainline churches.  I think we are going to have explain why new churches are needed and why they are worth the investment.  The problem is that we are up against a generation of people who were told that social justice was more important than evangelism and it will take time to help them see that both are important to the health of the church.

Dennis Sanders