Recently, I learned of a church in a major American East Coast city that has five former Associate Ministers. Regarding this particular church, none of the five former Associate Ministers are serving in any ministerial position presently.
One former Associate Minister is working in public relations at a major state university. Another is working as a substitute teacher and another is working at a software technology company that he founded.
What are the contributory forces for this phenomena ? It used to be that someone would go into the ministry, get ordained and would serve a series of pastorates for thirty or forty years.
Now this appears to be the exception rather than the rule. Like high tech workers moving from one sub-contract to another, ministers are becoming more of a mobile migratory class that gravitate to one special project after another. Thus, any institutional history or permanence regarding some pastorates becomes completely obliterated. I know of one church where an Associate Minister left a few months ago because he was " called " to a church on the East Coast. Now the church that he has left is legally working on extricating itself from its host denomination due to its conflict regarding the denomination's policy on social and political issues.
We have seen decreased financial giving to churches across the board. The numbers of the unchurched " Nones" have steadily increased. Bloated bureaucratic denominational structures have appeared to be content in allowing local churches to close at the expense of keeping national headquarters offices open. A local church in my own denomination is closing and there is no response other than to quietly celebrate and close its doors after ninety years of ministry.
There has been no effort to help and counsel ministers transitioning from one congregation to another including institutional ministry i.e. hospital or military chaplaincy with the exception of interim ministry.
Ministers attempting to start a new church have to resort to another source of income i.e. selling real estate, selling cars, etc. to financially support themselves while they are attempting to plant a new congregation in a community.
Retired ministers are all but ignored. There has been no concerted effort, that I have witnessed, to utilize the skills, wisdom and institutional experience that retired ministers bring to the table in order to further the mission of the Kingdom of God as it is manifested in several denominations. One exception is with another conference in my denomination where there is a local council of elders ( retired clergy ) who meet regularly as a group to worship, but beyond that not much utilization of their ministerial gifts by that conference.
What guidance has been given local clergy ? One seminary graduate was heard to say "At no time during my education was I taught anything about budgets, administration, hiring and firing of staff, etc. " Another local minister in upstate New York was heard to say, "With all of the jobs losses experienced by my people, we set up a job search network in my church to help those who were unemployed. I felt more like a mental health counselor than I did a minister."
Then there was the Yale Divinity School Graduate and minister who observed
" I could have done without the lecture on what other towns the Apostle Paul went through. "
When are we going to get honest in the Church about supporting our clergy ? Our current managerial policies and procedures are promoting more unemployment, more marital discord, more economic hardship, substance abuse, domestic violence and suicide.
How is this Christian ? How is this speaking with any integrity to any truth from any faith tradition ?
As I have mentioned before ( See " What Does The Church Want To Say Now ? ), churches either need to encourage seminarians under care to educate and cultivate for themselves other careers i.e. Social Work, Journalism, etc while studying for the ministry, or churches need to advise seminarians not to go into the ministry, at this time, due to financial factors that prevent any certainty of sustaining a call to a church and being appropriately financially compensated for performing parish ministry.
Right now ,the market challenges for Christendom do not argue well for long and prosperous pastoral careers for young ministers.
We can do much better, but it is going to take a lot of honest soul searching, prayer and painful hard work to develop another system of pastoral placement and support that will be just.
May we have the courage and the conviction to develop this new system for our churches now and for the future.
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