March 29, 2006

Aging Clergy: Where are the 30 year olds

A United Methodist News Service article posted today tells us that the number of clergy under 35 has drastically declined in the last 20 years. Down from around 3,219 in 1985 it now stands at...Get this....850. Wierd thing is I think I know all 850 of them and they all were at Asbury with me....ok so a few went to Duke but thats another story.

So what went wrong. Well I have one particular bone to pick, and then I want to hear what others think. Campus Ministry is what went wrong. In the 50's and 60's our church had thriving, large campus ministries. Hundreds of people were involved on all of our secular and liberal arts colleges, now look around at some of our largest campuses and you will do well to find anyone who even knows what a Wesley Foundation is. There are exceptions....Texas Tech-my alma matter, The University of Georgia, Southern Methodist University, The University of Arkansas, Texas A&M, among a handful of others. But for the most part Methodism on campus is basically dead. I know of one campus that has close to 30,000 students and only about 30 at the ministry. Actually I know of a lot in that situation.

Who's fault is many people to count, but during the same time Methodists abandoned the campus, organizations like Campus Crusade, Intervarsity, BSM, and RUF invaded. As their influence grew they began producing young leaders who started ministries like Passion (which brought 20,000 college students to Nashville this summer), and became pastors and leaders of some of the most innovative and influential churches in North America. We dropped the ball big time.

The Wesley Foundation I grew up in spiritually, was passionately focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ. For this reason thousands of students were discipled, and more than 120 people went into full time ministry during a 20 year period. My point is for a denomination that started on the campus of Oxford, we've really messed this up, and because of it our future is in jeopardy.


gmw said...

Here, here!

No surprise I'm with you on this big-time.

One thing that frustrates me is our ministry on elite academic campuses. Some folks assume that if you're that smart, it isn't realistic to think that you could be an orthodox Christian, so we've got to offer a liberal version doctrinally. The only thing is, we can't figure out why Campus Crusade and the BSM are doing so well and have strong ministries when we've only got a handful.

John said...


I think you've found half the problem.

Here's the other half- seminary is too long and expensive.

I've been enrolled at Asbury since 2000. My wife has got her Master of Arts there in 2002, while I've been part-timing my way through the MDIV track. But there are so few scholarships and the bills are so high. Most folks we knew at Asbury had relatives funding their way. But I'm from a poor family and my wife's folks wouldn't help us any even though they have the means.

So here I've been running up loan debt and working multiple jobs while trying to take seminary classes. We long ago passed $60,000 grand in loan debt, and have stopped taking loans because we don't wish to owe a house-worth of money.

So now I'm a local pastor, working 60 hours a week while trying to take classes. My GPA is in the toilet, I'm on ADD medications, and I still cannot keep pace.

Without deep, deep pockets, young people can't afford to get into ministry. Most people I know in my situation have simply delayed plans to enter the ministry until they are 40 and can get into course of study. But by then- when they have a stable career and kids and a mortgage- I'm guessing many will stay put.

So where are the 30 year olds? They're in a cubical somewhere wishing that seminary was less expensive and wishing that the UMC had more alternative pathways into a pulpit.