Calling Our Youth

It became apparent within the last few months.  Our Grand Rapids District Committee on Ministry interviewed 12 new candidates for ministry since last September: an amazing number.  These individuals – members of your churches – felt a call to ministry and began the formal inquiry process.  But you know what?  Only one of the twelve is under 30 years old and will be a first career pastor.  And only one of the twelve (not the youngest one) plans to go to seminary and seek the elder route into ministry. 

One of my greatest joys as a district superintendent is meeting individually with every candidate for ministry before passing them on to the district committee.  I am humbled, inspired and encouraged by the passion for ministry that exudes from every pore of their being.  Our churches are doing a good job of identifying and calling second career people into ministry.

But I am left with the question, Where are all the youth?  Yes, the wisdom, maturity and spiritual formation of second career clergy is invaluable, but we also need the creativity, enthusiasm, energy and cultural sensitivity of young pastors.  Why are so few United Methodist young people considering ministry as a first career and entering seminary shortly after college?  This question is being addressed at the highest levels of our denomination, including the recently published “State of the Church” report.

Lovett H. Weems, Jr., in an address to the United Methodist Convocation of Extended Cabinets last November, gave us this startling statistic.  There has been a dramatic drop in the number and percentage of United Methodist clergy under the age of 35 in the last 20 years in the United States, with the percentage of clergy under the age of 35 moving from 15% in 1985 to now below 5%.

The reasons for the lack of young clergy are complex.  In previous generations (like mine!) youth finished high school or college and went right to work, period.  There was no lingering, no coming back home to mooch off mom and dad, no spending seven years getting through college and trying out four different majors.  Today’s youth take their time deciding on a profession and then will likely change jobs numerous times in their career. 

In addition, in our contemporary culture, ministry is not the esteemed profession it was for centuries.  Many youth are seduced by our national obsession with money, wealth, status and power, and ministry doesn’t fit that mold.  Still other youth may be interested in ministry, but the lengthy process that leads to ordination in the United Methodist Church steers them to other denominations. 

We know that young people today have a deep desire to make the world a better place and be of service.  Youth do feel called to make a difference.  Why aren’t our youth gravitating to ministry in the United Methodist Church, then?  My hunch is that our churches aren’t doing a very good job of creating a culture of call.  Oh, yes, we may be good at naming the gifts and graces of adults and calling them out for ministry.  But too often, we don’t even know the names of the children and youth in our church, let alone get to know who they are. 

  • Do you talk to the children in your church about ministry as a profession from the time they are very young? 
  • Do you tell the wonderful call stories of Moses, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Paul? 
  • Do you encourage youth to be worship leaders, serve on committees, and go on mission trips?
  • Do you approach specific youth and tell that them you feel they would make a good pastor?  Do you tell them over and over?

I believe that God’s call within our youth often remains hidden because they do not experience confirmation of that inner call from the community of the church.  The call may be strong, vivid and compelling, but if no one else notices or comments on that call, our youth may simply move on to another profession.  The individual call and the communal call complement each other and cannot be separated.

One of my favorite moments in pastoral ministry came when I would meet and pray individually with youth shortly before they were confirmed.  After being with them every Sunday for nine months, I came to know them pretty well.  I shared with each youth the gifts I saw in him or her, then said many times over the years, “I think you would make a good pastor.  Have you ever felt that God might be calling you to ministry as a career?”

Can your church become a calling church that produces pastors from both the adults and youth in the congregation? 

  • Churches creature a culture of call by continually talking about the call, interpreting the call, and celebrating the call.    
  • Calling churches are rich in relationships among all ages that support growth in grace and discipleship.
  • Calling churches create scholarship funds for people pursuing seminary education.
  • Calling churches pay attention to children and youth and involve them heavily in leadership.
  • In calling churches, these words are overheard virtually every Sunday, “You have incredible gifts.  Have you ever considered the ministry?”

I suspect that someone named something in you as a child or youth that eventually steered you in the direction of ministry.  Who was that person?  What did they say?  How did it affect you?  What gifts can you name in the youth of your church?  What youth in your church might become your colleagues some day?  When will you call them?

Blessings, Laurie

P.S. Why don’t you being a youth to Bishop’s Day on March 3?

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