Thinking outside of the box for pastoral leadership.

Who is providing pastoral leadership in United Methodist Churches?  Many of us think that seminary educated elders are providing the pastoral leadership for United Methodist churches, but here in the Tennessee Conference (where I live and work) and in many other conferences, the majority of United Methodist churches are not being served by seminary educated elders.  Instead, pastoral leadership comes from a variety of sources, including full-time and part-time local pastors and supply pastors.  In fact, in every conference that I have lexamined in the Southeast Jurisdiction, the majorEd Trimmer pictureity of churches are NOT served by seminary educated elders. In the Tennessee Conference only about 170 of the 600-plus churches are being served by seminary educated elders.  This leads me to suggest two very different ideas about how to address this issue, while still understanding that without local pastors and supply pastors our denomination, at least in the Southeast, would find itself without pastors for the majority of its churches.

Extension ministers as part-time pastors

I find it fascinating that we expect lay people (who have full-time jobs with minimum education and training) to pastor churches part-time, but yet we shy away from asking elders in extension ministries (often with the best education and training we can provide)  to take on the part-time pastoral duties at churches.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to ask those elders in extension ministries to pastor churches part-time as part of their commitment to the United Methodist Church and to help fulfill their ordination vows rather than lay people who are also working full-time jobs?  I know when I have been asked to pastor part-time on top of my “job,” it has reinforced my calling and enriched my extension ministry position.  (The author has been an ordained UM pastor since 1976, been in extension ministry since 1983, and has been asked to provide pastoral leadership on a part-time basis on over six occasions.)

Going younger in pastoral leadership

We have heard a lot about the aging of our clergy and the need for younger clergy (see Lewis Center for Church Leadership among others).  In fact, we have begun a Young Clergy Initiative through GBHEM for the next quadrennium.  While no one has the exact numbers between 6-12 percent of our churches appeared to be pastored by retired folks.  Here in the Tennessee Conference, the number is between 8-9 percent, and I may be one of those folks in the near future as I draw closer and closer to retirement (so this is not an attempt to get rid of retired folks serving in pastoral leadership).

I recently attended an event designed to help clergy become more effective in their preaching.  Two assumptions became dramatically clear to me at this event.  First, most of the pastors, if not all of them, thought they were effective preachers (see the Call to Action Plan to demonstrate the importance of effective preaching for vital churches as well as how few preachers are effective); and, second, the folks they were looking to help them in their preaching were all over the age of 60.  While Peter Marshall, Fred Craddock and Tom Long were effective preachers and may still be for us “older” folks (all quoted at the gathering), the context of preaching continues to change and evolve.  No one talked about using video or live actors to tell stories and illustrate points.  Illustration and stories were supposed to come from books that most folks under 30 have not read and probably aren’t going to read unless they are English majors or from our own “older” experience.  We preachers, as we age, seem to continue to preach to churches whose population is aging with us or ahead of us without using new ways to tell the old, old story of Jesus Christ, to younger generations, such as video, twitter, texting, etc.  This seems to be part of the problem of an aging church and not reaching a younger generation.

So why not tell/ask every Wesley Foundation and every UM college to identify at least one person whom they think have the gifts of ministry and assign them to churches currently being served part-time by “retired” folks, and assign those students a mentor/coach to work with them on a weekly basis?  This might begin to help those churches see that the world continues to change and give younger folks an opportunity that otherwise is not available.  Historically we seemed to have done this 40 and 50 years ago, but as “retired” folks lived longer, healthier lives, we seem to have moved in that direction for pastoral leadership rather than looking to college students.

These are just two of what I am sure are a myriad of ideas for addressing how to ensure that our congregations are staffed with the best trained, most creative minds that we have in the church today. It’s time for us to start thinking out of the box if we hope to build vital and vibrant congregations in the coming years.

Ed Trimmer

Ed Trimmer

Rev. Dr. Ed Trimmer is married to Angy who serves a rural small membership church, and between them they have eight children, three of whom are still in the home and nine grandchildren. Ed currently serves as the Executive Director of the Cal Turner Jr. Center for Church Leadership at Martin Methodist College in south central TN. He is the author of several books including Between Everything: Teacher Helps for Transitioning Preteens. He loves (but not with the same passion) the Church, Jesus Christ, college football and bass fishing. Dr. Trimmer can be reached at etrimmer@martinmethodist.edu.

Ed Trimmer About Ed Trimmer

Rev. Dr. Ed Trimmer is married to Angy who serves a rural small membership church, and between them they have eight children, three of whom are still in the home and nine grandchildren. Ed currently serves as the Executive Director of the Cal Turner Jr. Center for Church Leadership at Martin Methodist College in south central TN. He is the author of several books including Between Everything: Teacher Helps for Transitioning Preteens. He loves (but not with the same passion) the Church, Jesus Christ, college football and bass fishing. Dr. Trimmer can be reached at etrimmer@martinmethodist.edu.

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5 Comments on "Thinking outside of the box for pastoral leadership."

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Tom Lambrecht
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I just read the profile on Rev. Mark Beeson, pastor at Granger Community Church (UMC) in Granger, Indiana, a church of over 5,000 members. He started his ministry in the 70's at age 18 while a college freshman. He grew a church of 30 to have 65 in attendance in three years. He was effective! That effectiveness is what caused Granger to grow from a new church start in 1986 to what it is today–the fourth largest church in American Methodism. Many Local Pastors are equally effective. That should be the determining factor. The 33rd largest church in the UMC… Read more »
Dave Owsley
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You might need to explain your point that full time and part time local licensed pastors is an issue that needs to be resolved. Many of these pastors entered into ministry with education and experience that has helped turn around dying churches and plant new ones. Many local pastors are leading young people to pursue seminary. What would happen if you embraced these pastors and if necessary improve the course of study program they are required to complete? Could it be that in some cases "the best trained and most creative minds serving churches today" are some of the local… Read more »
Ed Trimmer
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Without local pastors the UM Church becomes a surburan denomination. They serve more UM Churches than elders but elders serve more UM lay people. The issue you are referring to, I think, is that the denomination still believes the "best" pastors are elders and the best churches are stand alone full-time appointments. Additionally we tend to give local pastors "seminary light" instead of creating a new paradigm in training or educational system for them.

bill krill
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The central issue, it seems to me, is that there is a myopic approach to formation for ordained people. Many lay people are far more effective as pastors of flocks because they are very much more in touch with reality. So many of the ordained are so personality disordered that congregations are being killed left and right. Until the UMC examines the real problems, the church will continue to decline.

Marilyn A. Hudson
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Excellent ideas! The present 'gatekeeping' approach to clergy (long and expensive process) means many gifted people are kept from using their gifts to build the church as easily and effectively as might be done.

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