A Plea to Every UMC Leader: Elect the Next Generation

The statistics are in and they are as disappointing as they are predictable: the people most likely to be making decisions for the United Methodist Church are those who will spend the least amount of time living with the consequences.

A Plea to Every UMC Leader: Elect the Next Generation

Voting keypad at General Conference. Photo via Oregon / Idaho Conference

According to data from the GCFA, the delegates to the last General conference were overwhelmingly older in age.  The largest single decade of delegates were those in their 50s who composed 36% of all the delegates present.  If you take all those who have more of their life (on average) behind them than ahead of them (those 40+), you reach an astonishing 85%.  When it comes to the youngest group (those under twenty) you get 4.  Not 4%, but 4 total delegates (or 0.6%).  This is a problem.

Disclaimer:  Because of my status as a provisional elder, I am not electable as a delegate. This means that what I am about to say is in no way in service of my election.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore the older generations in my life.  They provide me and all the younger generations with perspective and grounding.  They have modeled for me a brilliant work ethic and amazing loyalty.  I am in no way suggesting we need to flip the statistic to be as unrealistically weighted towards younger delegates, but I believe that if the Church is going to survive and thrive in the future, we MUST promote and empower the younger voices among us.

I have found an inverse relationship between my age and optimism about the future of the UMC.  The more I speak with leaders, I find the same to be true anecdotally among those in my social network.

When any organization loses an optimistic vision of the future, it loses the ability to harness present problems for future success.  Instead of seeing any of the myriad of current issues as containing the potential for the expansion of the Kingdom of God, we see them as one more reason that the church cannot survive as it is much longer.

The problem is that the younger a leader is, the less likely they are to have powerful connections and the less likely they are to know how to campaign successfully for office.  IN fact, many of the young leaders I know are turned off by the political side of the church and would feel disgusted with themselves for mixing politics and religion so thoroughly.  They need your help.

That is why I am asking, no begging, the UMC leadership in every annual conference to let go of half of their votes that would normally be spent on the standard guard of skilled church politicians and spend them on the future.  Rather than voting for all the top contenders from last General conference, vote for the young leaders who will spend the majority of their lives living with the decisions made at the next General Conference.

For those who have developed the skill of church politics and have been to General Conference before, I ask you to let go of your seat and use your considerable political capital to get a next generation leader elected who would have never been able to do it themselves.  What if you told everyone who asked if you were “running” that you would like them to vote for the young clergy in the smaller church down the street?

Jeremy Steele

Jeremy Steele is Next Generation Pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL. He is a frequent contributor to UMR as our “Skeptic Pastor” columnist.

But how do you know which one to choose?  Without a track record and years of conversations in the hallway between annual conference sessions, how do you find a young leader worthy of your vote?  I’d like to suggest a couple qualifications, and none of them have anything to do with how they feel about your pet church issue (I know you will handle that yourself).

1. They Are in Love with the Theology and Practice of Ministry of John Wesley:  Seminary (or church history for those not ordained) can do one of the two things for people.  It can make them bored with their heritage, or fall deeply in love with it.  It is my opinion that the only way that we will make a difference in the future is if we recover the Wesleyan theological vision and reclaim the movement that John Wesley and Francis Asbury helmed.  We need people who long for a truly Wesleyan movement.

2. They Aren’t Begging for Bureaucratic Power:  We have plenty of church bureaucrats.  Most people I know either come into church leadership because they are passionate about Jesus or because they are passionate about power.  We need far less of the latter.  I know that we can find leaders who love Jesus and see the burden of bureaucracy.  When they are empowered, they are not in awe of the bureaucrats and are not afraid of making sure we have less of them.

3. They Are Optimistic About Our Future:  If we want to find new solutions to problems, we have to have people involved who believe those solutions exist.  When we find people optimistic about our future, they do not enter a discussion presuming only one of the existing options will work.  If we want to have a viable movement in the future, we have to give the reigns to leaders who are ready to chart new ground in old discussions because they know there is a solution that hasn’t been discovered.

That’s it.  Find those people.  Elect them, and pray that God would continue to use our church to spread scriptural holiness across the land.

Jeremy Steele, UMR Columnist

The Rev. Jeremy Steele is the author of Reclaiming the Lost Soul of Youth Ministry and the Next Generation pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL and a regular columnist for The United Methodist Reporter. You can find more of his writing and a list of all the places he contributes at his website: JeremyWords.com

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30 Comments on "A Plea to Every UMC Leader: Elect the Next Generation"

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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many mixed signals in all of this conversation. this computer still likes what you have said, Rev. Steele. I qualify as old–been around for 70 plus years. not surprising that others who have “visited” here are afraid to turn things over to folks your age. when we were raising our family I always tried to reflect on what I had done when I was a kid. it was not all smart–perhaps most of it wasn’t–I just know/understand that a progressive gospel is not what Father/Son/Holy Spirit has inspired. what was “sin” then is the same now. LOOK FOR PAULS WHO… Read more »

Your evaluation is “right on” and troubling. I worry about the UMC in our country and pray that we can recapture the enthusiasm that once guided us. It’s still there in developing parts of the world.


I hope the powers at be heed your advice. It broke our hearts but we left our church after YEARS of requests to offer youth programming that would grow our daughter in her faith walk and participation in United Methodist Church structure, efforts to help in this regard, and finally an act that severed our trust. For those who have a church supportive of this idea there is a wonderful opportunity being offered this summer, that is actually in the Book of Discipline: https://m.facebook.com/Youth2015.

Judith Gotwald
Good luck with a wonderful sentiment. The Methodists aren’t alone. I visited 80 Lutheran congregations in the past three years. I can count the number of pastors I encountered under 55 on one hand. Maybe one was under 40. Most were well over 65! Would any of them give up power or standing to encourage the young? I won’t live to see it! The Church needs a breath of life, for sure. I doubt it is going to come from conference meetings or synodical gatherings. I doubt it’s going to come from pastors! It’s like addiction. Power is the opiate.… Read more »
Kenneth Baker
You wrote, “Would any of them give up power or standing to encourage the young? I won’t live to see it!” I really don’t see my pastorate as a position of “power or standing.” As a second career pastor, I have only 12 years of service. I am 61 yrs old. As an older clergy person, I seriously doubt I will ever be given the privilege of serving a larger or prestigious church. Those positions seem to be given solely to those who are very well connected, or to the young and beautiful. Personally, I never saw being a pastor… Read more »
Jeremiah Rood

Hi there,

Great, and sort of sad, article. Speaking as a young clergy, albeit, in a different denomination. I’m wondering if you see commonalities of experience crossing traditional denominational boundaries? I certainly do. Does that give you hope or make you sad?



Gary Shockley
Jeremy, I think some of the responses you are receiving are making your point! I’ll soon be (gulp) 58 years old and like to think of myself as a forward thinking and progressive leader in the UMC. I’ll be entering my 40th (gulp again) year of ministry since I began at the age of 18. I think I’ve seen it all. I truly believe THE CHURCH HAS TO CHANGE!!!! And I absolutely agree with you that we older leaders have to use whatever “power” or “position” or “influence” we have to make room for incredible people like you! We NEED… Read more »
Wes Andrews

The church needs to be the church Jesus wants it to be, not what we want it to be, Gary.

Jack Harnish

Given that a General Conference delegate must give up two weeks in the spring for GC and one week in the summer for Jurisdictional Conference, plus their own annual conference, plus meetings of the delegation, exactly how are younger laypeople (like school teachers–typical UM’s) supposed to do this?

John Smith

In most of the UMC you have to be 40 to be allowed to speak. This will go down some if you give a lot of money. You might be allowed to work with the 15 kids forcibly enrolled in the youth program or, big step, allowed to work with the young adult program and its 3 members although you are still young yourself. Maybe they will relate to another youngster? At least they can complain to you instead of the board. You can ignore them for us.

Kenneth Baker
How disappointing. Your comments, while heart-felt, are so completely dismissing of older generations. I am glad you are in love with life, liberty, and the Wesleyan way. That is good. I am also glad to hear of your willingness to work for our denomination for the long term. I am also glad for your youthful exuberance and vision. But. You so casually dismiss the experiences, knowledge, even wisdom, of those who are older. I am a second and a half career pastor, having heard God’s call later in my life. Like many of my colleagues. I am in my 60s.… Read more »
Bill Burch
certainly age should not be a limiting qualifier for responsible participation in General Conference; I’m sure there are many young persons who would do an outstanding job. Yet to promote the naive endorsement of a larger percentage of young people based on the attributes of youth is nonsensical and irresponsible. The qualifier should be persons with a heart for Christ & others, a Biblical faith, and demonstrated faithfulness to our mission as stated in the Discipline. I’d vote for that person no matter what their age. The problem arises that we no longer have much agreement on what constitutes our… Read more »
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