More young people entering ministry

A study reported on in USA Today has found that more young people are exploring careers in ministry just at the same time that a wave of Baby Boomer ministers are retiring. USA Today calls this “prayers being answered” for churches across the land.

On the other hand, USA Today just posted an article in June on “Protestant pastor on the job hunt? Good luck in this market.” We’ll have to see how the supply/demand works out for pastors and ministers as all mainline churches experience some declining attendance (and giving!) numbers.

More young adults going into ministry

From USA Today

For years, churches across the USA have prayed that more young people would explore careers in ministry as a wave of Baby Boomer pastors prepares to retire. Now it seems their prayers are being answered.

For the past 10 years, the estimated median age of candidates for master of divinity degrees has fallen steadily, from 34.14 in 1999 to 32.19 in 2009, according to an analysis by the Center for the Study of Theological Education (CSTE) at Auburn Seminary. That marks a reversal: From 1989 to 1999, the estimated median age had climbed steadily from 31.4 to 34.14.

Denominations hail this new pattern as a positive sign now, as churches increasingly depend on aging leaders and struggle to attract parishioners under age 30.

“A pastor usually attracts persons 10 years above and below their own age range,” says Gail Ford Smith, director of the Center for Clergy Excellence at the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. “If you have a 27-year-old starting a new worship service, they’re going to attract people ages (17) to 37. That really does appeal to us if we’re trying to reach mission fields of those who’ve not yet been connected to God through Jesus Christ.”

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  1. Sean

    This is good news. I am really curious about the median age in The Episcopal Church and if this trend applies to us.

    Sean – please add your last name next time. ed.

  2. Lois Keen

    I asked a 20-30 something about this 10 year attraction thing and she said it was nonsense. She said that families are so spread out these days that people her age were looking for grandparent figures like me. (I’m ancient – 65 – and a late-life call responsible for those high average age statistics.)

    Maybe it’s more about establishing trust – A 27 year old or a 65 year old, going to where the 20 or 30 somethings are, and gaining their trust, establishing credibility, age might not matter. I certainly gained the trust of some 20 somethings when during baptism preparation I welcomed their questions about scripture and faith instead of bludgeoning them with dogma, for instance. They wished someone had told them before that they could ask questions of scripture.

    However, if we’re sitting around waiting for people to come into our buildings, no matter how attractive we are or the programs are, I’d say yes, a younger priest might have a better chance.

    So, shall I give up ministry and step aside for the younger people so our churches can be filled again? How would the church like to use my age and wisdom for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

  3. Kira Schlesinger

    I question some of this based solely on my own personal experience of being a student at a Divinity School. While most of the students are in the 25-35 range, a lot of them are NOT planning on doing church-based ministry. There seems to be a very strong interest in non-profit work and chaplaincy over ministry with a congregation. I didn’t feel that the USA Today article addressed what people getting their MDiv degrees are planning to do with them because I know not all of them feel called to minister in a congregational setting.

  4. I think Kira makes a good point, and Lois another. I’m wondering in what seminaries this is happening. That may mean little or much for the Episcopal Church. Several of our seminaries are involved in extensive restructuring, while diocesan programs and Anglican Studies in non-Episcopal seminaries are holding their own or growing. In my diocese we’ve had four priests ordained in the last ten years with degrees from a seminary in a major Evangelical/Holiness tradition, and while they needed some “Anglican-ization,” their preparation in the broader Christian tradition was just fine. We also have two applicants in the diocesan program who in fact have M.Div’s from non-Episcopal seminaries.

    I also have a concern about young people arriving at seminary with poor formation. While I’ve heard that concern from seminary faculty, I’ve also seen in in the clinical education I’ve participated in as a chaplain. Folks come with a profound love for Jesus – but a love that is indeed “romantic,” and not formed. They know what they’re excited about, which usually includes ideas from a scattering of sources that are brought together only in them. They know what makes them feel loved and good, but don’t really know the tradition they want to find a place in. It was a CPE student years ago who taught me that enthusiasm is no substitute for groundedness.

    So, while it’s intriguing that the average age of seminarians is falling a bit, the number itself doesn’t give us much of an idea how this will affect the Episcopal Church in the next generation.

    Marshall Scott

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