Cabinet faces issues of aging clergy
Over the last several weeks, I have been engaged in conversations about "retirement" (not mine) but the growing number of retirements that are being projected for 2013. The conversations have led me to wonder, "What is the forecast for retirements over the next five years?"
I have analyzed the age demographics for the West Michigan Conference. It was eye-opening to me, particularly in light of a recent age demographic released from the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits. The General Board found that United Methodist Elders, age 55 to 72 represent 53% of all active elders. It is apparently the same trend all across mainline denominations. But the West Michigan demographic is even more disturbing.
First, some explanatory statements. Our demographic picture does not focus on Elders only. I looked at all pastors currently serving under Episcopal appointment in a local church. The figures are not inclusive of those who are appointed to ‘extension ministries.’ In other words, none of the Superintendents, denominational appointments or those appointed to teach are included in this demographic. While this is not a definitive set of numbers, it is a picture of a trend and highly instructive.
We have 323 current appointments in West Michigan.
- 12 appointments are held by those who are 70 years of age or older … or 4%
- 31 are between the ages of 65 and 69 … or 9.5%
- 78 are between the ages of 60 and 64 … or 24.3%
- 80 are between the ages of 55 and 59 … or 24.7%
- 56 are between the ages of 50 and 54 … or 17.5%
- 44 are between the ages of 40 and 49 … or 13.5%
- And 22 are under age 40 … or 6.5%
Bottom line. While the general church is showing 53% of clergy over 55 … West Michigan is 64%!
From this Superintendent’s perspective, those numbers represent an incredible reality check. There is reason for concern. There is also reason to get to work with a sense of vision and optimism. If we will seize this moment in time, it is an extraordinary opportunity to "re-think" our church.
We must start by identifying and mentoring the next generation of pastoral leaders. The support, education, accountability and effectiveness of both clergy and laity must become an unwavering goal.
Then we must place our greatest resources in creating vital and growing congregations. Youth and young adult ministries must be jump-started. Partnerships between congregations and creative models of co-operative ministry must be designed, developed and implemented, because what was sustainable in the past will unlikely be sustainable in the future.
These are the issues that are front and center before our Bishop and Cabinet, as well as conference leadership, local church pastors and lay leadership teams. The decisions that need to be made, the church culture that needs to be altered and expanded, the vast mission field that is before us all demand our prayerful listening for God’s voice among God’s people.
As challenging as this time is, remember this; "with God, ALL things are possible!"