Over the last 24 or so hours prior to this posting, there has been a conversation on the Hacking Christianity blog about the Texas Annual Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry and its thoughts on age and ministry. I am a Texas Conference Methodist and a member of the Board of Ordained Ministry and so this conversation hits very close to home. First, let me acknowledge the pain and frustration that have emerged from this conversation about age and ordination. No one wants to feel left out. No one wants to feel pushed away, unwanted, or discriminated against. Perhaps most importantly, no one wants to feel that the church has participated in any form of exclusion. I pray that Christ would appear among us speaking words of peace to our troubled hearts. I hope you will join me in that prayer.
What I seek to do in the remainder of this post, is not to enter into an argument with Jeremy Smith or others who have posted comments on his Hacking Christianity blog, but to offer a few thoughts on some of the general themes that have been taken up in the discussion. A friend and colleague of mine, Josh Hale, has written a very thoughtful response to the Hacking Christianity post on his blog which can be found here: http://wp.me/pBsrD-ov. Ordination, age, and leadership in the Texas Annual Conference will be my focus areas for the purposes of this post.
Ordination. We are studying it all the time. Tweaking our processes. Examining our own theology, ecclesiology, and, to some degree, missiology relating to ordination as well as those of other denominations. We wrestle with questions about ordination and ontology? Do we become ontologically different as if ordination was some form of sacrament? This would certainly have implications on how much our identity is caught up in ordination. (By the way, the UMC does not believe an ontological shift happens in the life of an individual in ordination.) We also talk about those being ordained being set-apart for particular tasks of ministry with particular authority, but that this ordination is not to be set above the baptism of all Christians. (This is our way of saying there is no ontological change in ordination.) So ordination is an action of the church that confers authority to a person to work within named ministerial orders that are presided over by a bishop for the building up of the church of which we are all a part as a body of believers. Those who are eligible to be ordained are those who have discerned a call that has been confirmed by the church in accordance with the church’s needs. So calling is not only an individual matter, but a corporate one. Further, whether someone is commissioned (the provisional step towards ordination in the UMC) or not is not only about the individual and the corporate body’s view of their readiness, but also the needs of the church/mission field. We believe that all believers are called to be Christ’s witnesses in the world, but the calling to ordination will be considered according to the needs of the church and its mission field. This missiological conversation is an important one as it relates to conversations in the Texas Conference and elsewhere. People are ordained within annual conferences and so it may be the case that the needs of one mission field differ from another. A candidate who is on the journey toward ordination can always consider options of other conferences/mission fields if the needs of their current conference are different from the gifts they bring to meet those needs.
Age in the workplace has been a challenging conversation for decades now. There are people in our workforce who can remember the days when most executives in the workforce were those who were older more seasoned veterans of the work. Now, we live in a work environment where Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and co-founder of Facebook, at age 28 is the second youngest “self-made” billionaire in history, and who’s company had the biggest IPO ever. Some feel that the young are taking over and the old are being pushed aside or pushed out. Yet, I read in an article a while ago that for the first time since the 40s, those above the age of 65 represent a greater number in our workforce than those between the ages of 16 and 19. The writer of the article wondered if older people were stealing the jobs of the young. All the cultural shifting that has gone on in the workplace as it relates to generational attitudes and work patterns has left the corporate world with a host of challenges. People teach workshops on how to help each generation get along with one another. You only hold those kinds of things because there have been some offenses and challenges along the way. In the church, we need only look at the comments of one of our more edgy and recently retired UM bishops who basically suggests that the UMC has been run like a gerontocracy for some time. Studies show that something like 50% of the clergy are old than 55 and that clergy coming into the life of the church in their 20s will not be enough to keep up with retirement rates across time if we maintain our current trends. All this has unsettled many clergy and lay leaders who expect that some of the same offenses that have been experienced in the corporate world will be repeated in the church – after all, these are not two completely distinct systems as much as we might hope they were. Ageism, cuts so many ways and the decade of life you are in defines the nature of your wounds, but everyone seems to be wounded.
Texas Methodism. I like being a Texan. I also like being a Methodist. Being a Texan from Houston means that you believe in the entrepreneurial spirit and finding solutions to problems. I like being a Methodist for many reasons one of which is because we believe in sanctification. Yet as an entrepreneurial problem solving Texas Methodist who believes we can be made perfect in this lifetime, I also know that it often takes a while to problem solve and perfect something. The document from our Board of Ordained Ministry that appeared in yesterday’s Hacking Christianity blog represents such a something that needs to be perfected. The “Proposed Minimum Standards for Entering Candidates” document is a working document. As I understand it, even if it were to be accepted as a set of guidelines by the diverse membership of the BOM, the age guidelines would be guides, but not automatic rules that would remove the Spirit driven work of discernment that all BOMs must do. The document is, however, an expression of pastoral leadership. What the “Proposed Minimum Standards” document hopes to encourage around age is a way of taking into account the needs of the individual as well as the needs of the church’s mission field. The document also hopes to remind us of the various ways that individuals can be in service to the church that have great integrity beyond ordination as a deacon or elder such as licensed ministry, certified lay ministry, etc. Helping people to navigate and discern the various pathways into ministry is a pastoral activity. Helping people to navigate and creating standards is also a function of leadership. Consideration of church/mission field needs is also a function of leadership and ordering the resources of the church. The Texas Annual Conference takes seriously the task of raising up and training leaders as well as the task of considering the needs of the churches under its care.
I hope that you will pray for the Board of Ordained Ministry in the Texas Annual Conference as it seeks to be faithful to the task of leadership in our conference that it have been given. I hope that you will continue to pray for our bishop, Janice Huie, and other leaders within our conference. Finally, I hope that you will continue to work with us as we engage these matters and work toward solutions for the common good.
Pax et bonum,
Justin Coleman is the Lead Pastor of the Gethsemane Campus of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas