There has been some great discussion about younger clergy, appointment making, and the culture of the United Methodist Church as a result of my review of The Crisis of Younger Clergy by Lovett Weems and Ann Michel. I have continued to think about this conversation the past few days and I have started thinking about one particular question that I would like to invite your feedback on: What would make for the ideal first appointment for a younger pastor?
I would love to hear from those of you who have experienced a first appointment as a younger pastor. I would be interested in hearing the thoughts of folks who have not personally beem young clergy in a first appointment, but have observed younger clergy and have thoughts about what would be most helpful. It seems to me that there are several issues surrounding this question: What are the stewardship issues? Development issues? Formation issues? etc.
What are your thoughts?
I’m a senior in college who will be starting seminary next year and who is looking towards serving a church. Here are some characteristics that I can think of. They mostly come from observation and probably what I’ve heard and read. Even so formed, it can’t be much more than a personal ideal.
Other youngish people in the community
Following someone who left on decent terms
No major conflicts hanging over your head
A church/ministry reasonably open to being led
A strong mentoring relationship with an experienced pastor nearby for accountability/advice/support
I guess these fall a little short of ideals given the way I’ve qualified them. This isn’t to say that a church shouldn’t have any challenges in a first appointment, but that it should be half-way stable so that the task is to lead it somewhere good, rather than out of somewhere bad.
Kevin Watson said:
Luke – Thanks for your contribution. These are all qualities that I would affirm as “ideal” for a first appointment. I also found myself thinking that I don’t know that I would ever really hope for an appointment where their were major conflicts hanging over my head! (But some people seem to enjoy conflict much more than I do… ) Thanks again for contributing.
Where are you going to seminary? I hope it is a wonderful experience, and that your first experience in local church ministry is led and blessed by God.
I imagine all pastors hope for some version of all those things. If they don’t, they should, especially when it comes to supporting relationships with other pastors. Other youngish people just means people they can relate to. The reality is, of course, that there are churches in serious conflict and we need clergy to help them move towards fruitful ministry. It just may not be the best situation for a pastor right out of the gate.
I’m just now starting to apply. Duke is way at the top of my list and I’ll probably also apply to Candler and maybe elsewhere (Vanderbilt, Perkins). Duke and Candler are the only two I’ve really visited and I was just thrilled about what I saw at Duke.
Kevin Watson said:
Luke, I think you are definitely right, it is a big asset to one’s ministry to have some demographic that you can effortlessly relate to.
Duke is a great school. Since I am getting ready to start PhD work at SMU, I am also partial to SMU. (If you end up visiting Perkins, let me know, I would love to meet you.) I did my M.Div. at Wesley and had a great experience there, and loved being in DC for three years. In any case, best of luck with your applications and everything!
Gary D.S. said:
Hi, Kevin; I thought as part of this discussion I would give a perspective from a D.S. view. Let me say that most churches would love to have young pastors with families. However, there are some complicating factors: 1. There are some good, healthy churches that simply can’t pay more than minimum salaries. 2. Sometimes a good place to start is as an associate at a large church to learn ministry. However, these are at a premium. 3. In the present system, everyone from Commissioned Elder to Ordained Elder is guaranteed an appointment. The last General Conference rejected any “easier” way to exit ineffective pastors (old or young) from ministry. So there are still ineffective pastors out there that are guaranteed appointments also. 4. Salaries are getting increasingly difficult to deal with, especially in rural areas.
These are just a few of the complicated factors in making appointments. I, personally, received a very conflicted appt. right out of seminary. I was a notorious “clergy killer”.
So I understand the issues and problems. But I survived and I learned a great deal. Ministry is one of the most difficult tasks in our culture. In the present system, I enjoy helping young pastors get their start; mentor and encourage them; and help them to move “up the ladder” as quickly as possible. Our system is certainly not perfect…and I wish General Conference would have made some tough decisions in 2008. But until they do…I will continue to mentor and encourage and do the best I can as a D.S. to place young pastors in settings that are a “match” for them and for the church. (As much as I can within the present limitations.) BLESSINGS! Gary
Gary D.S. said:
P.S. Kevin…I ordered the book “Crisis of Younger Clergy”! I want to be informed about their views and feelings! Keep the good info coming! Gary
Kevin Watson said:
Gary – Thank you very much for including the perspective of a District Superintendent. I appreciate your willingness to take the time to do so. I also appreciate the reminder that while it is easy to talk about the hypotheticals of the appointment process, Bishops and Superintendents ultimately have to get down to the real world task of doing the best that they can with what they’ve got.
I can say from my own experience that I have felt like the folks on the cabinet I have talked to have seemed to take my understanding of my gifts and grace seriously. I vividly remember Kathy Leithner traveling all the way to Washington D.C. to meet with me during my 2nd and 3rd years of seminary. During the last visit, she specifically asked me what kind of appointment I thought would best fit with my understanding of God’s calling. I deeply appreciated her effort and the way in which she took me seriously.
(For those of you who don’t know Gary, he is my DS and I can personally testify that he does take seriously his role as a mentor, coach, and cheerleader for younger pastors. I feel blessed by the ways in which he has invested in me, even when it meant supporting me in my decision to apply to PhD programs. I agree that the system is not perfect, but it is helped out by people like Gary who take the time to get to know the gifts and grace of the pastors in their district.)
I would say a good mentoring relationship with a more experienced pastor is key. I’ve been blessed with great mentors, both official and impromptu, who continue to check in on me and really seem to care how I’m doing.
I might qualify a difference between student pastor and first full-time pastor. I completely understand that associate positions are at a premium, but what about reserving them for student pastors to learn under an effective senior pastor, and have slightly less responsibilities than being a solo pastor, thus able to concentrate on schooling as well? My student appointment could not have been better, even as a solo pastor, but why on earth would we put our student pastors in appointments known to be clergy killers? And then they’re expected to get the church growing.
I would add, since your question asks “ideally”, that some form of debt assistance/relief would be a HUGE help. Especially since many churches are now providing a housing allowance that doesn’t cover rent, much less a mortgage. Then we have to pay student loans on top of that! Perhaps a grant in return for so many years of service type thing could work, as I received some assistance in that way.
Andrew Conard said:
Kevin – Thanks for raising this great question. I think that there are several keys to a first appointment for a young clergy person.
* I would echo the previous commenters thoughts on the value of a good mentor.
* I think that the ideal first appointment would be in a permissive associate pastor position. This would provide the opportunity to learn in a position in which one does not have the ultimate responsibility.
* A setting in which one is able to facilitate good habits for a future in ministry – rhythm between work, personal and family life as well as appropriate boundaries.
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Kevin Watson said:
Dan – Thanks for your comment. I was always amazed in seminary at how you and others were able to juggle student appointments with the seminary work load. I think you raise some important issues as they relate to first appointments and student pastors. To be honest, I had not been thinking about student pastors when I was thinking about a first appointment, but I can imagine that being a seminarian and taking your first appointment would be a lot to handle. I definitely agree with your emphasis on the importance of a good mentoring relationship. I am a little bit more ambivalent about the idea of saving good associate positions for student pastors, but that is probably my bias as someone who was not a student pastor. I started to respond to that in more detail… but it was going to be a whole other post. Maybe I will write it some day! Thanks for your comment, Dan.
Andrew – Thanks for your comments. I must say I love the phrase, “permissive associate pastor position.” I had not previously thought about the need for the qualifier “permissive” with associate pastor, but it makes sense.
I think one thing I would add, as I have thought about this over the last week, is that ideally the first experience that someone has with ministry would put them in a place where their likelihood of success is optimal. It is a very strange system that knowingly places younger clergy for their very first ministry experience in an appointment known throughout the Conference to be a “clergy killer.” Even that kind language alone makes it hard to have hope. It seems like the first appointment should only be given if the Conference affirms the persons calling to ministry. Assuming that they do, it seems like it would be the best thing for their growth in their calling if their first appointment is a place where their gifts will be strengthened and they will grow in enthusiasm for the work that God has called them to do.