I have been thinking about the post I recently wrote on younger clergy and the conversation it has prompted. I can’t put my finger on it, but I am not satisfied with the post and my articulation of the importance of younger clergy. As I have been chewing on this, I had a thought I am not really sure what to do with:
Of the largest congregations in the UMC today, a significant portion were new church plants that were planted by a younger pastor who is still the senior pastor.
Last year Adam Hamilton listed the ten largest churches in the UMC on his blog. I am not familiar with all of the churches on the list, but I know that three of the top six churches were started by the same person who is currently the senior pastor, and two of the top six were not large churches when the current pastor was appointed to the church. And while I don’t know their ages, I am confident that they were “young” when they planted their churches.
These churches are: Church of the Resurrection (Adam Hamilton), Granger Community Church (Mark Beeson), and The Woodlands (Ed Robb, Jr.). Windsor Village (Kirbyjon Caldwell) and Ginghamsburg (Mike Slaughter) were smaller churches that became “mega” churches under the pastorates of Caldwell and Slaughter.
I am not sure what to do with this. On the one hand, none of these pastors were appointed to be the senior pastor of one of the largest congregations in their annual conference when they were young and relatively inexperienced. On the other hand, now they are the pastors of 5 of the 6 largest churches in the UMC. One obvious insight could be that entrepreneurial younger clergy should be given the opportunity to plant new churches. But is there something else that can be gleaned from this?
If Hamilton, Beeson, and Robb Jr. had not been given the chance to plant new churches, these churches likely would not exist.
Does this have anything meaningful to say to the conversation today about younger clergy? Does this tell us something less obvious than, “We should let younger pastors start new churches?” I wonder what thoughts these pastors would have about the importance of younger clergy and recruiting, supporting, and placing them?
What do you think? Do you see any meaningful connections?
Edit: Thanks to John Reasons who corrected the initial draft of this post where I incorrectly included Mike Slaughter as planting Ginghamsburg. I knew better, but definitely had it wrong in this post. I have revised the post to correct my error.
Ben Simpson said:
I think it is more complex than saying that these individuals were given the chance to plant new churches. If you’ve ever heard Adam’s story, he had to take a lot of initiative to have his idea for a new church considered seriously by his D.S.
I think a larger pool of younger clergy also brings with it a greater diversity of ideas, some healthy idealism, energy, and an openness to innovation. The story you’re telling here needs thicker description…then the lessons may become more apparent.
John Meunier said:
I’m not sure what to take from this. After all, how many young clergy get appointed to lead churches that do not become mega-churches? Lots of fresh or fairly new out of seminary young pastors get appointed to lead churches. The vast majority of them do not create megachurches. Should we take a lesson from that?
I’m not sure what is to be learned from these cases.
John Meunier said:
That said, I am all for identifying gifted clergy (young or not) and giving them support to use those gifts.
Kevin Watson said:
Ben – You are absolutely right – a thicker description is needed. This is one of the most stream of consciousness posts I have ever written… and I truly am not sure what, if anything, can be gleaned from this. Your comment about Adam Hamilton having to work hard to get approval for Resurrection reminds me of Mark Beeson’s story about Granger, he recently wrote a blog post that sounds similar. Maybe one thing to glean, then, is that these are folks who take initiative, aren’t afraid to ask (repeatedly) for permission and don’t expect others to create opportunities for them.
John – My main push-back to your comment is that I have hardly ever heard of a freshly minted seminary grad of any age being given an appointment that had much of any real possibility of experiencing dramatic growth. I remember being surprised when I came back to Oklahoma to realize how many people in my commissioning class had two point charges. Almost everyone was either an associate pastor or the pastor of multiple very small, very rural churches. (This is not a slam on rural churches, but a town with a few hundred people that is more than two hours away from a major metropolitan area has no real chance of becoming the next Resurrection or Granger.)
All that is to say that if my original proposal were taken seriously, I think the first appointments of these folks would look different.
Brad Reeves said:
I completely agree that many younger clergy can and should be appointed to high capacity places. However, many middle age clergy have D.Min. in the last few years. Their ministry is transformed. Because of their recent training, they now find that they resonate with the younger clergy. Then, they are appointed to rural pastorates with little possibility of great growth. This has happened in my area. For the life of me, I can’t figure that out.
We need entrepreneurial pastors appointed to high capacity places, regardless of age.
Ruth Atterberry said:
Caveat: I’m old.
Twice I heard Zan Holmes tell the story if thinking his Bushop had made a mistake in appointing him to serve St Luke’s 50 members when he felt God calling to lead a large congregation. Growing mega churches seems to take a combination of a pastor with a passion for evangelism and with the energy and organizational skills to realizie a vision and then a cabinet who will support a long-term ir career appointment. It seems too “organic” to be captured in a formula. In OK we have sometimes replicated the model without fruit.
I’m not defending the old system of initial rural appointments but I think in their day they provided an opportunity to discover those who would be faithful in little. Many competent clergy who have given solid leadership to large congregations and some bishops began in small rural areas. (K Baskin Ball in N TX comes to mind among others in OK.) Even now they do not have to be clergy killers but neither do they have to be the presumed appointment for new pastors.
Ruth Atterberry said:
Of course Kathleen B B’s early appts were not rural but like Holmes’ small inner city congregations that did not look promising.
Allen Crum said:
I think there is a lot of merit to what Kevin is saying, but at the same time I think that we need to be careful to rush out and bring in a huge crop of “young” clergy. I think in certain settings these younger folks can flourish, but I don’t think they are always the answer we are looking for.
I would also love to see some information on those younger clergy who went out and planted new churches but then failed. For ever “mega” church success story I have a feeling there are 10 failure stories as well.
For those major success stories, I bet you would also find out that it had a lot to do with “right place/right time”. Our challenge as a denomination is to remain open to seeing those opportunities and then acting upon them.
I am 34 tomorrow. I am a provisional elder who has just served my seventh year in pastoral ministry. My first two charges were as a lay minister to very small churches in very remote areas. My third charge was as a student local pastor in a small rural community. My most recent was an internship as an associate pastor in one of the fastest growing churches in my conference.
I struggled in the rural appointments. I thrived in the urban. My first-full time appointment was to be a rural, two-point charge in a small, remote rural town where the population has been in rapid decline. I was told by my DS that everyone in my conference starts in a rural charge (though I can name about a dozen people off the top of my head who have always be in the cities…and I guess my first six years didn’t count).
I declined my appointment and took a leave of absence. I felt it to be unfaithful to God to go where my gifts, talents, skills, and strengths; my enthusiasm for evangelism; and my ability to connect with younger unchurched people would not be utilized.
I was told I am the first provisional elder in our conference to ever turn down an appointment AND not leave the ordination process.
I’m on the border between Gen Xers and Millinials…I’m curious as to how many Millennials will buck against the itineracy in the coming years…