Jeremy over at Hacking Christianity, has encouraged people to write about Lovett Weems' book Focus. I'm about half way through with the book and it has a lot in common with the statistical analysis I was doing on the clergy in my conference. It seems to mingle well and I'll probably come back to some of the results of my finds and Weems and how they do agree when I finish.
But what caught my attention is in the introduction in the book. Weems opens by drawing links between the United Methodist Church and the New York Yankees. The connections are neat to think about and probably mean more if I was a huge fan of baseball. One topic he brought up was the Yankee's unwillingness to move into the farm team system to build their homegrown talent. This got me thinking...are small churches/charges the farm teams for young clergy in our current system? (man that sounded really Sex and in the City like)
Think about the purpose of the farm teams for Major League Baseball. Once a person graduates college and is good enough to get into the program they can being to prove themselves in minor leagues. They can move up from the Asheville Tourists to the Greensboro Grasshoppers to the Durham Bulls and finally be called up to the big leagues. (Yes I am aware that those teams are probably not owned by the same Major League team but those are the ones in my area I knew were 4A, 3A,& 2A ball clubs.)
For young clergy when they graduate from seminary and give themselves over to the itinerant system many find themselves in one of three spots; an associate (because they choose this path), a pastor a 2+ church charge, or the pastor of a small station church. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THESE POSITIONS, please don't get me wrong, but they can be drastically different than the churches many young clergy come from. This is because many young clergy come from much larger churches. Because of this it can lead to burn out and other struggles because the small church is a lot different than the mega church in locations, personalities, and family systems. (they are also exactly the same in some areas as well, don't get me wrong)
It seems that small churches and charges are the farm teams for ministers. If you prove you can handle a small church they move you from 4A to 3A and then on up until you have been in the ministry for 30 years and you finally get to play your last seasons with the big boys. This seems to be the old style of appointments and I wonder how this will change as the death tsunami that Weems predicts starts to hit our denomination? Will the old itinerant rules that are silently and invisibly in place still be around as the tsunami hits and drastic change hits the denomination?
In a previous post I note that over the next 10 to 15 years there will be a clergy death tsunami too. Will the young clergy who are getting out of seminary now have a chance to move up quicker in the league of clergy because of the huge openings in the pulpits that cannot be filled by the clergy they usually would be? Does this mean as a young clergy one could possibly be running a large church (200-500 in worship) within the first 15-20 years of ministry? That is almost unheard of these days. If this does become the case how will those who have been waiting 25-30 years to get that appointment treat those young clergy who do get sucked up to that pulpit instead?
Will the old idea of a farm team be going away because the only churches who will be able to afford commissioned and ordained clergy will be larger congregations after financial resets are demanded by lack of funds? Are young clergy prepared for that transformation and is this a tool to help get more young clergy into the denomination?
What do you think?