While at a missions meeting I listened to my chair, a semi-retired man, complain that there was too much information on the internet these days and that the conference needs to get back to sending stuff through the mail, as in snail mail. His reasoning…the internet is too impersonal. Later on that day I was at our District Leadership Seminar and learning that now the conference has some cool links on their site about our apportionments. Now if you have questions about why the conference needs $129 dollars from your congregation to go to the Black College Fund, you can now link to that program and learn how that money is used. I thought that was a huge advancement in our technology, bringing us up to the mid-90s now.
These polar perspectives were in my head as I read Bishop Goodpaster’s book, There’s Power in the Connection. Goodpaster wants the UMC to move past their 1950’s mentality and into the modern world. I think this is also the push of the Igniting Ministries new campaign RETHINK Church. I had a chance to hear the Bishop at a Congregational Development meeting where he professed he wanted to start 30 new churches in the next 5 or 6 years. (Another topic for another time) In his talk at that meeting he said that we need to concentrate on the younger generation. We need to be paying attention to attracting and ministering too the 20 & 30 somethings of our society. He confessed that he remembers the first TV his family bought and how different that is from what this generation is and has grown up in.
With all this on my mind it got me thinking (I hope you can follow my train of thought here). Could the UMC’s decline in membership, the failure to attract young clergy (under 35), and the inability to now attract that younger generation be caused by the age of our leaders? What is the average age of the bishops in the US? I am guessing it is in the high 50s if not 60s. These are the Silent and Boomer Generations, the ones that remember what church in the 50s was like because they were there. They grew up and learned how to do church in the 60s and 70s. I confess I have no knowledge of who runs stuff in Nashville, but I am guessing they would be around the same age as my conference office, which are the same age as my bishop. What would happen if a 40 year old was elected bishop? Would a Generation Xer have a different take on how to run a conference and make it an effective force on that conference’s people? Are we stuck in the 50s-70s as a denomination because that is the church our leaders know?
Of course I can see annual conference now, looking up at a 41 year old bishop dictating where people go and what ministries do. “He’s too young to be Bishop.” “She doesn’t have enough experience?” Yet those are the same people who on their church profiles ask for a young clergy with kids to be their next minister. If we are too break free of the funk that the UMC is in (in America at least) we need to break up the old way of doing things. At my age, 31, I am in my seventh year of ministry. How old will I be when I receive the right amount of ‘experience’? How old does one have to be to be considered for top level appointments (whatever those are)? 30 years from now when Gen Xers are taking over the leadership roles, are we going to be open to doing church the way Gen Ys or Millennials want to do it or need it to be done? Are we going to be able to hold back from the temptation to say…‘now I can do it the way I have always wanted to.’? Are we going to be able to hear the needs of the Millenials and the Net Generation? Or are we going to be stuck in the 90s and 00s in the place that is familiar and best known?