A question that start to stir in my mind was the link between clergy age and their experience. If in the next twenty years we will have about half of the number of Elders as we currently have, what will that do with the number of years of experience? (For a look at the number of clergy in the WNCC in different ages and affiliations, click here).
I dug through the data and the following graph is what I was able to come up with. This is the number of Elders in Full Connection broken up into ages and years of experience. The bars marked with an * are the age of someone coming in right from Divinity School and having a life time career as a minister. I guess you could refer to them as 1st Career Ministers. The numbers under those * give you the number of people represented by those bars. I have included Probationary Elders in the under 35 block because they may be still in the ordination process which is expected in that age group. I have not included them beyond that age group because I wanted to keep focused on 1st Career Ministers.
As you can see those in the 55-64 age bracket that have been 1st Career Ministers is 134 but the number below age 35 is only 63. That is a 52% difference in the amount of clergy who will have the same years of experience when they reach that age. How many of those 63 clergy will stick with the ministry all the way until they into the 55-64 age bracket? I don’t know the stats on that, but my guess would be probably about 10%-15% won’t make it for one reason or another. What effect will this have on our conference in the next 20 to 30 years?
One reality is that we will not have as many experienced clergy as we do right now. Currently by taking the lowest number of years and multiplying it by the number of clergy in that category, those in the 55-64 have an low ball estimate of 4,300 accumulated years of experience in the ministry. Thirty years from now when the young clergy from our conference hit that age bracket they will have an accumulated only 2,040 years. Will this gap of experience be a good thing or a bad thing for our conference?
Bad Thing: Seminary can only teach you so much about how to work in a local congregation. The rest has to be learned on the ground and through experience. With more experience comes more wisdom. With the lack of clergy with that experience means those who people look up to for that wisdom will have a smaller voice. A smaller, less diverse, voice (currently in the under 35 age group there is only one non-white person) will be the ones hold leadership positions and helping to form the conference and their decisions.
These clergy will have to grow up fast because they will be taking on leadership roles that were usually reserved for those with more experience. With less experience will equal more mistakes and how will those mistakes affect the conference? If things move in a dire direction in the next 30 years, which people are pointing too, one major slip could be catastrophic, more so than any other time in the conference’s history. That is a lot of pressure to put on the backs of people who have not had as much experience as other leadership of the past.
The fact that there is only one non-white young clergy out of the 68 that exist is sad. How will we be able to speak the every growing minorities in our conference if clergy are all part of the majority? Not saying it cannot happen because the younger generations see race relations a little different than the oldest ones, but how can we stay relevant to a racially evolving state without racially evolving clergy?
Good Thing: As the conference becomes less experienced their may be a turn away from the ideas that hold up only the institution. Those who are new to the conference do not have the ties that those who have grown up in it have. Two years ago there was a huge vote on whether to move conference away from Lake Junaluska to Greensboro. The AC voted to stay because of the years and years of experience and tradition held in that place. Would the vote have been different if the majority of the people have been going to AC at Lake Junaluska for half the time? Would their attachment still exist or would they be more open for other options? The limited attachment to the institution could make the conference more mobile and versatile, which may lead to more relevancy.
Another good thing would be a broader voice that would be forced to listen to the younger generations or those new to the field as 2nd Career Clergy and Local Pastors. With the conference having to widen the pool of people involved in conference matters and committees (which is hard to break into when so many are waiting their chances in an old system). New voices would bring new perspectives and call into questions those things that merely hold up the institution. The reliance on leadership that spans generations would be an asset to a church looking to be true to the Great Commission.
Just some thoughts about the future, which becomes closer to the present every day.