Alban consultant Edward Whites column in the fall issue of Congregations dealt with leadership and the shortage of capable clergy. We got his permission to share it.
Q: We keep hearing that there is a growing shortage of capable clergy. Why are so many clergy burning out, dropping out, retiring as soon as possible, or shifting to doing interim ministry? And why arent more bright young people coming into the ministry?
A: Clergy are burning out and/or dropping out for several reasons. Over the
years, most mainline Protestant traditions have drifted into a model of congregational
life that is overly clergy-centered and clergy dependent to the point where,
for some people, the success of the congregation depends entirely on the clergy.
That is a heavy burden for clergy to carry.
In addition, in our consumer-minded society, many people believe it is the
task of the pastor to keep everybody happy all of the time. Rabbi Edwin Friedman
said the typical Protestant congregation consists of an overfunctioning pastor
surrounded by infantilized laity. This is a perfect recipe for burnout. Small
wonder that young adults are not attracted to such a ministry.
Actually, there are many young adults going into the ministry, but many of
them are not coming into the traditional mainline denominations. Instead, many
young clergy are starting independent emerging congregations to
serve the 20 to 35 age group. They believe that being connected to existing
traditional denominations would inhibit and perhaps even undermine their ministry
because the traditional denominations reflect a modern worldview whereas the
emerging generation reflects a postmodern worldview. Emerging Churches: Creating
Christian Community in Post Modern Cultures by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger
(Baker Books, 2005) describes some 50 emerging congregations in
the United States and Great Britain that have been started within the past 20
years, mostly by pastors under 35 for young adults under 35.
In most of the mainline congregations I work with, I find that the least represented
generation is the 20 to 35 age group. Older members who are in charge have difficulty
understanding and/or communicating with the emerging generation. They want them
to come to church, but they want them to accept things as they are and not try
to change them. The younger generation has different priorities and thus concludes
that there is no room for them in established congregations.
The Christian church is always potentially one generation away from extinction
and for many congregations this is a real possibility. Postmodern young adults
are more concerned about relationships than ideology and they care more about
authenticity than success. They dont see much resemblance between life
in our established congregations and the actual teachings of Jesus.
Another dimension of the problem relates to the process used to prepare and
credential candidates for the ministry. Seminaries are engulfed in the academic
model and they do a fine job of teaching Bible, theology, church history, polity,
and ethics. They dont, however, teach much about leadership! Many seminary
faculty are academics who have never had to exercise leadership. Years ago,
Daniel Goleman did research documenting that IQ is not the primary factor in
effective leadership. His findings were that the key to leadership is something
he calls Emotional Intelligence, which is based on 18 intrapersonal
and interpersonal competencies. Unlike IQ, which is a fixed figure, emotional
intelligence is something that can be developed. Unfortunately, our seminaries
are not geared to help candidates for the ministry develop their emotional intelligence.
The result is that we produce clergy who are often very smart and can preach
good sermons but lack the competencies (emotional intelligence) to be fruitful
To make matters worse, we have inherited a hierarchical model of pastoral leadership
that tends to create dependency. Traditional leaders add followers to a congregation.
Empowering leaders multiply leaders in a congregation. True leadership is a
catalytic rather than a controlling function, but many clergy have not learned
the art of empowerment. Too often our congregations are in the membership business
instead of being in the disciple making business.
Is it too late to change? Not necessarily! How willing are we to be changed? If we are unwilling to be changed our congregations will remain the same. But we need not worry. If our congregations cannot reach and serve the emerging generation, God will raise up emerging congregations that will. The central concern is not to preserve our institutions but to seek the Kingdom.
Edward A. White is a senior consultant and seminar leader for the Alban Institute, with expertise in leadership development, strategic planning, and conflict management.
Reprinted with permission from Congregations, Fall 2006 issue, The Alban Institute
Congregational News February 2007 Vol. 13 No. 3
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