Although a seminary graduate who left ordained ministry to pursue other work, I continue to be interested in matters affecting seminaries, churches, and the clergy, as well as broader theological issues.
I’ve been aware for some time of declining church membership, so this article titled Perspectives on the Young Clergy Crisis posted by Carol Howard Merritt in the Christian Century on Dec. 10 immediately caught my eye.
Merritt raises some good questions for all those who care about the life of the church in the postmodern era:
Since I’ve been chairing a national Presbyterian Church (USA) committee on the Nature of the Church for the 21st century, I’ve been gaining a different perspective on many of the larger trends of our denomination. One thing that has been difficult to realize (and equally difficult to communicate to the larger church) is the young clergy crisis.
Why would I call it a crisis? We’ve known for a long time about the startling decline of young clergy. The drop-out rates don't help (I can't find hard and fast stats on this... but some claim that about 70% of young clergy drop out within the first five years of ministry, usually because of lack of support or financial reasons). The average age of a pastor in the PCUSA is 53. And I’ve realized that the age of our leadership might be much higher.
Over half of our congregations cannot afford a full-time pastor and many associate pastor positions were cut during the recent economic downturn. These are churches where seminary graduates would normally be heading, so what are the congregations doing instead? Many of them are hiring retired ministers or retired laypeople to serve these churches while our younger pastors remain unemployed.