In an age when Christianity is in decline, defying a call to pastoral ministry may be wise. After all, according to the Lewis Center for Church Leadership new clergy last on average just 5 years in full time vocational ministry. Yet, someone who has felt called to any vocation understands the difficulty faced when attempting to avoid responding to such a calling be it as a clergy person, a nurse, a teacher, etcetera. While I witness the good the church does, I also see the negative part Western Christianity has played in much that is wrong with society and I question this calling. Still the calling remains and I feel the need to courageously lead disciples of Christ in transforming the world for the betterment of all. And the truth is, there exists a beautiful opportunity for the Millennial Generation, Generation Z, and Generation Alpha to experiment, dream, and take risks to bring vitality to the church. In an age when numbers of the Christian diaspora are decreasing there lies a great opportunity to incarnate fresh expressions of Christian community if we are willing to take chances. However, it is my belief and experience that for these fresh expressions to be successful there must be ample resources provided, coaching support given, and reigns handed over. With this in mind I applied to the Great Plains UMC's Transition into Ministry program, which was created by generations seeking to create and serve as a foundation and launch pad to future generations. What follows are 6 ways that the TiM program has helped me to be the faith leader I Aspire to be.
In my first two years Rev. Ashlee Alley and the TiM board set me up with an effective seasoned colleague who gave me encouragement, coached me through decision making, gave me room to experiment and fail forward, and helped my work through my practical theology (on-the-job theology). This non-familial mentor, Rev. Peggy Hillmon, agreed to journey with me through the process, reflect with me, & hold me accountable to self-care, not just cheer me on from the sidelines. In a previous solo appointment my theology surrounding funerals had taken a hit after a bad experience. Rev. Hillmon helped me pick up the pieces, work through the pain, and turn my funeral praxis into a major strength.
Sine Qua Non:
There are a host of essential ministerial praxis questions that don't get teased out in seminary. I wanted to explore these questions in greater depth before habits/routines became set and more difficult to break. Rev. Ashlee Alley, my TiM peers, and the seasoned colleagues that Rev. Alley connected us with helped me to ask the questions aloud that have helped me to advance beyond where I would be if I just explored the topics on my own.
The Transition into Ministry program requires a commitment of extra time & resources that don't seem like too much to ask of yourself, however, when a family member dies, a major funeral comes up, and a wedding (or birth of your first child) all fall on the same weekend you're preaching it can be terribly overwhelming. When I began the TiM program I tried to 'Superhero up' through these situations. But the beauty of the TiM program lies in the grace of the people that want you to be healthy and will not only push you to be your best, but also push you to carve out Sabbath time and care for yourself.
When starting out in ministry it is difficult to know who are good mentors, who to learn from, and what seasoned colleagues will undercut or stifle your growth. Through the TiM program I was connected with a seasoned colleague in Rev. Peggy Hillmon that did not just give me space to try new things and reflect upon them with me, but when I ran into an obstacle for making a new ministry or program a reality she pointed me in the right direction, and invited me to take the next step down that road.
The extra grants, worship series planning retreats, books, connections to expert colleagues, and conferences, specially the National TiM Gathering have played a major part in my ability to explore and set a solid foundation for who I want to be as a pastor. The financial resources such as grants and conference fees have allowed me learn and try new things without the stress of the money side. I have since discovered that I still use the mental skills I gained in order to implement innovative ideas even when money is scarce. In other words, the abundance of resources provided allowed me to develop the skills that now enable me to find abundance even when resources seem scarce.
Isaac Newton expressed this best in 1675 by writing: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."
The giants of our time aren’t getting any younger. When someone asks me who in history I’d like to talk with I almost always think of all the exemplars & sages of my own time from whom I still have much to learn.
Rev. Dr. Leonard Sweet points out that, “By 2056, the US is expected to reach a milestone: more of us will be 65 or over than 18 or under.” (I’ll personally be 68).
We millennials need to actively design a life of mentoring others because we will be those shaping the future shapers of the world - & without a new baby boom we will have by shear numbers an overwhelming amount of opportunity to do just that through mentoring. This makes programs like the TiM program so important to participate in. If we are to become the mentors of tomorrow we must first submit ourselves to learning from the giants near us today so that we may become someone worthy of mentoring tomorrow.