The End of the Career Clergyperson

Hart Edmonds’ comments in yesterday’s post were provocative and true:

. . . the day of ministry as a career is over, and we delude seminarians if we don’t share that with them. 

I’m at Mo-Ranch this weekend celebrating the retirement of a good friend.  After being ordained to the Ministry of the Word and Sacrament at age 24, he has served as an associate pastor fresh out of seminary, a solo pastor in a changing neighborhood, the founding pastor of a still-thriving congregation, a seminary staffer, and an interim pastor at the end of these 40 years.  He has served on committees and boards and, by all accounts, he has been a very successful and beloved pastor.

He said yesterday that his whole ministry career occurred during the last gasps of Christendom in the United States.  He recognizes the shifts in the culture and in the church, and it doesn’t scare him as a Christian – God will always have a church –  but he acknowledges that we are now in a season of Post-Christendom.

Easy for him to say that he isn’t scared.  Many of us cannot count on full-time work and a pension at the end of a long and satisfying clergy career.

I think about young seminarians who assume they’ll be serving congregations for the next 40 years themselves, with full time work and full benefits.  But this is not realistic for most young pastors.  They are entering churches in which their call to ministry may not look anything like the calls and careers of their own pastors, mentors, and professors.  This is not news, of course.  But it’s an especially stark reality as I celebrate this retirement tonight.

Our friend is expecting friends from all the churches he’s served tonight.  Literally dozens of people will gather to share stories and fond memories of a ministry well done.  I honestly doubt this will be the case for me one day, but I really don’t think it will be the case for my 20-something and 30-something friends in professional ministry.

There will always be the need for a traditional institutional church, perhaps, but most followers of Jesus will not be connected in that way.

Image is from Mo-Ranch.


2 responses to “The End of the Career Clergyperson

  1. I’m curious if you’ve seen this article and what you think of it:

    Leadership, not facilitation, is what this person calls for. It feels antithetical to the flattening of structures that’s happening across our institutions. And yet I resonate with both poles.

    • MA – I look forward to reading it, but I’m @ Mo Ranch and can’t link to it. Low speed internet.

      Without having read it yet, I’ll say that I see a whole variety for church leadership in the future. I do agree that some institutional (large?) churches will continue as they have for generations. But there will also be less structured congregations meeting in homes, etc. As stressful as this all might seem, it’s not a problem in my mind . . . except for the fact that we have lived in the glory days of the church in terms of compensation, benefits, and other perks. I’m amazed (and grateful) that churches have been able to loan $ to pastors for home down payments and paid for our dental benefits as well as medical. We Presbyterians, at least, have been generously blessed. My friend who is retiring was just saying that his (very secure) pension will be more than generous to keep him comfortable for the next 20-some years.

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