The graces and gifts of young new clergy

Posted Mar 04, 2016 | Pastoral Excellence Network

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By Kim Gage Ryan

Young pastors bring their enthusiasm, savvy and entrepreneurial creativity into congregational ministries. For 15 years, Bethany Fellows (www.bethanyfellows.org) has been supporting the growth of young pastors from seminary to sustained congregational ministry. Along the way, we’ve learned important reciprocal lessons about the development of spiritual leaders. 

I am occasionally contacted by a search committee chairperson whose church is considering a young pastor – “But she/he is so young – how can they possibly lead us?” I find myself reassuring them that young clergy have wonderful gifts of leadership to offer. And then I describe such gifts:

Enthusiasm & Passion – the young clergy I know are eager and enthusiastic. They love the church and passionately long for the church to be the living witness of Christ in communities and the world. They have a passion for justice and see the church as one of the urgent voices and initiators in acts of justice and compassion.

Savvy & Smart – they have been diligent theological students and are intellectually equipped to partner with a congregation into the more difficult conversations of our times. They were children when 9/11 occurred and their lens of understanding is quite different from those of us who grew up on the other side of the 9/11 shattering of the status quo. 

Entrepreneurial & Creative – they are not afraid to try new things, and if new things fail, they are not afraid to try again. They enjoy partnering and building teams of leaders for new strategies and endeavors.  

This description can be either energizing or terrifying for a search committee to consider, depending on whether they are looking for a pastor who will be a “leader” or who will serve them as a “chaplain.” Young clergy are seldom content to be just a “chaplain”—they want to lead!

There some things young pastors need as they begin in congregational ministry.

They need companions who are also in that first phase of adult life described by Richard Rohr in Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. While establishing their pastoral identity and role, they are simultaneously tackling the other tasks of young adulthood. Those tasks can include:

Finding a life partner or not. 

Having a baby or not; having more than one child/two children

The loss of a child through miscarriage or death.

The loss of a parent.  

Managing personal finances debt.

Buying a home or not being able to sell a home.

They need to be able to self-select their own mentors, wise ones who will accompany them through these first half of life tasks and bless them by affirming their strengths and encouraging a lifestyle of accountability. And they need mentors who can show what it is like in the second half of life facing inevitable struggles and disappointments with vulnerability, accountability and sustaining prayer partners. 

They need assistance discerning the difference between “self-care” and Sabbath-keeping. Most young clergy are clear that they have no intention of working the way they have seen their parents or pastors work. There has been much conversation and language of self-care in school and in the current culture, and yet there is less understanding of what a life style of Sabbath-practice looks like – how to work from rest rather than resting from work.

And, of course, they need experiences and opportunities for prayer and the practice of spiritual disciplines.

Join us for a free PEN Talk webinar to explore this topic on Thursday, March 17 at 2:00 PM ET: https://cpx.adobeconnect.com/pentalkmarch2016

Kim Gage Ryan is the Director of Bethany Fellowships, a peer-based Transition into Ministry program developed and fine-tuned over the past 16 years (www.bethanyfellows.org). Kim served as a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregational pastor for 25 years with pastoral emphases in Christian education, evangelism, small groups, spiritual gifts awareness and outreach ministries.

The Pastoral Excellence Network at CTS seeks to connect and nurture groups for clergy at all stages of ministry. To request permission to repost this content, please contact wsordillo@cts.edu.

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