"Know your disease, know your cure..."
In the 1700s, the first insurance company formed in America was the Presbyterian
Ministers Fund. It was initially created to provide benefits to surviving spouses and
children of clergy. Ministers Life was formed shortly thereafter for the same purpose.
From the 1700s to the 1960s, these two companies enjoyed a unique advantage in the
insurance business: Clergy lived longer and experienced fewer health claims than other
individuals or any other group of insureds in the United States. Therefore these
companies were able to offer to individuals and judicatories (Conferences) exceptionally
low rates and significantly higher dividends on life-insurance policies. Since the 1960s,
that trend has been reversed.
Clergy now have one of the worst—some actuaries say the worst—health history
of any identifiable group in the insurance business. As a result, Presbyterian Ministers
Fund and Ministers Life no longer exist.
The Reverend John Wesley was fond of saying, regarding the human
predicament, “Know your disease, know your cure.” So what is the disease clergy are
facing now and what is the cure for clergy? We affirm with Mr. Wesley that there is a
cure for our current situation.
Every one of us knows how important it is that we correctly diagnose the real
situation in order to apply the correct solutions. So it is with us clergy now.
We have taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs at three seminaries over the
past eighteen years. In all that time, we have identified only one candidate who, in our
opinion, clearly did not have a legitimate calling to ordained ministry. Without exception,
every other minister unarguably demonstrated a faithful call to ministry. These people,
whom we came to know intimately, truly felt called. They loved Jesus Christ and
sincerely wanted to be led by His Spirit and serve the Kingdom of God. In a number of
cases, they had made tremendous sacrifices to pursue their calling and were willing to
suffer whatever the cost to serve Christ and His Church.
However, in spite of all the faithfulness we have witnessed, clergy report having
many difficulties in ministry today. Almost all clergy have come to realize that ordained
ministry must be done differently—in some major ways—than we have conducted it the
past 40 to 50 years. Change is necessary not just because we are now in the 21st century;
change in the ministry was necessary decades ago, when we first began to experience a
declining and aging membership. However, many of the changes that were made then
were the wrong changes and brought worse results.
Returning to a Former Way of Ministry that Produces Spiritual, Emotional, and
For clergy, returning to a former way of ministry would produce a dramatic
improvement in our spiritual, emotional and physical health. That is a desire every one of
us has, and it will happen for the following reasons:
1. Clergy focusing on their salvation and calling as the top priority brings peace
of heart and mind.
Whatever happens to the Church in the United Sates, or whatever course The United
Methodist Church takes, we the clergy must not be deterred from nor distracted by nonpriority
issues. Then we will be able say that we have been found faithful to our salvation
and calling. On the day we stand before Jesus the Christ, we will be able to say we have
tried our utmost to serve Him and His Kingdom and have endured to the end. We never
gave up; we finished the race of life well.
2. Holiness of heart and life will improve spiritual health.
Spiritual health is a gift of grace. It is incumbent upon us to participate with God in
that gift by using our graces, gifts and expertise to do those things that we are gifted and
equipped to do. When we are performing ministry that we are gifted to do and that we
enjoy, we will feel worthwhile and be successful—and we will be happier and healthier.
We grew up in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. Even as adults in the early ’60s, we
experienced the clergy dictum that “the morning is given to God.” The morning was
spent in prayer, study and sermon preparation.
The motivation was that the clergy desired what Wesley wanted out of all his
preachers, whether ordained or lay: “holiness of heart and life.” In fact, Mr. Wesley
continually associated holiness with happiness. With holiness or perfect love abiding in
our hearts and minds and souls, we become the spiritual leaders we are called to be. The
laity can see, feel, experience and know if that manifestation of “holiness of heart and
life” is abiding in us. That is the primary desire and hope of laity for their clergy. It is
also the beginning of leadership.
3. Empowering laypeople for front line ministry will relieve the leadership
strain on clergy.
There is an expectation out there that is killing us clergy. It comes from senior
leadership, and it comes from the laity. The interpretation of the expectation—“Take thou
the authority”—is that if a church is to grow, it is the clergy’s responsibility. We
constantly hear the refrain “It is all about leadership.” Whether by innuendo or verbal
declaration, this is the expectation of many members of our senior leadership.
That expectation has been grafted into the minds of our laypeople. They say, “Let’s
wait until our new preacher comes and see what he/she wants to do. Let’s see what they
can do.” This is an impossible expectation! And it is a formula for failure. The rising
trend in too many of our churches—that we “hire and fire our preachers”—is not
Another expectation that developed in the late 1960s revolved around a
reinterpretation of the nature and purpose of the Church. Suddenly and unexpectedly we
began hearing that the role of the Church was to meet people’s “needs.” That expectation
has been a driving force in the Church in America since then. It is also a bottomless pit.
Noticeably Jesus did not come to meet people’s needs.
Most laypeople in Methodism love their clergy. Admittedly, some do not, but these
are the minority. Admittedly, sometimes that minority gains control of a congregation,
but that is a separate issue.
In the ministry situation to which we wish to return, the lay leaders will themselves—
with few exceptions—resolve the problem with destructive members. The new life begins
when clergy learn to be “leaders among equals.” The new relationship arrives when lay
leaders enter into full and front line ministry. When lay leaders are thrust into the
responsibility of full ministry and experience the complexity of it, they realize—as clergy
do—their desperate spiritual need, their need for partnership and cooperation in ministry,
and their need for training.
Suddenly and genuinely, there is an elevated and real appreciation for clergy and for
the graces, gifts and expertise that the clergy bring to their ministry. At that moment,
When we prepare and train lay leaders to become spiritual leaders and to do full
ministry, both clergy and laity experience the righteousness, peace and joy that we are all
called to experience. We clergy will have a more loving and genuine relationship with
our laypeople, especially lay leaders.
4. With these changes, there will arise the best opportunity for growth—growth
that is permanent.
Historically, one of the supreme strengths of Methodism was that we kept what we
won. A steady stream of people flowed in the front door, and only a small dribble
escaped through the back door or were dismissed from membership.
It is the ministry of lay leaders that will not only bring people to faith in Jesus Christ
but will keep what we have – the members, the strong faith, the growing, the action. Not
only is this the best formula, it is the only formula for bearing fruit, and fruit that lasts.
5. Our spouse will be happier.
Our spouse will be happier because we are happier. We will be more fulfilled, enjoy
what we are doing, experience significantly fewer conflicts in ministry, resolve those
conflicts differently, and spend more quality time with our spouse. In many situations,
our spouse will be more inclined to participate with us in ministry. All of that improves
our health and lifeline.
6. Our children and grandchildren will have a greater likelihood of becoming
The dropout rate and the rate of casual participation of the children and grandchildren
of clergy, whether our own children or the children of friends in ordained ministry,
worries all of us. What children see, feel, and experience when they look at us will
become the model for how they love and serve Christ.
7. Clergy and laity will deeply enjoy being in ministry together.
There are a multitude of books that describe Conferences during the first two hundred
years of Methodism. The clergy and laity shared a dedicated and genuine love and
affection for each other. Conferences, especially Annual Conference, were the highlight
of the year. It was anticipated with enthusiasm and joy because it would be a week of
spiritual blessings, renewed friendships, and advancement of the Kingdom of God.
Reclaiming our Methodist heritage would restore that depth of love and affection and
comradeship among the clergy. It would be the end of competition, suspicion, and
improper back-stabbing and gossip.
8. We will make decisions on the issues that are most likely to bring these results
rather than focusing on secondary issues.
The fundamental organizational system of historic Methodism does not need to
change. The Church’s order of Bishops, Traveling Elders, Deacons, apportionments,
Conferences, etc., do not need to change. People today are so frustrated with the Church
that they want to radically alter the system. But the Methodist/United Methodist system is
still a great vehicle. It is not the primary problem.
What does need to change? Our attitudes, behaviors and results.
We fear that if we do not make changes on the a priori issues, we will by default
make changes that are deleterious to our future. We need to return to and strengthen the
already-functioning decisions outlined in our book Restoring Methodism. If we do that, it
will fundamentally change the issues that drive other issues.
9. The decisions we make will be—must be—faithful, both biblically and
As you can see by the people who are recommending Restoring Methodism, found in
the opening pages of the book under “What Leaders Are Saying,” the ten decisions
expounded upon are faithful to the biblical witness and to historical Methodism.
Having shared these thoughts, let us be soberly cognizant that we clergy still have
profound influence in our United Methodist Church. To a large extent, it will be us who
make the decisions about where United Methodism will be in ten, fifteen, and twenty
years. We are making those decisions today. Let’s make the right decisions.
1. “[Ministers] are supposed to go before the flock, (as in the manner of the eastern
shepherds to this day,) and to guide them in all ways of truth and holiness….”
2. “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the
laying on of my hands… who [God] has called us with a holy calling…”
II Timothy 1:6,9a
3. “My design was, not only to direct them [Methodist ministers] how to press after
perfection, to exercise their every grace and improve every talent they had received….”
4. “If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus
Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully
I Timothy 4:6