Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Is God calling you?


Leaders brainstorm big issues for clergy


"Commit yourselves to Christ as his servants.

Give yourselves to him, that you may belong to him.

Christ has many services to be done …

It is necessary, then, that we consider what it means to be a servant of Christ."

—from Wesley’s Covenant Service,

The United Methodist Book of Worship.

As the new year began, a special meeting about the servants of Christ was convened at the Conference headquarters in Oklahoma City.

Led by Sam Powers and Craig Stinson of the Annual Conference Council (ACC), the Summit on Ministerial Recruitment explored some big issues. Among them:

Where are our churches?

Where are our new ministers coming from?

What needs to happen in the local church for effective ministerial recruitment? If the Conference made ministerial recruitment a priority, what might it look like?

The outcome of the Jan. 7 summit: specific goals for 2010, set by representatives of the various Conference entities that took part in the meeting.

"Let’s look at where we’re headed in the future for ministry and maybe do a reset," said Rev. Powers. "Let’s share in the wisdom of the group. The Holy Spirit will hopefully work through us so that we can help the local church help people find God’s call on their lives."

What churches are growing?

Rev. Stinson compared worship attendance statistics for 529 churches in the state. He reported about one-third of them have higher attendance now than they did five years ago.

Then he sought to identify which churches are in that 34 percent.

"It had nothing to do with how big you started out or with whether the population was thriving," Stinson explained. "About one-third of small, medium, and large churches are growing."

Surprisingly, he found that levels of clergy training impacted his findings.

He said, "Full-time Local Pastors are growing their churches at a 39 percent rate. Probationary elders, 48 percent. The highest percentage is 57 percent, by part-time Local Pastors."

He noted 24 percent attendance growth in congregations listed as "To Be Supplied" (no appointed pastor). Of the 240 churches led by full-time Elders, 28 percent are growing.

"If I was talking to Elders, I would say, ‘We came in at 4 points above nobody at all,’" said Stinson, who is an Elder.

"What are the implications about this for ministerial recruitment? What do we give people in the training tool box? Should we think strategically about what we should do regarding Local Pastors?"

Clergy receive Communion and kneel to pray during the Jan. 19 Orders Meeting at OKC-St. Luke's.

Who are our pastors?

Representing the Board of Ordained Ministry, Doyle Sharp provided data about clergy in the Conference. He said 335 elders, 35 deacons, and 114 Local Pastors currently serve, plus clergy in other categories.

Rev. Sharp said the board annually works with about 40 people who are preparing for clergy careers.

The youngest Elder would be age 25 or 26 due to educational requirements, he said, and Local Pastors are often second-career people. Elders must hold seminary degrees, which are not required for Local Pastors.

Sharp also reported district totals of certified ministerial candidates, as of early 2010. Those with the most candidates were Tulsa District, with 18, and Muskogee, 15.

Oklahoma Conference ranks fifth nationally in the number of clergy younger than 35, noted Jack Terrell-Wilkes, coordinator of Ministerial Recruitment/Nurture for the Conference.

Terrell-Wilkes said, "We are tracking a total of 106 students enrolled at nine seminaries, and many are listed as certified candidates for ministry."

He added that the Conference was asked to provide input on "best practices" developed by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry for recruiting.

What needs to happen?

"If the need is great for Local Pastors, that changes how we recruit. We have some very effective Local Pastors," said Muskogee District Superintendent Linda Harker. "We need to lift that up. That might be one of the most effective ways you can minister in a community."

Maggie Ball of Oklahoma City University pointed to Lay Speaking training as "a strong place for second-career people to plug in to ministry."

Others at the summit spoke about clergy morale—"if you as a pastor are excited about your job, that’s an encouragement to other pastors." They urged spiritual formation through small groups and nurturing a culture of call throughout the Conference.

Mike Chaffin, dean of the Cabinet, referenced the book "The Church in Crisis." He said, "We are closing more churches than we are having new-church starts. The only denominations growing today are those that are prolifically starting new churches. If we can move more aggressively toward more church starts, then the percent of young clergy and the need for them will increase tremendously."

Specific plans

A primary goal for the Oklahoma Conference

Strategic Plan is to recruit, assess, equip, and send spiritual leaders. Fruitful congregations will cultivate a culture of call. They will offer ways for people to tell the stories of how God is working in their lives and develop church leaders at all age levels.

The group named a number of ways each church can—and often does—help people identify what God calls them to do. Lay people tell their testimonies. Leadership regularly rotates. Young people attend summer camps. Mission opportunities are offered.

"Think about all kinds of categories of people," Stinson urged, "from Local Pastors who have lived where they are all their lives to those of us who itinerate throughout the state. What does this group need to do?"

Here are some responses.

The Department of Congregational Development will ask Edmond-Acts 2 about its successful recruiting efforts.

The Commission on Religion and Race will share its sensitivity-training program.

Camps ministry will re-emphasize sharing call stories in its curriculum; design a discernment retreat; and create a mechanism to record stories of call to share with churches, district superintendents, and others.

The Board of Ordained Ministry will form a subcommitte on ministerial recruitment.

Diana Northcutt, as director of Discipleship for Small-Membership Churches, will write a commitment service.

The Department of Communications will develop online training for Staff-Parish Relations Committees.

The Council on Young Adult Ministry will continue to help fund participation by young people at singular events that have theological education components.

The Cabinet will work with the Ministerial Recruitment Task Force on building relationships with seminary students. District superintendents will welcome one-on-one conversations with people who have identified a call.

"Go forward and put these ideas into action," Powers said. "This is important to who we are in the Conference and what we want to accomplish." —Holly McCray


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