The Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church has an online version of their “health and wellness” report. It has mostly to do with pensions (Zzzzzz wake me when it’s over), but there are at least three interesting nuggests of demographic data that could spark discussion. Credit goes to my ministry colleague Rev. Sarah (blog) for noticing some of these.
First, after the polling and lifestyle data, there is this information about Elders (fully-educated and ordained clergy) versus Local Church Pastors (no education or ordination requirements outside of training classes).
Elders are less likely than licensed local pastors and deacons to have experienced the presence and power of God in the ordinary, sensed the presence and power of God in their thoughts and feelings, consciously practiced discerning the presence and power of God, and felt that events were unfolding according to God’s intent.
In addition, licensed local pastors are the most likely to have felt that they have a vital relationship with God.Executive Summary, page 10
Um…ouch! That seems like a damning dismissal of the spiritual makeup of the “fully-ordained” clergy and an affirmation of the “non-ordained” ministry of the local pastors. While I certainly affirm the latter, I can’t see this solely as an indictment of the clergy represented.
Having not been in ministry very long (currently in my fourth year of ordained ministry) and seeing the wide diversity of pastoral appointments, I won’t agree with the findings but even if they were true, it would seem like an indictment of appointments not clergy. Let me explain. Full Elders are often appointed to larger churches with larger bureaucracies. In larger contexts, it is little wonder that the minutiae of ministry may drag them down, as well as being appointed somewhere that may be out of their comfort zone.
Thus for local church pastors, who are often in smaller churches (though with LOTS of minutiae…I know that much!) but also in contexts closer to their comfort level, then it is little wonder they report being more spiritually connected. Any pastors reading this can chime in and let me know if I’m on the right track with this.
Second, but in the same area, education has much to do with these results as well:
There are also differences in experiences based on education. Those with a course of study or bachelor’s degree are more likely than those with more advanced degrees to sense the presence and power of God in their thoughts and feelings, felt God’s grace and love as they are, felt their prayers have been answered, felt that events were unfolding according to God’s intent, and felt that they have a vital relationship with God.Detailed Report, page 47
Huh…all the questions had to do with feelings and then they are judged based on academic achievement? Weird. I know this is pounced on as an indictment of the inadequacy and spiritual stuntedness of our seminary system. BURN! So again, I will redirect, but in the opposite direction.
It seems more that academia focuses the pursuit of God in a different direction. I’m academic in a lot of ways in the way I think and I would have a hard time answering enthusiastically to those questions. But looking back at my writings and musings from college, I would have enthusiastically affirmed them.
So perhaps the real indicator here isn’t spiritual growth or stuntedness, but that our understanding of God progresses and grows as we do. People with higher education see and experience God very differently (but not worse) than those without because they may have a better grasp of the theological concepts of God in all their diversity in academic. This sounds mean, but it’s easy to drill a deep spiritual well when you don’t have to interact with the rest of the field (ie. having to wrestle with different well-constructed theologies in higher education).
Third and finally, there’s this note less about ministry status/education and more about age groups engaging in prayer and bible-reading:
Full time clergy and those in extension ministry are more likely to say that they spend less than one hour a week in prayer and those who are less than 44 years of age spend less time praying than those who are aged 45 or older.
Slightly more than half of respondents say they read the Bible or other devotional literature, not in preparation for sermons or other work‐related tasks, at least once a day. Similarly to prayer, those less than 44 years of age are less likely to read the Bible daily.Executive Summary, page 10
This is a tough one…I really don’t have a response. Anyone else want to take a crack at why bible reading habits have changed for the under 45 crowd? I would simply say reading the bible devotionally instead of utilitarianally (ie. what sermon or bible study can I get from this?) is a constant challenge for me.
Even though I’m not and you may not be in the Virginia Conference, these same issues affect clergy everywhere. What thoughts do you have about them?
- Does status in ministry affect spiritual outlooks?
- Does education affect spiritual receptiveness?
- Does daily practices affect spiritual effectiveness?