Young Clergy Exodus: Update 01


Last week I posted the first in a series of posts in the “Young Clergy Exodus” from the United Methodist Church. It was spurred by a 48 hour period in which I found out four young clergypersons were leaving ordained ministry. I’ve written about young clergy issues a lot, so needless to say I was dismayed by the turn of events.

So I created a survey, put it out there, and it was picked up by some of the UMC news organizations, young clergy networks, and a host of Facebook friends.

So it is with a somber heart that I report that 128 people have filled out the young clergy survey. Somber that there are that many, and that I know even more wait in the wings.

In addition, eight people have contacted me who haven’t filled out a survey but have told/will tell their stories in different ways. So in reality, 136 people have responded. When you add in the 14 people in my life whom I know have left ordained ministry and who I haven’t approached about filling out the survey, we start to hit 150 people that I know will respond.

Here’s the breakdown so far of young adults filling out this survey:

  • 21 were ordained/commissioned clergy or local pastors that left the ministry process.
  • 45 were laity seeking ordination that stopped the ordination process.
  • 10 were laity that opted to not seek ordination at all.
  • 31 are current ordained/commissioned clergy or local pastors that are considering leaving ordained ministry.
  • 21 are laity seeking ordination that are considering leaving the ordination process.

There’s terrible stories and mundane “life happens” stories. There’s stories of hope and stories of deep deep bitterness. There’s LGBT people who have left ministry and those who remain in but are unsure. While these are self-reported stories and the facts may not match memories, this isn’t a professional peer-reviewed survey and it shouldn’t be noted as such. The testimonies are what are most important, in my opinion.

I’ll be running the survey for two more weeks until May 15th. If there’s someone in your life whom you know would be able to fill out this survey, please let them know before then.

Thanks for sharing.

(Photo credit: “The Monk and the Heron” by h.koppdelaney , Flickr Creative Commons share)
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  1. says

    Jeremy, I saw your first post on this with the surveys and I wanted to fill one out, but wasn’t sure if I fit the categories that you wanted to survey. I am 33 years old. I am ordained. I am currently serving a UMC 2-point charge. I have seriously considered leaving the denomination, but continue to choose to stay. Although I am developing a list of reasons why I would leave if I decided to. Basically, I’m still figuring it out and discerning my call, even though I’m ordained. I don’t plan to leave the denomination, but I could see myself discerning to do that. I am committed to building the kingdom of heaven regardless of denomination. So as long as I can do that faithfully through the UMC, then I’ll probably stay.
    So do I fill out your survey? Or wait for one about those who choose to stay?

    • says

      Ben, I would wait for the next one. I’ll be launching it on May 15th and it will be open until the end of the month. Thanks for your discernment.

  2. says

    First, let me say that I, in my academic mode, say that you publish your results. The number of results that you report is sufficient to provide a degree of validity and comparison with other similar studies (contact me and I can give you some information in that regard).
    I probably wouldn’t qualify as “young”, having been born before 1970. I began thinking about the process in 1995 and was on a path that would have lead to local pastor status and the course of study. Seminary was not an option for me because of the cost of a third post graduate degree. But on a night when I meet with my mentor in 1999, we decided that this was not the path for me to walk. First, my interests in the ministry apparently did not fit the “norm” and that was fine with me.
    Second, and this was the point that mattered the most, I was serving as a lay pastor at the time and I was expected to be attending a number of events that conflicted with my regular job. It was confirmed that these meetings and the expectations that I attend them would continue. While I am aware of Jesus’ admonition about serving two masters at one time, the regular job paid the bills and gave me the opportunity to do my ministry. To leave the regular job would have put everything else in jeopardy.
    I had a feeling that there was no concern for individuals such as myself, working in the ministry part-time and holding a full-time job. In the end, this lack of concern lead me to leave the pathway but not the ministry.
    Am I sad that I made that decision? Not really; I still cover the pulpit for other pastors some 26 weeks a year. And I was, up until a year ago, quite active in district activities.
    But I have read many stories similar to what you have described and know that the ordination process is often times made harder than it need to be. I am not saying that the process be made easier or softened but that those who make the decisions about the careers of others make it harder on the seekers so that they, the deciders (for lack of a better term) don’t have to work so hard.
    And woe to those who don’t fit into the perceived norm; there is no hope for them in this process.
    In the end, what you describe may very well be the tip of the iceberg, as it were. If we were to focus on creating a church in the image of the people in the pew (and I sometimes think that is what we do), we will have trouble filling the pulpits. But if we seeking a church in the image of the people outside the church (and I believe that is what Jesus did), then we need to have people in the pulpits who understand that and can relate to that.

    • Creed Pogue says

      “150” self-selected responses covering a variety of scenarios is “sufficient to provide a degree of validity”???

      76 of these are LAITY. Either never started ordination process, stopped the process or are considering stopping the process. Even those are all very different scenarios. But, none of those tell us anything about clergy who leave.

      I would be interested in hearing the stories without over-reaching to create generalities.

  3. SadNHurt says

    I too have found this “mass exodus” of young clergy. I have seen the large majority of young clergy colleagues leave the ministry since I have been ordained. I went right from college to seminary and I am finding it harder and harder to stay. I see too many politics ruling the way things work, too many of the “old guard” disregarding younger clergy ideas, too many younger clergy getting thrown into very tough churches over and over again (myself included) because we are “cheap”, and time and time again young clergy getting a lot of blame for wrongs going on. I’ve been talking to friends in other denominations to see if that is a fit, been trying to figure out if there is some other job my education will allow me to do. I am stuck right now…at least it feels that way.

  4. Dan says

    We are losing young clergy because we are too conservative and because we are too liberal. I’m not sure how we’ll ever get past that until we are able to heal the split between personal holiness and social action which runs down the middle of almost all Christian groups.

    However, we are also losing young clergy for a variety of structural reasons. We make them go through ten thousand hoops to be ordained and they get discouraged. We pay them near-poverty wages after making them get an education that would otherwise put them among the highest paid professionals. We put them in the difficult appointments because they’re the easiest to send there.

    I’d also like to add one question. We do indeed need more young clergy – but how much of that need is because our “old” clergy are discouraged and just not giving their all?

  5. Mark Young says

    I appreciate the comments that I have read but a troubling theme I hear is that Boards of Ordained Ministry exist simply to set hurdles. Looking at things from the BOOM side is very different. I can only speak for my own experience in my own conference, but I can say that our BOOM takes very seriously the notion that the people in the pews deserve good leaders. That means examining the “gifts and graces”, certainly, but also the “fitness for service”. When a candidate is continued for another year rather than approved, it is often because their skills are clearly still ripening rather than that they are rotten. That’s not easy to say and not easy to hear, but with the awareness that new clergy are often sent into the most difficult spots it would be unfair to everyone involved to overlook their readiness.

  6. revblueridge says

    I personally am not within the parameters of your survey [too old], but want to share this piece of information to hopefully give a bit of ‘wide lens’ to your concerns. I graduated from Claremont in the mid 80s and a few years ago went looking to contact any of my class for some information. Of my class, less than 10% of those graduating with the M.Div. were in any sort of pastoral position. Our process has been broken for a long, long time. Sadly, the good-intentioned folks on BOMs can’t/won’t see what countless candidates and elders have come to see for DECADES now. After collecting your initial information/data, I will be most interested in the follow-up survey about proposed solutions.


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