Opinions on Ordination (Episode 3)

Ordination of young adults, especially in the UMC, has been a concern for the last several years.  My annual conference, which consists of 900+ ministers has less than two dozen ministers under 35.  That's alarming, especially when you consider that the North Georgia Conference is one of the strongest in the denomination.

If you haven't followed along to this point, take a minute and read the last two posts, starting HERE.  It will help this make more sense.

A large part of our problem is that there are tradeoffs between getting more good ministers in and keeping the wrong ones out.  Unfortunately, in order to make sure that we've sufficiently evaluated each one before committing to them through ordination, we turn some off to the process altogether.  What once took a minister a matter of months now takes 10 years.

Another problem is that ministry just doesn't compare in terms of compensation and opportunity to other professions in our world today.  For many, the fact that a committee within the local church is able to determine our living conditions is a concern - it is for me also.

I'm grateful for the home that my church has provided for my family, but its not the same as having your own.  Many churches have transitioned from owning a parsonage to adding a housing allowance to the minister's compensation package.  In many cases, this makes sense.  However, because it isn't standard across the board and we are subject to moving regularly, we are at the mercy of whatever the local church decides our living conditions will be.  One pastor in our conference bought his first home this year after at least two decades of ministry (he's in his 50's).

This creates problems now and problems later.

In the now, there is a problem with some parsonages not being well maintained, not being in preferred school districts, not being in good neighborhoods, and in some cases, not being sufficient for the family moving in.  In addition, some trustee boards of churches maintain absolute control over the property.  Who's wife hasn't occasionally wanted to paint some walls or get new carpet?  I had this experience when we moved here - we were willing to pay for materials and do the work, but were denied permission by the board to paint our dining room.  If a church has a parsonage, it's not usually an option for the pastor to choose to buy his or her own house in the community. 

In the later, there is a problem for retiring ministers.  My parents have owned their home for the last 28 years (let me clarify - not the same house, but a house).  By now, as my father gets a little closer to retirement, they've got a good amount of equity in their house that will give them greater control in retirement.  Some ministers that spend years in parsonages retire with no equity and little control over choosing a retirement home.

One solution that a colleague of mine has developed is to add a requirement to the pastors compensation for churches with parsonages.  Churches without parsonages pay more per year by adding a housing allowance than a church that owns and owes nothing on its parsonage.  Those churches could begin paying additional compensation into an investment account for that pastor.  The amount paid in would equal the amount of equity the pastor would build in a year's mortgage payments.  It's complicated, but it sets ministers up for a happy retirement.  Good idea, but it only solves the problems that will come later.

Another solution is to standardize how churches compensate pastors for housing.  Either require every church to have a parsonage or every church to offer a housing allowance.  Housing allowances across the board solve both the problems of the present and establish a better future for the pastor and his/her family.

The problem with that solution is that it will cost churches money and when the economy is in the dumps like it is now, pastors that move are burdened with trying to sell a house in a buyer's market.  Are there solutions to those problems?  Probably, but I'm not sure what they are.

It all comes down to this: I can choose a lot of professions and even in ministry, I can choose which denomination I want to be a part of, if one at all.  Nobody wants to be told how to live or where to live.  Giving young adults more freedom to choose could be big.

Comments?  alexander.stroud (at) gmail.com