What Should Ordination Look Like?

Question: What should the ordination process look like for pastors? 

Lay members, what sort of checks do you expect your pastor to have to pass before they're given the authority to lead your church and care for your family?

Pastors, what's fair?  What frustrates you?

I ask this because there has been a lot of talk over the last few years about ordination in the United Methodist Church.  For the last two years, our Bishop has asked the young clergy (under 35) to stand at Annual Conference.  In the midst of 900+ ministers, only 12-18 have qualified to stand.  I saw a stat this morning that in 1985 there was 1 young adult clergyperson for every 13,000 young adults in the US, but in 2005 there was only 1 elder for every 47,000 young adults.  I believe there are several factors at play here.

First, ordination in the UMC takes too long.  I began exploring my call to ministry as a high-school senior and began the ordination process at the same time.  After four years or college, three years of seminary, and a three-year probationary period, I was finally ordained at 28 years old.  I watched ministry friends in other denominations (or non-denoms) ordained in less than half that time.  I watched other friends in other professions achieve more and gain more credentials much faster than I did.  Simply put, it's unrealistic that it takes 10 years for someone to break into a profession, especially when you consider how much time we have after that to do ministry - it amounts to bad stewardship of those lives that are truly called to ministry for the sake of weeding out those who aren't truly called.

Second, the "perks" are few.  I realize that at the end of a 40 year career, I'm going to have a great retirement plan and a multitude of friends to share it with.  But compare the beginning of a ministry career to other non-ministry careers.  I'll be 30 next year and I'm living in a parsonage where the paint colors on my bedroom walls are dictated by a group of 9 church members who haven't seen those walls in 2 years and probably won't see them again until I move.  Many of my friends have been able to buy their first homes and have begun building equity in those homes.  While many churches have transitioned to housing allowances, there are still those pastors in their 50's who have never owned a home.  Now why would I want a profession that would take away my freedom to choose how my family will live?

Third, the educational requirements don't match the salaries that are available.  Pastors in North Georgia make between $32,000 and $150,000 per year.  The ones over $75,000 are very few and usually, you don't have a shot at getting to that point until those with more experience choose to retire.  Ordination in the United Methodist Church requires a bachelors degree AND completion of an 80-hour masters degree.  How many people, other than pastors, do you know that make only $32,000 after finishing their masters degree?

Now, I completely understand and believe that a ministry calling is a call to a life of sacrifice.  It's not meant to be glamorous or even materailly profitable.  I chose to become a pastor despite those facts and I love what I do.  The question that keeps coming up though is "How do we get more young people to become pastors?"

Thoughts?  Email me: alexander.stroud (at) gmail.com

I'll post more this week on what might be some alternatives/responses to these circumstances.