Even as my denomination laments the dearth of entering clergy under the age of thirty-five, there is another issue often left on the back-burner, the one of retention of middle aged clergy. For me, surviving in life seems to be related to the sense of growth versus stagnation. If I feel I am learning and useful, I usually feel that I am doing well. So I have been drawn to educational routes for renewal. And, generally, the church has offered educational programs as well.
Other than a two-year mentor program for younger pastors that Perkins School of Theology offered twenty years ago, most of the programs (most of which are D. Min.) are geared for more experienced clergy. (By the way, if more schools had spent the money to offer programs specifically for younger clergy, you might have seen an increase in retaining them. But even for Perkins, the program, which is no longer in existence, was renamed as a program for "new" as opposed to "younger" clergy).
It seems much has been done to train new second-career clergy. What about lifers whose only crime was that they were in seminary in their twenties? If you haven't attempted any kind of educational or spiritual growth experience that is more than just the two day CE event, then how do you stay alive in ministry? Most programs with any impact go from 2-3 years.
There are many excuses for not engaging in a program of self-development as a pastor: cost, time away, frequent moves, an already loaded schedule, fear of the unknown. Yet, most of the second-career clergy I know have had to balance an almost full time school load with full time work. Depending on denominational culture, a sabbatical or doctoral program is more popular or supported.
As a second half clergyperson, or as one preparing for your second half, let me say that the reasons and benefits for engaging in a program far outweigh the potential pitfalls. The biggest one is fighting boredom and rediscovering challenge! Unless you want to attend Willow Creek-styled three day conferences the rest of your ministry, you are on for a boring second half if you do not engage in something that calls you beyond the day-to day acts of ministry. All you will be doing is learning about whatever that year's fad is- until the next big thing comes along. There is a place for the Willow Conference or even the Seminary-sponsored CE week, but they just aren't designed to work long-term, they are flashes in the night.
Take a look at the survey on the blog and share what works for you! We might be able to start a dialogue and start something new!
Peace in Christ!
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