Sunday, April 28, 2013

No Church for Old Men

jaded:  1. dulled or satiated by overindulgence: a jaded appetite. 2. worn out or wearied, as by overwork or overuse. 3. dissipated: a jaded reprobate.

Candidates over 45 should be discouraged from ordination- do you agree?
The truth is it's not your age, it's your mileage. But don't tell the latest fixers of the church that. In an effort to bring youth to the ranks of the ordained, my home Texas Annual Conference will be voting on an item that our Board of Ordained Ministry hopes will help the church.

They are providing age guidelines, from certified Lay Pastors to Licensed Local Pastors, Deacons, and Elders. While some are clearly wary of what looks like ageism, other bloggers serving on this committee advocate what will be a proposal before us at this May's Annual Conference.

These age guides mean that "Candidates over 45 should be encouraged" not to pursue the ordination process. There's a lot of debate about ageism not being the intent here. But once a perception is cast, does it really matter? Whatever the intention was so to renew, rebuild, reform, or rebirth the church, the genie's truly out of the bottle, and regardless of what you say you meant to say, once you start putting age limits out there, that's what people see. It doesn't even matter if you use softeners like "encouraged" when you really mean discouraged.

One, it's sad that the Board doesn't trust its own judgement or discernment, nor that of the church or district boards, to work with candidates on an honest level. Every non-religious employer in the country finds a way to cull out the applicants they do not want, without actually saying what it's about. Funny- no it's sad really- how what's discrimination in the workplace is perfectly fine for religious bodies. If one of the standards is younger clergy, then, please tell me, what's holding us back? Written guidelines? We cannot think, pray, discern the best way for ourselves unless we have a written law?

Two, Boards of Ordained Ministry cannot fix the money problem and it's unfair to put this on their plate. If the pension program is shot, we truly have larger fish to fry. It may be time to reform and renew the entire church structure. But these are questions for the General Church.   

Three,  setting age limits assume a silver bullet for survival. Committee group-think follows the latest panacea for correcting things. Yesterday's answers become today's problems. While in a Duke Divinity School that was overloaded with second career men and women, I witnessed the gifts of wisdom and experience these folks brought to our life together. Their 40- and 50- something presence was welcomed and encouraged by faculty.  It all mirrored a church culture of age before youth. 

Finally, following "hard data" of futurists is a fragmented place to be. You have to wonder what good can come from such a center. The uproar we create can captivate us, holding us until we no longer have the time, energy, or interest in asking what God is doing. It's in our nature to want to fix things, but it can also block us from engaging the one thing that is truly fruitful as an end in itself: listening to Holy Spirit.  

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