Churches join project to gauge 'pulse' of young adults
April 6, 2004
A UMNS Feature By Pamela Crosby*
NASHVILLE, Tenn.-The relatively low numbers of young people in mainline denominations has propelled the United Methodist Church to join in an interfaith effort to cultivate interest in pastoral ministry among young people and to help them explore God's call.
The denomination, through its Board of Higher Education and Ministry, has joined the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Church of Christ in a "Pastoral Leadership Effort (PLSE)," an initiative of the Atlanta-based Fund for Theological Education, Inc.
Pronounced "pulse," the three-year project is designed to encourage congregations and campus ministries to invite young people to explore God's call in their lives. Resource kits, designed to equip congregations to establish a revitalized culture of the call to pastoral ministry, are being readied for distribution in early fall.
The average age of members of the United Methodist is 57 years, with only 4.7 percent of church members younger than age 18, and 80.1 percent older than 40. Fewer than 10 percent of clergy are younger than 39.
In addition, the number of clergy with master of divinity degrees is declining and fewer young people see ordination as elder as a significant vocation.
Under the banner, "for such a time as this," PLSE will enable churches to identify and track "gifted" young people as they explore the call to ministry. Protestant church leaders note that the pool of potential young leaders is the largest in this nation's history, and increasing numbers of young adults are entering seminary. PLSE will tap into the renewed spiritual interest of today's young, the leaders say.
"The theme for PLSE, 'for such a time as this,' looks at the challenges and issues facing the church," said the Rev. David Fuquay, a United Methodist working with the Fund for Theological Education, "particularly the issues of globalization and the rapidly changing world through technology."
College, high school and younger students have been brought up in a rapidly changing technological world and view it as the norm, he said, making it easier for them to know how to engage a global world.
"The PLSE project is particularly focused on exceptional young people," Fuquay said, "who typically are pushed toward being engineers or doctors or lawyers. Ministry is not necessarily seen as on par with those professions, and that's a real problem."
The Fund for Theological Education represents an attempt to help congregations understand opportunities related to ordained leadership and encourages them to call forth gifted, young candidates for ministry.
As congregations and campus ministries nominate young ministerial candidates, PLSE will add their names to a database. The organization will track aspiring church leaders through their educational preparation, and help connect them with appropriate resources and support. Congregational mentors and access to internship opportunities and ministry programs will also be available to PLSE young leaders.
Along with the larger effort, each denomination will maintain contact with its own candidates for ministry, providing information and developing programs and resources that promote and encourage pastoral ministry. United Methodist candidates will be connected to conference boards of ordained ministry, United Methodist-related colleges, campus ministries, seminaries and special programs.
PLSE is funded by a $2 million grant from the Lilly Endowment. The United Methodist Church, through the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, is contributing $300,000 toward the project as part of its efforts to cultivate a new generation of faithful leaders for the denomination, to reconnect young people with the church and to rebuild the educational pipeline.
"We are already seeing the positive results of such efforts as EXPLORATION events, which encourage youth and young adults to consider the call to ordained ministry and Student Forum, which develops leadership skills among our college students," said the Rev. Hal Hartley, the board's director of student ministries, vocation and enlistment.
"PLSE will directly involve congregations in calling forth young leadership for the church and will connect these gifted young people in a seamless web of support from their youth group, through college, and on into seminary," he added.
The "new and compelling" effort targets "gifted young people who love technology, yet are excited about and want to respond to God's claim on their lives," said Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, president of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
Few emphases in the church combine those two or use technology to reach, encourage, and inform Christian vocation, she said. The project is an opportunity for the four denominations to work together and learn from each other about what God is doing in the lives of young people, she added.
"We're seeing that young people are going to make a difference in the world with us or without us," said Fuquay. "They have unique gifts our church needs, but we won't be able to receive those gifts if we don't invite them and create that space for them."
Additional information about PLSE is available from the website, www.thePLSE.org, or from Fuquay by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (404) 727-1416.
*Crosby is a staff member of the Office of Interpretation at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. News media can contact Linda Green at (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.