Young African-American pastors form coalition
6/5/2003 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn
A UMNS Report By Linda Green*
By Linda Green*
A new coalition has been formed to provide mentoring support to young African-American clergy and head off a potential shortage of black pastors in the United Methodist Church.
African-American pastors who are starting out in ministry often feel alone and isolated. Many become frustrated because they have no one to mentor them through the obstacles of ministry, to lead them through the quagmire of local church business and denominational politics, or to listen to their concerns.
"There is no place in this system where people who fit our dynamic can go and share," said the Rev. Troy Benton, associate pastor of Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield, Mich. "The coalition represents the potential for the life or death of pastoral ministry among African Americans in the United Methodist Church, and we have not had one system or group that specifically speaks to our needs."
Formally launched in March, the National Coalition of Young Adult African-American pastors seeks "to be a support vehicle for young adult African-American clergy in a structure that is not exactly advantageous and that does not see their full talent," said Benton, the coalition's vision leader.
The coalition's mission is to promote Christian conferencing among black pastors under age 41, and to respond to the Great Commission of making disciples of Christ by providing mentoring support for those clergy. In addition to training and mentoring for new pastors, the group hopes to produce "life coaches" for future clergy.
"The National Coalition of Young Adult African American Pastors could end up being a profound blessing to the church," said the Rev. Vance Ross, chairman of the design team for the Convocation for Pastors of African American Churches and pastor of First United Methodist Church in Hyattsville, Md. "The denomination is lacking in major numbers young adults in its membership and that problem is becoming an epidemic in the African American, African and Caribbean sector."
Benton affirmed that the coalition is an attempt to respond to the "plight of African-American leadership in the United Methodist Church." In the next five to 10 years, 20 percent to 30 percent of African American clergy in the denomination will retire from active ministry. In addition, the number of African Americans entering seminary is steadily decreasing, he said.
"We know this from trying to recruit people from our churches to enter ministry," Benton said. "There is this gap of leadership that will hit the black church. Wanting to be the people who live out the call faithfully to serve and be servants, we talked about how it could be done in light of the particular economic, social, political and religious realities that face us as young adult African-American clergy." The denomination has a little more than 500 young adult African-American pastors, he said.
Citing research, Benton said the largest age group of African-American clergy is between 49 and 53, and those pastors will retire in the next 10 years. The following average mean group is about 29 years old. "This means that if we do not get the ball rolling right now, in 10 to 12 years, we will not be anywhere to be found." The coalition is also forming relationships with other African-American Christian traditions.
Ross said an organization such as the coalition is essential if the church is going to attract and maintain young people for a changing world. And, he asked, what better way to attract them than by having those of their age group teaching and leading in the pulpit?
"Our viability before young people will assume that we take seriously the leaders who are of that age. Seeing them gathered and knowing that they are appreciated and valued and have a place in the denomination means that the church in general, and older clergy and laity in particular, will listen to what they say and have to act on what they discuss," Ross said.
Founded under the banner of the biennial Convocation for Pastors of African American Churches, the coalition is an independent organization, with no official ties to any group in the denomination. The coalition will use leadership networks and groups, as well as national and regional events, to assist clergy in reaching their maximum potential. The group, with young adult membership from across the country, is funded through dues and registration fees, along with contributions from annual conferences.
The group was launched with support from three annual conferences and churches across the United States. It is partnering with the Pacific Northwest Conference in the planning of a new church start and is receiving financial support through the Detroit Conference.
Before the organization's launch, a group of young African-American pastors gathered to discuss the "journey" of being young adults and clergy members in the United Methodist Church. The conversations focused on the appointment process, long-term pastorates and leadership opportunities for extended ministries among various groups.
"It appears as though there have been opportunities for advanced movement in an increased fashion for people of European-American descent as opposed to people of African American descent," Benton said.
Members of the coalition, all leaders in their annual conferences, shared that their first or second appointments in the denomination were often disappointing assignments compared with those of their European-American colleagues, who received new church starts, immediately became associate pastors of large congregations, or were appointed as youth pastors, he said. "Our churches (African American) really don't have a number of youth pastor slots.
The coalition will serve as a clearinghouse in responding to calls for positions, congregations or ministries seeking effective people, Benton said. "We want to be a resource for the United Methodist Church (and) be a vehicle to assist the denomination in pushing towards excellence in African-American young adult leadership."
The group also wants a voice in the church's visioning process. Benton explained that the coalition's emphasis on "continual transformation thinking" represents a change in emphasis from disciplining and maintenance to regarding evangelism as the church's primary task. The church, he said, must address the question: "How do we make things more relevant for the seeker who is yet to even come?"
More information on the National Coalition of Young Adult African-American Pastors is available by contacting Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or (248) 547-3278.
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*Green is United Methodist News Service's Nashville, Tenn., news director.
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