SUMMARY OF THE MINISTRY/MINISTER ENVIRONMENT
Barry Roberts, LUT
There has been a national trend in last 20 years for all traditions of reduced number of ministers and minister students. This trend is now at the point where many churches are feeling the struggle and it was accelerated with COVID pandemic. Ministers are leaving church ministry to retire or serve in other ways like chaplaincy or do other types of service work that’s a better fit for their lifestyle and interests.
In general, the process for hiring a minister in Unity hasn’t changed. But the minister marketplace is now quite different than it used to be. Before we entered this process in 2022, I was not aware how much things have changed. My assumption was that we could put out the position and get multiple interested and qualified candidates. That is obviously not the case anymore.
We are experiencing a national trend not limited to Unity. This video is a good overview for all traditions. It is based on the blog article below. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9r82E5eaeFI&feature=share&si=ELPmzJkDCLju2KnD5oyZMQ
Through the years, the number of churches and ministers asking for help have been roughly the same. However, through the long months of the pandemic, a change occurred. Now, in a typical month, we will have 15 churches asking for help with possible candidates and maybe one minister requesting assistance. And so, more and more churches are taking longer to find a youth minister or a preacher.
What are the causes for this? I think a lot of factors are in play. Let’s get some of them out on the table:
- Being a minister is not an easy task. If you are a minister in a church of 300, then you have about 300 “bosses,” with each person having a distinct set of expectations for your work. In the past five years, the growing polarization in our culture around various social and political issues infects congregational life in quite a few churches. This makes the work of calling persons to a gospel-centered life more and more challenging. So a lot of ministers, out of frustration and a bone-deep burnout, are walking away from ministry. Nearly every week, I have a conversation with a minister who is exhausted and disappointed—longing for his congregation to “play better in the sandbox” of Christian witness yet languishing in intramural debates that threaten the life and testimony of the congregation to the world.
- As a person located in a Christian university, I am often asked by church leaders, “why aren’t the schools turning out more ministers?” It is a good question in many ways. I know that theological educators are asking such questions across the country. Yet a profound reality must be acknowledged. One significant reason that colleges and universities are not graduating more ministers is that churches are not sending us students to major in Bible and ministry! Rather, churches are sending students to universities to be doctors, entrepreneurs, engineers, lawyers, teachers, and many other good and useful professions. However—and I believe that you, my reader, might agree—churches are not commonly cultivating the hearts and passions of young people to enter into ministry.
- The decline of ministerial candidates is likely exacerbated by a factor related to the point above. Can a person make a living wage as a minister today? Although we can find strong examples of ministers being well compensated in larger churches in larger cities, I am well aware that many ministers struggle to be paid even what a local school teacher might make in their own district—and then a church often makes implied (or express) demands that the minister’s spouse also be involved in the church’s ministry!
- Yet another factor is in play—particularly with mid-career ministers. Ministers are certainly fallible and shared leadership is critically important for healthy congregational life. Yet in many churches, the minister’s voice is often marginalized or excluded in matters of leadership and direction. I often observe a fascinating dynamic. When churches are looking for a minister, they want a minister who is biblically grounded, theologically prepared, wise and relational. Then, having found such a minister, leader groups then distance the minister from the discernment and leadership within the congregation. Good ministers, effective ministers and ministers attuned to the heart of God’s desire for a congregation grow weary of not being fully engaged with matters of leadership. And then, in time, they migrate to work in other forms of ministry (e.g., non-profits, counseling, mission work, etc.) or simply take their wisdom and people skills into other professions altogether.
When I see signs of hope in my varied experiences in congregations across the country, I observe these healthy signs that will make a difference:
- Churches that are actively developing internships and residencies in partnerships with theological schools to train and develop a new generation of ministers. (Unity has a different seminary system so this point doesn’t apply but other changes in the Unity minister education have an impact)
- Churches that are creatively utilizing bi-vocational ministers.
- Churches that actively value their ministers by welcoming their wisdom and utilizing their leadership gifts.
- Churches that help ministers, in sometimes creative ways, to be compensated appropriately.
- Churches that help create boundaries for ministers in order to keep them from burning out!
(A blog from the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry)
Rev. Greg Coles, Great Lakes Regional Consultant and Rev. Joanne Burns, Minister Development Coordinator at Unity Worldwide Ministries provided the input on current Unity practices and environment.
His recommendation is that the best thing we can do is to work with Rev. Richard to build a healthier culture in our community.
Options for filling the need without the typical full-time minister could be:
- Sharing a minister with another Unity church.
- Virtual Sunday speakers like what we have done before Rev. Richard arrived.
- Hire a part-time minister.
Rev. Joanne’s role is to support the various pathways of ministry employees and the open ministries seeking to hire a Unity credentialed leader. As a trained Interim Minister and Transitional Specialist/Consultant, Joanne has first-hand knowledge of the support services she provides during transitional times in ministry.
In the first half of 2022, the Ministry Development department went through a lot of staffing changes, and it was difficult to support minsters and ministries to make matches. The situation has stabilized, and Joanne is very committed to filling open positions with the best candidates. We updated our packet to include answers to a few new questions she added to help with making a good match.
In June 2022 Unity ordained 30 ministers from the three minister training programs. The Urban program had 10 of these and those students are tied to their sponsoring churches. Then 5 chose not to pursue a church ministry. Which leaves 15 ministers looking for placement. Right now, 3 of those have been placed which leaves 12 from this class looking for the right ministry to match their skills, interests and needs.
She also believes that working with Rev. Richard and his transitional training will be very important to attracting the right person. She also had reviewed our website and made suggestions for using our website as a way to attract candidates. She indicated that these days, candidates watch websites and social media to see what is going on at churches and in the transitional process. This is a new way to look at our internet presence, to attract a minister.
I know currently the tech team is working on updating the website. I looked at our Facebook page and it hasn’t had a new posting since May.
Specific Web/Social Media suggestions from Joanne:
- Update the About Us information to show Rev. Richard here now vs. Rev. Evin. This is under Minister/Staff page and the History page.
- Add a “Transition” page that would explain the interim process with Rev. Richard and transitional activities like workshops, classes, and events.
- Include testimonials in the website and Facebook.
- Produce a short “welcome” video for Rev. Richard showing him arriving getting a tour of our facility and grounds.
- Produce a general welcome video for the website that would be targeted at visitors. Videos can be shot on a camera phone and uploaded to keep it simple and short, about 2 minutes.
- Consider having our leaders participate in a workshop by Rev. Shad Groveland, The Power of Focused Ministry. https://www.unityworldwideministries.org/power-focused-ministry-workshops
On other issues, I asked a local human resources manager to do a compensation survey for minister positions in our area. We are in the average range for the Madison area.
- We are on the right track having brought in Rev. Richard to lead us through the transition.
- Consider the feedback on our website and social media to help us attract a candidate since that is a major method of candidates checking out churches and communities.
- Use transitional resources led by Rev. Richard to help build a more supportive culture for ministers at Unity of Madison.
- Involve our community in prayer and other practices to affirm attracting the best person for us.
Barry Roberts, LUT