Sunday, March 1, 2009

Outside of the Boxes

It was a good thing that I had finished my essay for the American Baptist placement services before I read the study from Pulpit and Pew reports highlighted/excerpted below. I'm never going to be a "married man with children, under age 40, in good health, with more than a decade of experience in ministry." Demographics aside, though, I regard myself as strong candidate for what congregations say they want according to this study—which is not necessarily what some of them really want. My call to ministry embraces change, my being a minister is a change from the desired demographic, and as a species, human beings most often prefer no change, so even though congregations may say they want a change, what they describe through demographics is not change, and the demographic they want is what was the norm in the 1950's and certainly does not describe me or many of my classmates in seminary.

As often happens, things weave together. In my CPE (clinical pastoral education) IPR (interpersonal relations) group sessions we have been talking about the boxes that we put one another in, and the assumptions we make about people because of the labels they give themselves or that we give them. We have devoted several sessions to working on our boxes and assumptions, and how now with that work and a facilitator it feels safe and accepting to be an evangelical, a Roman Catholic, an interfaith minister, an ordained lesbian, a straight white male, or a chief financial officer finishing seminary, all of us doing and supporting one another in ministry.

The question we tackled last week is, is it enough for one of us or each of us to feel safe only in the small group, or are we called both by God's justice and by our relationships with one another to work toward full acceptance in the wider world? This perhaps is the work in education that must be done in congregations—not when confronted with a crisis in the community but as a part of being church in a community. How can we be "church" in the best sense of that world when we confine ourselves only to our own safe group, inside our own walls, with a narrow notion that leaders of churches must fit one single demographic?

My version of "go ye into all the world and preach the gospel" surely includes this kind of love, respect and acceptance, welcoming the one who is foreign to you—the stranger, as well as caring for the poor, the widow and the orphan—those who have been neglected or abandoned by tragedy or misfortune. It takes a fair amount of confronting our own fears and stereotypes before we can not only accept but welcome those who are different from us. How do we begin the conversations to bring congregations outside of their own boxes? I hope in this study that I begin to find ways to bring people into that process or at least into that conversation.
What Do Lay People Want In Pastors?
Answers From Lay Search Committee Chairs And Regional Judicatory Leaders
by Adair T. Lummis
Duke Divinity School, Durham, N.C.
© Duke Divinity School
Pulpit and Pew Research Reports, No. 3, Winter 2003

Gender, race, marriage, and sexual orientation of clergy. Lummis finds among other things that male gender still remains a criterion for most search committees, even in denominations that have ordained women for the past fifty years or more. Typically, search committees want pastors who are married men with children, under age 40, in good health, with more than a decade of experience in ministry. Such criteria are often not expressed to regional leaders but remain unspoken just beneath the surface, particularly in liberal mainline Protestant denominations, where lay search committees know it is unacceptable to refuse to accept a candidate because of gender, race, or ethnicity.
Age, experience and job tenure of the pastor. Laity often want a young married pastor as a way to draw in young families, but also a pastor with experience. The dramatic increase in older, second career seminarians, however, has changed the relationship between age and experience. Rather than having 20-years’ experience, many middle-aged pastors today may have just received their M.Div.

Other things lay people say they want (see the whole study for details):
• Demonstrated competence and religious authenticity.
• Good preacher and leader of worship.
• Strong spiritual leader.
• Commitment to parish ministry and ability to maintain boundaries.
• Available, approachable, and warm pastor with good “people skills.”
• Consensus builder, lay ministry coach and responsive leader.
• Entrepreneurial evangelists, innovators and transformational reflexive leaders.
The second half of this Pulpit and Pew study deals with the issues of a perceived clergy shortage or shortage of adequate pastoral salaries. Continuing my analysis of The American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts, I graphed the available data for weekly attendance in churches vs. the number of years the pastor
( by gender) has been ordained. In Massachusetts at least, the churches with over 300 in weekly attendance are historically black churches. You will note that women don't appear to move up into bigger churches the longer they are ordained, but rather stay in a band of churches under 100 in weekly attendance. The available data for churches' weekly attendance and senior/solo pastor's year ordained yielded this sample of twenty-five women and twenty-six men. In this sample, the majority of churches under 100 in weekly attendance are pastored by women.

The study suggests that in order to provide an adequate salary churches need to have over 200 or more active members. I am not quite sure of what the relationship between active members and weekly attendance is here in Massachusetts, but I know ABC clergy in congregations where the weekly attendance is between 45 and 90, who do have working spouses. That suggests that one clergy salary is not sufficient. The one single clergyperson I know has rental income as a supplement. What this graph says is that in Massachusetts American Baptist women have not moved into larger, more prestigious or more lucrative churches, and that in fact they may be facing economic discrimination because they are predominantly in smaller churches who cannot afford to pay an adequate/livable salary. Salary numbers are not available in this data set.

My prayer this week is to continue to pray for movement out of the boxes, both those I put others into and the ones others put me into.

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