On July 20th, over forty credentialed leaders from Franconia Conference and a few from the broader community including all the way from Lancaster, PA, gathered to hear about “Next Generation Ministry” from Josh Meyer, Pastor of Discipling and Preaching at Franconia Mennonite Church. This credentialed leader’s breakfast was hosted by Perkiomenville Mennonite Church.
Credentialed leaders gathered around a breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs courtesy of chickens raised by some of the Perkiomenville youth, and began the morning by engaging in table discussion about where they serve, how they came to be in ministry, and what they have found most fulfilling and most challenging.
Josh Meyer took on researching millennials in ministry as his dissertation project for his Doctor of Ministry program at Biblical Seminary. With Franconia Conference having one of the highest percentages of millennial credentialed leaders (those born after 1980 and before the mid-1990s) at 11% of all active credentialed leaders, Josh utilized Franconia Conference as his case study. His goal was to identify factors that cultivate and confirm calling among millennial leaders. The project focused on the intersection of three distinct areas: 1) millennial generation dynamics, 2) the biblical concept of calling, and 3) experience within in pastoral ministry. Overall, what leads young people in to ministry and what keeps young people in ministry.
Following the table discussion time, Josh shared a video that went viral at the end of 2016 where Simon Sienk, an author and marketing consultant, speaks about millennials in the workplace. Josh asked those present, “as you watch, keep in mind: if what he is saying is true, what impact might that have on how young people are called to an experienced ministry?”
In the video, Sienk mentions that millennials have grown up in an environment of addictive social media, instant gratification and participation medals that has led to a lack of coping mechanisms to deal with stress and a lack of knowledge on how to form deep meaningful relationships. He is quick to point out these shortcomings are no fault of the millennials themselves as it is a result of the environment. Upon graduation and being thrust into the workforce, corporate environments continue to hinder this generation from learning the skills of cooperation, and that trust forms over time in slow, steady, consistent interactions.
Josh quoted Tim Elmore (2010) as saying, “The rapid changes in American society over the past century have contributed to the diverse perspectives of the four generational cohorts represented in the workplace today.”
Therefore, if millennials are having a different experience, how does that impact young pastors?
Noted in the presentation is the fact that MCUSA as a denomination has a shortage of young leaders, with a large number of leaders at or reaching retirement age. Many young leaders seem to only last seven years. Through focus groups and interviews with an equal number of millennials and older experienced pastors within Franconia Conference, Josh compiled a chart of similarities and differences between these two groups that included looking at: what leads persons into pastoral ministry and what keeps persons engaged in pastoral ministry.
Going through the chart provided in a handout, it was noted that for both generations ministry is broadly defined and Conference Leaders played a large role in their path to ministry. A distinct difference between the generations was their view of seminary. The millennials viewing it as a place of ongoing discernment and the preceding generations attending seminary as a result of discernment. As for discerning the call, the millennials seems to have a stronger outward call (others noticing and affirming it in them) than the preceding generations who are noted as having a stronger inward call. Both generations noted that being invited to lead in their home congregations as they were growing up played a role in their discernment.
Items noted in aspects of pastoral ministry included that no matter the generation, all were surprised by the amount of administration work; not that they couldn’t or didn’t have the skills to complete it, just that the quantity was unforeseen. Millennials noted the pressure and expectations along with the “lack of freedom to lead” as unexpected aspects of their pastoral ministry. Josh explained that this “lack of freedom to lead,” was felt as millennials are often being brought in to help congregations grow and change, yet the congregation is resistant to change. Also of note, as a result of being in ministry, millennials feel less tied to denomination affiliations where preceding generations feel less tied to local church structure.
As for what keeps these generations engaged in pastoral ministry, Josh’s research notes that it is stories of transformation, the continued sense of the Holy Spirit calling, and seeing the impact of their ministry. Noted differences are that millennials report seeing a counselor/spiritual director and having a persistent commitment to Christ and the church as helping them continue to say yes to ministry. Preceding generations noted healthy church structures, being sustained by relationships, and a lack of other employment options/ need for income, among other things.
Check out the handout for more on these generations’ perspectives on things that play into contemplating leaving ministry, challenges and opportunities for the church.
The event ended with those from the preceding generations praying over the millennial leaders in their midst.
Franconia Conference is grateful to Josh for taking on this project. The Conference board and staff continue to analyze and contemplate how this information can inform calling and sustaining younger and up-and-coming leaders.
To view the slide presentation including recommendations as a result of Josh’s research click here.