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Church makes developing young leaders a priority

Blaine Wilson admits his call to ministry was "a little unique."

"My pastor came to me at Thanksgiving 2005 and asked if I would preach for him on New Year's Day Sunday 2006," Wilson said. "At the time I thought the pastor was nuts ("You want me to do what?"), but I agreed to fill in. I had every expectation that it was going to be a one-and-done deal, but the feedback was positive enough that I was asked to do it again, and it ... went from there. I got certified as a lay speaker (now called lay servant) and then became a certified lay minister in 2012."The Sioux Falls, South Dakota, resident confessed that his "calling" was never really his idea. It was a call to him through other people who recognized his potential.


Developing Christian leaders for the church and the world is part of the work of most of the general agencies of The United Methodist Church. Here are some of their plans for 2015.

General Board of Higher Education and Ministry

  • Evaluate the progress of Young Clergy Initiative grant recipients.
  • Increase the number of young people pursuing the call to ordained ministry through events, the Journey to Ordained Ministry and Hispanic, Asian and Native American (HANA) program; work with annual conference vocational discernment coordinators.
  • Increase campus ministers and chaplains' participation in training.
  • Train at least 10 United Methodist Student Movement field organizers.
  • Increase the number and dollar amount of scholarships and loans.
  • Guide United Methodist clergy through certification, licensing and ordination; train coaches.
  • Implement the e-reader program at 22 central conference theological schools (in collaboration with Discipleship Ministries).
  • Award grants to develop theological education in Africa, Europe and the Philippines.
  • Expand the multilingual UMC Cyber Campus offerings.
  • Help United Methodist higher education institutions engage in more international work.
  • Administer the Black College and Africa University funds.

Discipleship Ministries

  • Expand the Route 122 congregational transformation network.
  • Feature at least 40 vital congregations in the Romans 12 newsletter.
  • Test Korean Vital Congregations Training.
  • Have district superintendents reflect on their role as missional strategist.
  • Host the Black Church Think Tank on extending hospitality to young adults.
  • Increase effective congregational leadership through webinars, face-to-face training, networks and events.
  • Increase the effective leaders in ministry with youth and young adults.
  • Involve 1,000 people in new spiritual practices because of Youth 2015.

Church and Society

  • Use training, partnerships and new organizers to build capacity to engage in transformative justice ministries.
  • Strengthen the seminar program.
  • Develop new internships and expand access to internships.
  • Global Ministries
  • Increase attention to the physical and professional needs of missionaries.
  • Involve more young adults in mission service.
  • Increase mission pastor/lay leader training through Bible schools and collaboration among new and existing congregations, seminaries and ecumenical partnerships.

Archives and History

  • Train chairs of conference commissions on archives and history, historians and archivists.
  • Staff and seek financial support for the African American Methodist Heritage Center.
  • Support the collection of oral histories in the Latino community and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, an archive at Africa University and the Evangelical United Brethren Heritage Center.

Religion and Race

  • Increase the number and effectiveness of interculturally competent leaders in the United States and the central conferences.
  • Increase the number of healthy cross-racial/cross-cultural appointments and ministries.

Status and Role of Women

  • Translate the "Women Called to Ministry" Bible study in French and Portuguese.
  • Launch the Clergy Family Resources website.
  • Complete the "God of the Bible" expansive language Bible study.
  • Report the Pipeline Study on where gaps occur early in clergywomen's careers.
  • Provide the "Do No Harm" summit in October and develop resources for laity on healthy boundaries.
  • Develop resources for campus ministers to respond to sexual assaults on campus (with GBHEM).

United Methodist Communications

  • Expand Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D).
  • Equip church leaders in Asia and Europe with communication skills for creating vital congregations.
  • Create a new family values initiative for families with young children.

United Methodist Men

  • Recruit and train 100 Men's Ministry Specialists.
  • Provide mentors for youth through partnerships with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, Camp Fire, 4-H, Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
  • Resource local congregations to disciple men.

Asian American Language Ministry/Pacific Islander Ministries' Plan

  • Train lay leadership in all areas of ministry.

National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry

  • Accompany annual conferences in the development of 10 strategies for Hispanic/Latino ministry.
  • Invest $1.3 million to fund grants for conference strategies, youth development, Hispanic/Latino Training Centers and Social Justice Centers.
  • Conduct the third National Consultation on Hispanic/Latino Ministry.

Korean Ministry Plan

  • Provide the United Methodist Korean-American Information and Mentoring Session.
  • Provide the Academy for Spiritual Formation in Korean.

Native American Comprehensive Plan

  • Offer a Native American Lay Servant School.
  • Support leaders within Native American churches, fellowships and ministries, conferences and general agencies.

Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century

  • Provide rising clergy with experiences and skills to develop and maintain a vital congregation.
  • Develop certification in African-American Church Leadership. 

Wilson said pastors in the Dakotas Conference, who have always been available for guidance and mentoring, have encouraged him. However, one especially significant mentor has been the Rev. Steve Trefz, the husband of Wilson's former pastor.

"Steve and I serve on the conference Lay Servant Ministries Executive Team, and we have worked well together in scheduling and crafting educational opportunities not only for me, but [also for] my fellow lay servant leaders and certified lay ministers," he said. "Having access to Steve locally was critical to my success. Through the pastors I have had and the training I have received from the conference, I have developed sermon-writing skills for both the lectionary and fitting a message into a strictly specified series and theme."

Wilson now has a certified lay minister assignment as the designated pulpit supply for his district. Nearer to home, he leads worship one Sunday every other month for a retirement complex.

Wilson is an outstanding example of the young adults The United Methodist Church is working to develop as Christian leaders.

Four Areas of Focus

In 2008, the General Conference adopted what are termed the Four Areas of Focus. The goal was to sharpen the mission of The United Methodist Church and direct critical aspects of its connectional ministries in collaboration.

The implementation of the first focus – developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world – went to the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry with Discipleship Ministries collaborating in the development of lay leaders. As the primary agency for leadership development, Higher Education and Ministry understands that good leaders are critical.

The agency invites, equips and supports faithful and effective clergy and lay leaders for vital congregations in the church and the world. It also provides resources and training crucial for developing leaders in the pulpit and those who serve from the pews.

Two kinds of leaders

Congregational leaders in The United Methodist Church can be both ordained and licensed clergy and laity. Though their roles differ, both kinds are necessary to meet the needs of a world of people who need God.

In the Wesleyan tradition, both laity and clergy have always been encouraged to take responsibility for leading ministry. Laity do the work of Christ alongside clergy.

"Clergy are leaders, of course, but when we talk about church leaders, we certainly are not only talking about clergy," said the Rev. Steve Manskar, director of Wesleyan leadership for Discipleship Ministries. "More important is the formation of lay leadership. These lay leaders are a very important part of the Wesleyan tradition."

Jodi Cataldo, the agency's director of laity in leadership, agrees. "If we look back at the history of when the church was at its best, it was when the laity was mostly in charge.

"Even in Acts 2, the laity again was instrumental," she said. "The partnership between the clergy and the laity is essential. When we as a church handed the responsibilities of ministry over to the professionals, we paid them to do what we should have been doing. When you look at our Wesleyan heritage, you see our time of most vibrancy and growth ... (was) when we had the strongest lay leadership. When we stopped being a church of lay leaders, we began to decline."

Young leaders in the church

The inclusion of laity in church work requires leadership training outside of traditional seminary education. Church leaders who recognize young people who show leadership potential and a passion for serving others can direct them to appropriate training.

The Rev. Myron Wingfield, associate general secretary of Higher Education and Ministry's division of ordained ministry, is encouraged to see the potential in young people as they discern a call to professional ministry.

"It's exciting to see these young adults going into ministry with a new and different frame of reference than I had," he said. "They see ministry in a much broader light. I believe the Holy Spirit is providing us a new generation of leadership."

Wingfield looks for certain things when he talks with young people who are determining if God is calling them to ordained or licensed ministry. First, he wants them to articulate a clear call. He wants to see emotional intelligence. He looks for the desire and ability to grow and a passion for lifelong learning. He also wants to see a passion for The United Methodist Church.

The Rev. Trip Lowery, the agency's director of young adult ministry discernment and enlistment, encourages young people who feel God may be calling them into professional ministry to experience doing ministry in their local church.

"A local church can do things different than what the big church can do," he said. "The big church can offer conferences showing broad sweeps of what ministry is. That seems to help clarify and focus, but it doesn't take the place of sitting down (for) one-on-one conversations with someone on what their specific call might mean."

Lowery said he is seeing a trend of people moving outside the local church for professional ministry. "It's more reframing what church is," he said. "For so long, it's been people going to the church for ministry. Now we are seeing more people moving outside the building into the world for ministry. People are realizing ministry is more than just preaching."

The Rev. David Martinez, the board's director of specialized theological education, works in Mexico, Latin America and the United States. Part of his job is seeking out young Latino adults who are considering going into ordained or licensed ministry.

"I search for the passion of ministry they have in their hearts," he said. "I look for the Spirit of God that generates their callings. I like to talk with them to hear them articulate their calls and encourage them. I look for the intensity and the authenticity of the call. I look at their eyes and see the fire."

Like Lowery, Martinez encourages young adults to get involved in their local churches. That is where they will begin to understand how the church functions.

"We also encourage them to attend the Hispanic Youth Leadership Academy (HYLA)," he said. "After HYLA, they go back to their local churches and help. Then, the next year, they go back to HYLA and report on how their year went. It's great leadership training for them."

It is important to help these young leaders to understand where God is calling them, Martinez said.

"Some will go into the ordained ministry," he said, "but others, like nurses, will take their professions and do ministry in that context."

The Rev. Kim Cape, Higher Education and Ministry general secretary, sees hope in the new breed of young leaders.

"As I interact with young clergy leaders, I have a renewed hope for our church," she said. "The energy and passion young clergy bring to their call to reach their generation for Christ is a powerful witness. God is still moving in and through United Methodism.

"While many people my age are 'done,' our young clergy confront their own challenge of being faithful, fruitful leaders. We must recognize and address the roadblocks in their way and provide the tools and education they need to achieve what God calls them to do in their mission field. With Simeon, I can truly say, 'Mine eyes have seen the salvation of the Lord.'"

The United Methodist Church is intentional about finding and being disciples to these young leaders and future servants.

The Rev. Carol Bruse, director of the Center for Clergy Excellence in the Texas Annual Conference, said annual conferences must teach local churches how to emphasize call.

"Most of the future clergy of The United Methodist Church are sitting in the pews today," she said. "If we don't teach congregations how to encourage them, we won't have them." 

Polly House is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.


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