By Rev. Susan Miller
Recently, Kenneth Inskeep, the Executive for Research and Evaluation for the ELCA, shared some startling statistics:
- Since 2009, the number of ELCA clergy available for calls has decreased by 1,983.
- Currently, there are 6,761 clergy serving congregations.
- 29% of all clergy are between the ages of 55 and 61.
- 27% of all clergy are over the age of 62.
- At this time, 735 students are in the eight seminaries of the ELCA preparing for ordained ministry.
Sometimes, when I read statistics, my eyes tend to glaze over. Not this time. These statistics alert us to a truth that we are seeing expressed in the call process. There are fewer pastors available to serve in the congregations of the ELCA. Those who are able to serve often have 30 or more years of experience. And this trend will not be offset in the near future by the students in our seminaries (students number less than half of the potential pastors necessary to offset the large number of retirements the church will be facing.)
Combining these statistics with some of the changed realities of our world today – including spousal employment, clergy owning their own homes, the desire to be near children and grandchildren, a trend toward urban and suburban living, clergy who are retired not seeking to serve in the same way that their predecessors continued to serve – has great implications for congregations and the call process.
At one time, I expected that clergy retirements would cause congregational mergers and closings for smaller congregations. Some of that probably will occur over the next several years and will allow for fewer clergy to be serving. However, these statistics have even greater implications than that. They call for us to consider different models of ministry – perhaps an apostolic model (like the one used in Tanzania where one pastor oversees several congregations, each with lay preachers) or increased use of lay staff in larger congregations that are used to being served by more than one ordained clergyperson.
While the clergy shortage is a concern for the whole church, it also has implications for the call process in our synod.
- There are fewer names of clergy to suggest for each call.
- Congregations will be interviewing clergy with more experience than the congregation might originally have wished for or expected.
- The transition process will likely take longer than it has in the past.
Over the next months, we will also begin some conversations about different models for ministry within our synod and share in those conversations that are taking place throughout the ELCA.
These statistics are startling and daunting. However, even in the midst of this, I always wonder about the gift of God. What is the gift that God is sharing with us through this clergy shortage? Where is God in the midst of this?
We who believe that God is always present with God’s people can be assured that there is grace within this situation and that God is empowering us to discover and use this grace to create vibrant and vital ministries.
Rev. Susan Miller serves as Director for Call Process and Assistant to the Bishop for the Southeastern Minnesota Synod.