March 31, 2012

Generational Divide

I am about to speak from my experience and in generalities, so please do not be offended if you do not fall into one of these categories or I misrepresent you in some way. Instead of getting upset, I would ask that you help me learn through meaningful dialogue. With that said...

I was born in 1979. Depending on who you ask or how you break it down, I am part of "Generation X" or "Millennials" (aka "Generation Y"). I can clearly see in myself I have characteristics of both. I see my education as a means to get where I'm going (Gen X) while also being committed to making social connections (Gen Y). I like the idea of saving money (Gen X) but am not afraid to spend it for something I might like (Gen Y...without being excessive). I look for ways to make things relevant to my life and culture and view leadership as an opportunity to serve, not a right that is earned.

I have been clergy within the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church since 2008, when I received my license as a full-time local pastor as a 29 year old. I have had the opportunity to be on staff with 6 different UMC pastors, all of which were older than me, some by more than 30yrs. In interactions with some of them as well as other clergy within my conference I have noticed the expectations each of them has for the office of "pastor" and how often they are much different than mine.

This is what makes me wonder if generational differences make an impact on clergy health. After having just read the Church Systems Task Force report I was struck by the relatively poor shape we are in as clergy; physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, and socially. Throughout the report stress is named as the key cause of so much pain and unhealthiness. This makes sense to me as I talk with some of these older clergy and hear the expectations they have placed on themselves (along with parts of their congregations) about the need to be involved in everything that is going on in the life of the church. The belief that the senior pastor should be omniscient resonates with them.

I see this very differently, and perhaps it is generational. As a pastor (who is responsible for a considerable amount at my church) I recognize there will be plenty of things happening in the life of our church that I don't know anything about, and I'm not only ok with it, I'm thankful. My life and ministry have enough stress as it is that to add onto that the expectation of being involved in everything slows everyone down. I would suggest that this is simply not the way Gen Xers (or Gen Yers) are made. As a matter of fact, we don't expect the senior pastor of a church to know everything that is going on or participate in every event. We recognize this is not only unhealthy but not possible.

And so I continue to wonder, do generational differences impact the health, or lack thereof, of clergy within The United Methodist Church?


Jim said...

I'm ordained in Indiana Conference but have served cross-conference in Alaska for 15 years. 42 years old. Yes, it's generational. But I also think it's cultural. It's different in the West than it was in Indiana in terms of what's expected. A lot is still self-imposed, but I think churches are more inclined to let pastors have more a life outside of church up here.

traceyl said...

First off, I would say that excess weight is probably the biggest health problem for most UM clergy. Being second generation clergy I have another thought, too... I think decades ago that clergy were, generally speaking, treated with great respect. Therefore, for people with low self-esteem and co-dependent tendencies, it was the perfect dysfunctional occupation. Knowing someone who is co-dependent and non-clergy, she allows the demands of everyone in her life to impinge upon attempts at a healthy lifestyle. Not long ago I heard a fellow clergy my age remark that they had no time to exercise because the people in their church had too many needs to be attended to. Ugh! If generations X & Y are experiencing less stress perhaps it is because they no longer perceive ministry as an occupation that receives respect and affirmation so they are no longer sacrificing their own health to meet unreasonable and unhealthy expectations.

PJ Zeilstra said...

I think that there are a couple of reasons for the stress and poor health. The first reason is that the clergy that Matt is speaking of are pretty much Americans and as Americans, we are generally unhealthy...clergy or no.
I would say that a big reason for the other stresses on a clergy is that the church is not necessarily structured properly. There should be elders in the church that can shoulder some of the responsibilities of counseling and hospital visits and church direction, etc. I don't think that, as a whole, clergy have Godly, responsible lay leaders that can/will step up to help with these roles that we typically push off on clergy.

Christians don't realize that we are all ministers of the gospel that happen to be factory workers/mail men/CEOs, not factory workers/mail men/CEOs who happen to be Christians.

We are all responsible to read and know the Bible so that we can counsel each other and edify each other.
The congregations need to support the clergy better.