Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Your Next Pastor May Not be Human

    There are, today, many large churches in which the people enter the sanctuary… and watch their pastor on television.  These are called “multi-site” churches and this may happen in your church sooner than you think.

    While sitting through several sessions at Annual Conference last week, and listening to reports, some of the numbers began to nag at me.  I am an engineer and numbers mean something.  In particular, as I listened to our bishop, Bishop John Hopkins, as well as visiting bishop, Bishop Janice Huie from the Texas Conference, speak about the age of our clergy members; the numbers told me something about the future.  What they told me is this:

In ten years, our church will be very different.

    I admit, you may still have a human pastor, but maybe not, and maybe not in the way you are accustomed to having one.

    Here are the numbers.  In East Ohio, we have 748 churches with 586 pastors.  At present, 60 percent of our pastors are 55 or older, and 6 percent are under the age of 34.  Nationwide, those numbers aren’t much different.  According to Bishop Huie, 54% of all ordained elders are age 55-72.  In 2000, that number was only 30 percent.

    For the last ten years we have ordained, between five and seven new elders annually.  This year we had the largest class in a very long time, and there were thirteen.

    During those same ten years, we have retired between twenty and thirty five pastors every year.

    To be fair, the number of ordinations and the number of retirees is not an accurate comparison because the retirees include many local pastors as well as ordained elders.  Even so, it seems to be a fairly visible hint of things to come.

    These numbers were announced and displayed for everyone at Annual Conference, so what has me so convinced that we are about to witness a major change in ministry?

    Think about it.  If 60 percent of our pastors are 55+, that means 60 percent of our pastors will retire within the next decade.  If the pastors of 60 percent of 748 churches retire, that means that 448 churches will need a new pastor.  Sixty percent of 586 pastors is 351.  If we also assume that we can somehow duplicate our efforts this year, and ordain 13 pastors every year for the next ten years instead of only 5, we will ordain only 130 new elders.

We will ordain 130 elders to fill 448 empty pulpits.

    Of course, this doesn’t count the addition of local pastors.  This year we elected 44 new candidates for ministry, discontinued 6 candidates and also discontinued 16 local pastors and 2 provisional elders.  If we assume these numbers as averages for the next ten years and also remember that those ordained (13) must also come from the ranks of the candidates for ministry, in the end we gained 7 local pastors.

    Over a decade, that gives us 70 local pastors to add to our 130 elders for a total of 200 pastors.

That still leaves us 248 pulpits short.

Unless every pastor fills two or more pulpits.

    If the math holds, in the next ten years, we will bring in 200 new pastors to replace 351 retirees.

    Of course there are other factors that will play into this.  Our conference (and others) has expended considerable effort to attract young clergy, but in the last decade we’ve managed to raise the percentage of young (under 35) clergy by only 2 percent.  Even if we continue to improve, this alone isn’t going to fix the problem.

    Currently, to fill the existing ‘clergy gap’ we’ve invited more than fifty retirees to pastor these churches as well as 18 pastors from outside our conference and denomination.

    This means that our shortfall may not be as bad as the numbers initially suggest, but the trend tells us something.

    In the next decade we will care for God’s people but to do so will require change.  We may well employ more part-time pastors and student pastors.  In addition, more local pastors and elders will find themselves serving more than one church.  But we may also experiment with new models of ministry.  We may try multi-site churches, where one pastor preaches in multiple locations via video, and we may go back to our roots and try a twenty-first century version of the circuit rider.  We may try many things, but one thing is almost certain.

In ten years, our church will be very different.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Surgery and Recovery

The deed is done. 

    A little over two weeks ago I received my new cochlear implant.  I had hoped to post sooner, but mine was not, apparently, a model recovery.  While it was expected that I would be off work for one week, it turned out to be a bit more than that, and while the dizziness and nausea was supposed to pass in two or three days, mine lasted considerably longer.  In any case, I am now back to work and gradually getting back up to speed. 

    As I recovered, I took a few notes in case others are interested in comparing their own recovery.  I don’t suppose that many people will be interested, but my purpose in writing is so that those facing implant surgery might be realistic and not envision their recovery with rose colored glasses.

    The surgery it self was easy.  I slept through it.  Afterward, I felt fine but was likely still under the influence of anesthetics and several pain killers as well as anti-nausea drugs.  Once home, I slept most of the day.  From my, now deaf left ear, I heard noises.  I had read that I might experience ringing in my ears so I was curious what might happen.  I did hear some ringing but also something like distant boat horns.  Overnight I slept, but with a gigantic pressure bandage over my ear, along with the pain, I only slept about an hour at a time.

    On day two I slept a little less.  I heard ringing, but also a sound like wind in the trees before a thunderstorm.  If I looked down (a bad idea) I heard a single tone like your audiologist uses in the soundproof testing room.  My head hurt, but much of the discomfort came from wearing the pressure bandage.  It was sort of like how your foot feels when your hiking boots don’t fit.  As the meds from the previous day wore off my headache got worse.

    On Day three the compression bandage had finally come off, which was great, but I stopped writing things down.  Why?  I felt like poo.  I had been wrestling with post surgical pain, headaches, dizziness and nausea as expected, but also had a runny nose.  Initially, I assumed that it had something to do with the implant surgery, but my wife (Patti) reminded me that two of our kids had been sick the week before and I might have picked up a bug on top of everything else.  Regardless of the cause, aches and pains turned into a full blown, flat on my back, sick to my stomach, head-pounding migraine.  During this time, Patti reminded me that my post surgical instructions were to keep moving and that the more I moved the quicker my nausea would clear up.  The problem was that I felt too awful to do anything.

    By Sunday (Day 6) I stayed home from church but was well enough to get up, shower, get dressed and go to my daughter’s high school graduation and then out to dinner with the family.  It was a great day but I paid for it on Monday.  I don’t know if I overdid it or if whatever bug I had rebounded, but I woke up with a headache again.  After doing a few things in the morning, I ended up back in bed sick the rest of the day (headache, nausea, dizziness, etc.) and was again sick all night. 

    The good news is that Tuesday was better and by Wednesday I was back to work.  At work I was still a little wobbly (not quite dizzy, but not really steady on my feet either) and by Sunday I was in the pulpit preaching.  With hearing in only one ear I sounded weird to myself, but everyone assured me that they could hear and understand me just fine. 

    The oddest thing was the new sound that I hear in my left ear.  Have you ever listened as you dragged a drinking straw in and out of a cup with a lid at a fast food restaurant?  In one direction it squeaks, and in the other it makes a weird kind of ‘hoot’ sound.  For days, whenever I walked, with each footstep, I heard that ‘hoot’ sound.  Hoot, hoot, hoot, everywhere I went.  Weird.  Today, this has mostly stopped but I still hear it occasionally and while I continue to improve, I am still fighting daily headaches and just a bit of occasional dizziness.

    Perhaps this isn’t exactly a textbook recovery, but that’s usually the kind of luck I seem to have.

    I went in for my post surgical follow-up a few days ago and the doctor said that everything looks really good.  He will see me again for my activation in three weeks. 

Stay tuned, I guess.


Earlier posts about my hearing adventure:

T-minus Two Weeks and Counting                    May 5, 2014
Cyborg Adventure: Realistic Expectations         April 15, 2014
Managing Expectations                                     March 24, 2014
A New Cyborg Adventure                               March 12, 2014
Reflections on Going Deaf                                June 30, 2011

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