Millennials in Leadership (article I wrote for The Episcopal Church Foundation Vestry Papers)
“Editor’s Note: Why is it important to place millennials in positions of leadership and decision-making in our church? We asked three millennial leaders to share the challenges of their generation and why we need more voices like theirs to strengthen and invigorate our church and future.
Let’s talk about millennial leadership within the Anglican Communion… Can you hear the crickets chirping? Right.
Whether you pull an “I know of one” or a “what about…” comment, people are simply not aware that millennial leaders are few and far between nor are they cognizant of the impact this has on the present and forthcoming Church. Churches love to recruit millennials to fill their youth ministry positions or to run their social media platforms. But when it comes to the senior positions — those that most likely require ordination — there is a black hole where the millennial generation is concerned.
For the last several years, conversations on this topic have largely swirled around the focal point of worship style. From praise bands to traditional liturgy, assumptions have been made about millennials, who are often blamed for our lack of participation within the wider church. But can we really, honestly, leave the conversation to just liturgical affinity? Perhaps there are global events that have deeply impacted the life of the millennial, affecting their representation in the pews. It’s quite possible that what has influenced this part of creation born between 1980 and 1996, has little to do with the worn-out “Drums vs. Pipe Organ” argument.
Several stumbling blocks both within and outside of the Anglican Communion could be contributing to the black hole of millennial leadership within our worship spaces.
Stumbling Block 1: 20th century ministry training in the 21st century
The training that a millennial would need to minister to other millennials is not what many mainline denominations offer currently. What they provide are 20th century expectations for aspirants to ministry, along with 20th century training methods. Let’s start with the training requirements, which expose the underlying expectations for the type of aspirant considered a good candidate for ministry.
The requirement of a classical seminary education, a topic that has been simmering in several denominations, is up for discussion. Most mainline denominations require a candidate for ministry to get a classical seminary education which, if pursued full-time, will take three to four years to complete. On top of that, ministry candidates must take on Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) training and pray that the program pays them for their time. This kind of training more or less assumes that the candidate is privileged, both economically and educationally, and has the resources to forego a fulltime job and cast numerous adult responsibilities onto others. And all while doing fieldwork that focuses on the sick and the dying and does nothing to prepare them for young movers and shakers.
Stumbling Block 2: Coming of age during economic uncertainty
Many millennials struggled to gain a career or enter the workforce during the Great Recession of 2007-2009. The Pew Research Center states,
While the Great Recession affected Americans broadly, it created a particularly challenging job market for millennials entering the workforce. The unemployment rate was especially high for America’s youngest adults in the years just after the recession, a reality that would impact millennials’ future earnings and wealth.
Consequently, the costs for training for holy orders — raising funds or occurring debt to pay for three to four years of seminary, earning a living for themselves and/or family, etc… — are daunting.
Given that these stumbling blocks probably won’t go away for a few more drawn-out church conventions, how can we, as the church, help foster millennial leadership for the second largest generation on earth, after the baby boomers?
God has the answer. Knowing this, we can be blunt and honest with ourselves, with the church and with the Lord about where we see pitfalls and where we see hope amongst the church militant for the coming age.”
The Rev. Nicole Foster is a Doctor of Ministry Candidate at Trinity School for Ministry, with the emphasis in preaching the Old Testament. She has a Master of Divinity from Redeemer Theological Seminary and a B.A. in History from Southern Methodist University. She serves on the board at Trinity Abbey in Houston, TX and teaches Old Testament for various organizations.