I have spent the last four days in Peoria, Illinois at "Annual Conference," the place where the bureaucratic region of United Methodist pastors and church representatives come together for worship, fellowship and business.
The highlight for me was the Ordination Service this morning. Since I was ordained an Elder last year, I got to be one of the Elders that lay hands on my friend Steve whe the Bishop ordained him today. Other than that, it is always great to see other clergy brothers and sisters.
The most depressing thing was learning from a friend of mine that the Conference that I serve in, the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, has lost more members in the last 30 years than any other conference in the world! Since 1974, we've declined by 40%.
This is not a statistic that is told young people (or older people) when they are considering pursuing a career in full-time ministry here. The way this is played out in local congregations is that there are very few congregations that a pastor might be appointed to serve that are not struggling. Almost all of the congregations in our conference are declining. This means that pastors are put in the position where they are expected to "save" dying congregations. This usually means trying to convince a congregation to passionately pursue a radical approach to ministry that they don't already want to pursue. If they did, they wouldn't be in decline!
Needless to say, seminaries don't train pastors to be this kind of catalytic leader. Needless to say, most pastors who get ordained don't have the skillset for this kind of ministry.
A friend of mine who is also an associate pastor told me that his senior pastor doesn't even believe that there will be a United Methodist denominatin in 20 years.
I just don't know what to think.