June 09, 2014

When Adam Hamilton spoke to young clergy from the Missouri Conference, he didn’t start by painting a rosy picture. Instead he went over some of the grim statistics of decline in the United Methodist Church. He said to chose to be a Methodist pastor at this point, either you must be someone with no other options, you’re interested in providing hospice care for a dying church or you believe you can be someone who turns things around.

“If you think you can just ‘mind the store’ and be a pastor while ignoring the trends, this isn’t for you,” he said. “You’re going either be an EMT or providing hospice care.”

The meeting at the Church of the Resurrection Leawood, Kansas, campus was for present and future clergy under the age of 40, and was attended by 40 people. Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase and all of the Missouri Conference directors also participated. It was organized by Director of Pastoral Excellence Karen Hayden.

Hamilton told those gathered that ultimately the future of the United Methodist Church would rest largely with them.

“The key to the future of the church is leadership. The people aren’t going to the promised land without Moses,” he said “Remind them that Jesus is calling the church to take the hard road.”

Hamilton shared a few key turning points in growth at Church of the Resurrection that could have gone the wrong way. The first was when the church outgrew its original funeral home meeting space and was looking for a new home. One option was a nearby church for sale. It was a “real” church in it classic sense, and even had stained glass windows. People in the congregation were excited about having a home, and becoming a real, legitimate, brick and mortar church. And the seating capacity would expand from 100 to 160.

The second option was using a local school. They would have to get there early to set up, and stay late after church to take everything back down. They still wouldn’t have a building they could point to and say, “That’s my church.” But it would seat 300.

“Like everyone else, I was excited about getting a real church,” Hamilton said. “But it came down to what I call discernment by nausea – the path that makes me sick to my stomach is almost always the one God want me to take. But that night I prayed about it, and got that nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I knew we would have to go for the school.”

Hamilton believes if they had gone for the church, they would probably still be there with a congregation of 300 people. Instead later they were shopping for land. A consultant working for the district found a nice 3.5 acre property that they could build on. Hamilton said he didn’t think it was big enough. The consultant told him that might be true in Texas, but people don’t grow big churches in the Midwest. That advice was ignored, and the church ended up buying 40 acres at $20,000 per acre.

As they were dealing with debt, the church decided it would sell 20 of the 40 acres on the backside for $17,000 per acre. A few years later the church ended up buying it back for $72,000 an acre. “Selling that property was the biggest mistake we ever made,” Hamilton said.

During the capital campaign to build the Wesley Chapel, Hamilton faced a personal challenge. He was already doing a full 10 percent tithe on his $29,000 salary, and had little money left over in his family of four to go much beyond that. But he knew a pastor should kick off a capital campaign with a public pledge. He figured he could cut out that once a week meal at McDonald’s that totaled $10, which over three years would make a $1,650 pledge. But then he remembered the Taurus, the car he’d been talking about trading in for several years. It was getting rusty and worn, but was still reliable. And it was paid for. He could get a few more years out of it and put the car payment toward the church. Keeping the old car meant he could raise his pledge commitment to $10,000, so he did, and he let people know.

“The average commitment we got from that campaign was $10,000,” he said.

Church of the Resurrection just completed a capital campaign for a new $90 million addition. The campaign goal was $60 million, they received commitments for $63 million.

After Hamilton addressed the group, they all participated in staff chapel service at Church of the Resurrection. Following the service Bishop Schnase spoke to the young clergy, explaining how the Conference is focused on supporting clergy under the age of 40 in various ministry settings.

“The size of this group is growing, and that is good,” he said.

He stressed the importance of being connected, and shared how Conference staff are working on Compass, the next step in voluntary peer learning.

“Research has shown that clergy learn best from other clergy. That is more true for our profession than most others,” Bishop Schnase said. “Even the worst peer learning group tends to have a greater impact than the best seminar.”

The appointment process has been amicable to young clergy, with several young clergy serving in large church appointments. It is also reflected in Conference staffing, as three of the five directors in the Missouri Conference are considerably younger that the average clergy person, or average United Methodists.

“We want everyone here to always feel like there is a number you can call, no matter what the issue is,” Bishop Schnase said.

But in addition to Conference support, Bishop Schnase urged those present to seek support from each other, and from their older clergy colleagues.

“Connect in any way that works for you,” he said. “I have always intentionally connected with other clergy, and I need that in a fundamental way.”