National Coalition of Young Adult African-American Pastors Begins Visionary Planning

Jun 11, 2003 11:34 AM EDT

The National Coalition of Young Adult African-American Pastors, formally launched in March, began plans to promote Christian conferencing among black pastors under age 41 in an effort to combat potential shortage of black pastors in the United Methodist Church.

"The National Coalition of Young Adult African American Pastors could end up being a profound blessing to the church," said the Rev. Vance Ross, chairman of the design team for the Convocation for Pastors of African American Churches and pastor of First United Methodist Church in Hyattsville, Md. "The denomination is lacking in major numbers young adults in its membership and that problem is becoming an epidemic in the African American, African and Caribbean sector."

The coalition’s main mission is to assist black pastors in the denomination who often face the frustrations and obstacles of ministry alone; new pastors will be matched with experienced “mentors” who could provide “life coaching” for the future clergy.

"[The Coalition] seeks to be a support vehicle for young adult African-American clergy in a structure that is not exactly advantageous and that does not see their full talent," said the Rev. Troy Benton, the coalition’s visionary leader.

"There is no place in this system where people who fit our dynamic can go and share," he said. "The coalition represents the potential for the life or death of pastoral ministry among African Americans in the United Methodist Church, and we have not had one system or group that specifically speaks to our needs."

Initially, the coalition was formed in response to the "plight of African-American leadership in the United Methodist Church." According to Benton, in the next five to 10 years, 20 percent to 30 percent of African American clergy in the denomination will retire from active ministry. In addition, the number of African Americans entering seminary is steadily decreasing.

"We know this from trying to recruit people from our churches to enter ministry," Benton said. "There is this gap of leadership that will hit the black church. Wanting to be the people who live out the call faithfully to serve and be servants, we talked about how it could be done in light of the particular economic, social, political and religious realities that face us as young adult African-American clergy." The denomination has a little more than 500 young adult African-American pastors, he said.

After extensive research, the coalition found the largest age group of African-American clergy to be between 49 and 53; those pastors will retire in the next 10 years. The following average mean group is about 29 years old.

"This means that if we do not get the ball rolling right now, in 10 to 12 years, we will not be anywhere to be found," said Benton.

Ross said an organization such as the coalition is essential if the church is going to attract and maintain young people for a changing world. And, he asked, what better way to attract them than by having those of their age group teaching and leading in the pulpit?

"Our viability before young people will assume that we take seriously the leaders who are of that age. Seeing them gathered and knowing that they are appreciated and valued and have a place in the denomination means that the church in general, and older clergy and laity in particular, will listen to what they say and have to act on what they discuss," Ross said.

Though the coalition is an independent organization with no official ties to any group in the UMC, it was founded under the banner of the biennial Convocation for Pastors of African American Churches. The coalition will use leadership networks and groups, as well as national and regional events, to assist clergy in reaching their maximum potential. Funding for the group will come through dues and registration fees, along with contributions from annual conferences.

The group was launched with support from three annual conferences and churches across the United States. It is partnering with the Pacific Northwest Conference in the planning of a new church start and is receiving financial support through the Detroit Conference.

The coalition also hopes to serve as a clearinghouse in responding to calls for positions, congregations or ministries seeking effective people, Benton said.

"We want to be a resource for the United Methodist Church (and) be a vehicle to assist the denomination in pushing towards excellence in African-American young adult leadership."

The group also wants a voice in the church’s visioning process. Benton explained that the coalition’s emphasis on "continual transformation thinking" represents a change in emphasis from disciplining and maintenance to regarding evangelism as the church’s primary task. The church, he said, must address the question: "How do we make things more relevant for the seeker who is yet to even come?"

By Pauline J.