The executive committee of the Seven Stars Presbytery in Taiwan recently passed a motion to limit endorsement and financial aid to ministerial students under the age of 40. Approval for this motion by the entire presbytery will not be decided until January 24. If approved, this motion will be passed onto the General Assembly of Taiwan Presbyterians for more careful consideration at its annual meeting in late March.
The decision to pass this motion arose from grave concerns over the tendency for ministerial candidates to be retirees holding previous civil service and business careers. According to research, the average age for persons seeking endorsements from the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan to study for Master of Divinity has risen over the last decades. If such figures rise, sources say, there will be fewer ministers available from each graduating class, as most graduates would simply be unfit to serve extended periods of time due to age-related complications. Currently, various clergymen within the PCT have expressed concern that resources set aside for funding theological education have been spent for far too little return.
“We must support all sisters and brothers called to ministry, no matter what their age,” presbytery moderator Chang Chin-cheng said to Taiwan Church News. “But many [who] can study, taking credits as electives towards certificates without enrolling for the Master of Divinity degree.”
Reverend Chang, nonetheless, commented that older applicants do tend to have more life experiences as opposed to younger candidates, and expressed hopes that such persons would serve their churches with greater love. However, Reverend Chang pointed out, costs associated with funding the candidates’ entrance exam and enrollment places a huge burden on already limited resources. Reverend Chang concluded that though candidates may have support from home congregations, the costs outweigh the benefits. “If we are really concerned about the development of mission and ministry, we must ask and answer this question [realistically],” he concluded with TCN.
The presbytery’s general secretary Reverend Hsin-tao also voiced comments in an interview with TCN. He too agreed with Reverend Chang’s opinion concerning the matter. Reverend Hsin reportedly said, “The offer of one’s self for gospel ministry must take advantage of one’s youth.” He explained that ministerial training often involved 2-3 years worth of full time schooling followed by 2-3 years of internship with a local congregation. Many who graduate, Reverend Hsin says, are often only able to serve an additional one to two years before facing retirement.
Nonetheless, Reverend Hsin told TCN that older people, in fact, play an active role in the church activities today. He was quoted to say that older people have and continue to make great contributions, and that there is no limit to what they can do for their church. For example, Reverend Hsin commented, church work often lack teachers for Sunday school and chaperons for youth ministries – positions easily filled by older people whom have the level of maturity to perform such tasks.
He also insisted that the decision-makers at the presbytery and General Assembly level should give more careful consideration into this pressing matter.