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The Myths and Realities of Young Clergy Entitlement

Why do young clergy think they are so entitled?!

I mean, check out this kid, just who does he think he is? I bet it wasn’t even youth Sunday.

I don’t hear people complaining about how young clergy think they entitled, a lot, but I hear it enough. If I don’t hear that, I hear the opposite, about how young clergy are going to be the saviors of  the institutional church. Both of those things annoy me, greatly.

This blog has received some pushback because of it’s provocative title. More seasoned clergy believe the idea of electing a bishop in his/her thirties is simply par for the course of this “entitled” generation. Critics, though, miss the point. It’s not about electing a younger person for its own sake, it’s about not disqualifying someone because of their age. This blog is also about much more than one concept, it’s about thinking outside the box, blowing up the box, and getting rid of box analogies, all together, but I digress.

A recent article on the entitlement Generation Y and a NSFW rebuttal on how Millennials have been genuinely screwed by the economy, have been making the rounds over the past few days. Here’s the thing: both articles are partially right. There are a lot of young folks who just think success should be handed to them on a silver plater, and there are a lot of young folks who are fighting to maintain, even a basic living, following a global financial crisis.

Which brings me back to young UMC clergy.

Regardless of the criticism or expectations of young clergy, even with hard work, patience, and playing by the rules, the deck is stacked against young clergy as our denomination continues to fracture and is about to experience a massive wave of church closures and retirements.

What’s our way forward? Well, we can scream and yell about it or we can do something about it.

Sounds pretty awesome, right? Well, if you’re not quite ready to turn in your orders and go open that coffee shop you’ve always wanted to open (because you know, everything else will come with zero challenges and complete fairness), then here’s my unsolicited advice for young clergy  leaders and innovators:

Stop yelling at and stop trying to change the dead institution. It will not change. It doesn’t know how to change and it does not want to change. There are too many people who think they will lose whatever it is they are clinging on to, if it changes. Instead, be a part of a new life-giving and game changing movement, help create a future free of all the things you hate about the dead institution.

If you’re still reading, here’s the details of how to make that happen (also known as lessons Rob learned from countless failures):

  1. Avoid student loans and debt, as much as possible, if not all together. Don’t limit your opportunities and your mobility because your student loan payments are more than your mortgage payments.
  2. Never expect to get a raise. Yup it’s unfair, but in a scarcity minded system, the institution wants more work for less money. Remember how unfair you think this is when you’re in charge and are responsible for employees, then reward them when they do good work.
  3. Don’t look at the system as a corporate ladder. Sidestep the ladder altogether and be a disruptive innovator.
  4. Success speaks for itself. In an institution of mediocrity, the ability to rise above it is key.
  5. Success is hard work. Really hard work. It’s a slow burn and usually requires multiple failures.
  6. Never, ever, let failure stop you. Picking yourself up off the ground, hitting dead ends, getting sabotaged or undermined, and just flat out screwing up will make you stronger. Never give up. Always learn. Always adapt.
  7. Don’t expect anyone to pay for your “thing” because it’s awesome and they just should because, well, you’ll be sad if they don’t. Inspire people to support the vision and the work God has called you to do.
  8. Don’t be surprised when the institution tries to kill innovation (or change or anything new or different). Innovation challenges the status quo and if yours is perceived as not moving fast enough, or taking too many resources, or both, it may be in danger of being shut down. Communicate a strong vision and communicate success.
  9. When innovating, move as fast as you can (but don’t act out of desperation), maximize resources while you have them, and work on self-sustainability from day one. The clock is always ticking and the runway is always getting shorter.
  10. Build an unbreakable network of mentors, partners, and allies. You can’t do this on your own.
  11. Be supportive, offer resources, advice, and help whenever you’re asked by a colleague or partner in ministry. We’re better off working together and helping each other, no matter what.
  12. Fight injustice, hold others and the dead institution accountable (I forgot to mention that, yes, the institution already died, but it came back as a zombie, for one final stand), but keep innovating and keep building life-giving and inclusive community where you can.
  13. Create opportunities for and give opportunities to others who don’t have the same opportunities, privilege, and access you do. Kick down barriers for others every chance you get.
  14. Take care of yourself (spiritually, physically, and mentally) and your family, your ministry will be stronger for it. Your life will be better for it. I promise.

None of these are promises or guarantees of success, they’re the bare minimum of what it takes to accomplish the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The challenges are immense, but you’ve been called, you’ve been given a vision and a mission, and you have the passion and drive to live into what God has called you to do.

Your turn: Feel free to add to this list, in the comments, or criticize me for acting entitled or not entitled enough, or whatever.

This post originally appeared at Rethink Bishop.

About the author: Rob is the co-founder and current co-pastor of City Square Church, a new and innovative United Methodist faith community in downtown Phoenix. In his years of experience in spiritual formation and creating active and engaged communities, Rob has become an expert at connection and networking. He now uses these experiences, along with technology and social media, to bring others together around creative ideas and events that aim to inspire innovation and bold leadership.

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