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November 05, 2010
Do We Really Need People Preparing for Ministry?
A Presbyterian recently told me there are 2,000 pastors looking for jobs in her denomination and 500 openings in congregations. I had heard this from another Presbyterian not too long before and have heard similar clergy-to jobs ratio from other denominations as well. The obvious next question: Do mainline churches need more people preparing for ministry?
Denominational leaders (including pension boards), sociologists, cultural observers, theological educators, congregational pastors and theologians are all working through this question from their particular contexts and with the tools of their disciplines. Their conclusions remain to be finalized.
At FTE, we say “yes.” We remain firm in our commitment to supporting diverse young people in becoming transformational leaders for the church. In FTE’s ongoing discernment of faithful stewardship, we are asking what kinds of leaders the church needs now and for the next ten to fifteen years.
But in the midst of drawing projections to contour big institutional and structural maps, I am grateful for the gift of All Souls Day that calls us to remember the departed in their personal particularity. Today I give witness to the life of Marshall Hampton, a particular saint of mine. Marshall’s life reminds me that despite structural considerations, institutional planning and predictions of supply and demand, God moves in the intimacy of the human heart to lead God’s servants where God needs them to be—into congregational ministry, out of church service, into the world, into new kinds of church communities—for the healing of the world. Calculations are indeed important for the wide distribution of resources, but let us not forget that in God’s economy nothing is wasted.
Marshall was one of those young people who went to seminary right out of college and began serving as a solo pastor right out of seminary. As a United Methodist, his appointments led him from rural East Texas to churches in “town” to a conference staff position to First United Methodist Church across the street from the Capitol in Austin. He served as a pastor for 22 years and then he left the itineracy of the Methodist Church—but he never stopped being in ministry.
At the age of 48, Marshall earned a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Texas and began a second 22-year career, this one as an educator in the Austin Independent School District, eventually serving as an elementary school principal. My favorite story of his about being a principal was the little boy who had been sent to Mr. Hampton’s office for causing some kind of problem. Marshall asked him what happened. The little boy was silent for a long time. Finally, Marshall asked, “Do you have something to say?” “Well, Mr. Hampton,” he said. “I’m just trying to think up the truth.”
I cannot think of anyone I would rather have in conversation with a child about the truth than Marshall Hampton—a person well-trained in theology and well-schooled in the human heart, a person who practiced love and leadership because that is who he was called to be. Marshall remained a faithful member and teacher at Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin all his life. In the late 1980s, he also helped birth a small house church called Koinoinia 21. K-21 was committed to, among other things, building no building; living and worshipping simply; reconciling with the earth and each other; loving people disenfranchised from the institution; being playful; and, in general, finding a new way to be the church in the 21st century.
Marshall was ahead of him time—changing fields when one career was the norm in the mid-1960’s; living into a different form of church before the emergent movement was even a twinkle in a Midwesterner boy’s eye. The church needed leaders like Marshall was all of his life. We need leaders like him now and for the future. I will keep looking for and encouraging them, even if I myself cannot see right now where and how they will spend their life’s ministry. Marshall Hampton is my witness to God’s faithfulness in shaping a life.
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