Harkening to connections across fearful generations

IN AN EARLIER COLUMN (4/10/11) I pointed out our denomination’s shocking lack of available pastoral calls, in comparison to the large numbers of pastors seeking calls. The column’s conclusion was a series of encouragements for entrepreneurial strategies to address the call shortage.

Unexpectedly, my column received a satirical response, published in the Outlook’s letters to the editor several issues later. Written from the perspective of a Southern pastor nearing retirement, it expressed abhorrence for “entrepreneurial ministry” paradigms sought by younger pastors. After the letter was added to the Outlook’s website, the online forum provided space for further responses. They included in-depth comments from the satirical letter’s author, who vulnerably asked for “some effort to help older ministers with virtually no options to deal with burnout, bitterness, and despair.”

Though the above is only a small exchange among PC(USA) pastors, it provides a window into generational challenges we face when confronted by our gap of limited employment opportunities. Many of us in the PC(USA) are surely scared as we rumble toward declining numbers. However, what might it be like for us to be better skilled at listening in church forums to the feelings and needs that underlie what is said in our policy proposals?

How might I, a younger entrepreneurial pastor, respond to those who want a reduction in the number of ministers eligible for PC(USA) positions (a strategy opposite my impulse for increasing new PC(USA)-validated positions)?


Hello beloved and seasoned Teaching Elders, Are you scared too?

As I seek a professional future within PC(USA), I am tempted with whispers of fear. At times I become discouraged when daydreaming leads to visions of serving in calls so toxic I leave ordained service altogether. Far more often I am simply fearful that all my experience, connections and skills are still not enough to be hired on to any church’s pastoral staff. And it can seem hopeless to even hope for a call that is truly a life-giving fit.

For you, perhaps such circumstances have already become a reality. Difficult calls that you, or close colleagues, have lived all the way through to the other side of a new acceptable equilibrium. I wonder how you managed to do so?

With only five years of ordained service behind me, my seminary days are closer in the rear-view mirror than the future of honorable retirement. I’ll admit that, at this stage of life, my financial worries are not about how my retirement will be funded. But I wonder if this keeps you up at night? Are you frustrated with wading through the uncertainties of economic shifts and unimaginable expenses for an unknown number of years? Would it be reassuring to know you could have ministry-related employment for as long as you would like to earn an income?

So before we rush to witty defenses of strategies for ensuring employment (or any other church policy that provokes disagreement), I long to pause in affirmation of one another’s core needs. To affirm dreams for purposeful work that contributes to the spiritual well-being of others. To honor the desire for material well-being. And to acknowledge our fears that block compassionate connection.

We’re all in Christ’s body together!

With prayer,

Rev. Karen

KAREN SLOAN serves at Formation House,, and can be reached at