A Letter to a Seasoned Pastor

Dear Seasoned Senior Pastor or District Superintendent,

I have a few words that I’d like to share with you about your recent seminary grad, a Millennial, that you are welcoming to your church staff or district this summer. In my world of clergy recruitment and development, we call these pastors “spotted owls.” I’ve directed a young clergy leadership program for the last three years (and worked with college students for 12 years before that) and while I am not a Millennial (definitely an Xer here), I have worked with them since the first among their ranks went to college. I’ve learned a few things that I think might be helpful for you as you navigate life with a new young colleague in ministry.

But first, a word of caution. None of us like to be generalized or painted with broad strokes. Don’t do it. At the same time, recognize that there are some particularities to the current way that seminaries are forming pastors. That said, here are a few things I think my Millennial friends would say to their senior pastor, church, or District Superintendent if they could:

1. I really want to learn from you.

I hope that you want to learn something from me, too. On that note, I actually feel pretty good about my ability to teach you a thing or two. Seminary was formative and robust and frankly, fun! Yeah, I was stressed and overextended from working in a ministry setting, reading thousands (or at least dozens) of pages each week and writing words that were supposed to make sense, even. (So. Many. Words.) But it was great and I miss it. Not all the words, but I do miss the people and the way that we learned together…professors, supervising pastors, fellow students from around the world. All of us. Now I’m looking for some guidance in developing my practical skills and I want you and me (and the church, even) to keep learning together from one another.

2. Don’t judge me for my “unprofessionalism”

(I use your word, not mine.) Don’t judge me for my shorts at the Administrative Council meeting or my tattoo, or the fact that I use creative punctuation, parenthetical statements, dangling prepositions, hashtags and emojis (😊 fist bump emoji). I do not lack commitment. If I’ve come this far in the ordination process, I’m committed. Also, I may not always work from my church office. I’ll be as available as is appropriate, but I might keep regular office hours at a coffee shop or community center. I want to learn how to be a professional that is authentic to me, so that others in the church are empowered to be their authentic selves as well.

3. I really love the church and I think that Jesus is a revolutionary.

He revolutionizes hearts and minds and disrupts the status quo. I really want to be like him. I’ll try to be gentle about it, though my “enthusiasm” might come across more “unfiltered” than you’re used to. Please be gentle with me, too.

4. Self-care is super important and I’ll make time for it.

My professors pounded this into me and honestly, I’ve seen the high price that people that I respect have paid for not taking care of themselves. I’m in this for the long haul and I have hobbies and passions. By the way, what passions or hobbies do you have? I love seeing people who can have a conversation about things they’re passionate about.

5. Don’t assume.

Don’t assume that because I’m a young adult that I want to do ministry with young adults, or technology, or that I will save the church from decline because I’m young. I may also not have ever been burned by the church, but some of my friends have experienced that. In other words, check your assumptions at the door. I will, too.

I have confidence that you will love your Millennial pastor. And they will love you, as soon as you stop calling them your “Millennial” pastor. Enjoy the gifts that they bring. Open up a conversation (maybe using this article). You and your church will be more like Jesus because of it.

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Rev. Ashlee Alley is the Clergy Recruitment and Development Coordinator for the Great Plains UMC. She works with people as they are discerning a call to ministry and helps them through the credentialing process in the United Methodist Church. She also directs a young clergy leadership program. Originally from the Wichita area, for the last three years calls Lincoln, NE home. Prior to her current ministry position, she served for 12 years in Campus Ministry, the last nine at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas. Ashlee loves learning (and sharing) about leadership and service in the world and makes lots of time for running, traveling, and connecting with family and friends.

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