A More Beautiful Pipeline

 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” John 6:9

HH was told in the fourth grade by a pastor that he has gifts for ministry. Unfortunately, when I was in the fourth grade, it never would have occurred to my pastor or any pastor to identify my gifts as a sign that I might be called into professional ministry. (The first woman I ever saw in a pulpit was in seminary in 1980.)

Pipelines are generally not beautiful. They mar scenic vistas and often trespass – albeit “legally” – on holy land. I don’t know much about transporting oil but this post is about human pipelines. Human pipelines are quite beautiful.

It used to be true that most African American Presbyterian Pastors – in my part of the world – came through the ordination process via the Johnson C. Smith Seminary. JCS no longer graduates students with Masters of Divinity degrees.

It used to be true that the college to seminary pipeline – in my part of the world – stretched from Davidson College in North Carolina to Union Seminary in Virginia. This was the expected road map for White Male Pastors in the Southeast.

It used to be true that most of our seminary graduates – much less – new pastors – never included humans who were non-binary, queer, or non-White. Today we need everybody God calls to transform the Church for good in the name of Jesus Christ. But the pipeline has diminished to a trickle. It’s certainly not clogged. It’s a little dry.

There are gifted leaders in the pipeline to be sure. And yet many (most?) of those in seminary do not plan to seek ordination to parish ministry. They are pondering calls to chaplaincy positions or other validated ministries in interesting places near coffee shops. (Note: I’m writing this while serving in an interesting ministry in a coffee shop.)

We need to work on our congregational-leader-to-pastor pipeline. Here are some of the cracks in that pipeline:

  • Churches are slow to call pastors who don’t look or sound like every other pastor they’ve ever had in the past.
  • People are graduating from seminary with clear ideas about what they don’t want to do (i.e. serve in rural areas, serve in small congregations, serve in churches unlike the congregations where they grew up) which might be in conflict with what the Spirit is preparing them to do.
  • Churches are afraid to tell the truth about who they are to pastoral candidates (“We love each other but we also drive each other a little crazy when we discuss worship preferences.” “COVID was hard for us and too many have not returned to active participation.” “Our last pastor stayed a little too long and we are in a time of figuring out who God is calling us to be.“)
  • Churches want a full-time pastor but can’t afford one yet they expect their part-time pastor to serve them and only them full-time, which 1) prevents a pastor from serving a second congregation so that a liveable income is possible and 2) prevents rich partnerships between congregations who are geographically near each other and could share that pastor.
  • Pastors and other leaders have stopped telling young leaders that God might be calling them to serve in the Church. It’s possible that young liturgists, high school leaders, preschoolers who clearly love Bible stories, and that kid in Confirmation who wasn’t ready to join the church at age 13 but their questions led to a deeper commitment to Jesus at the age of 17 – are meant to be in the pipeline. It’s possible that we are the ones to plant seeds.

There are all kinds of people in and outside of the Church at this moment whom God is preparing to serve in unexpected ways. It’s fun to look out for those people and wonder, along with them, “could God be calling you to serve in a particular way in professional ministry?”

2 responses to “A More Beautiful Pipeline

  1. Indeed, and while we’re at this, maybe get into that pipeline more people who will become CLPs (or whatever we’re calling these folks these days), and part-time pastors with day jobs, and more well-theologically-educated layfolk who can serve on the “pastoral committee” …


  2. Is there a way to simply email you with a question?

    Rev. CathyAnn Plumer pastor.cathyann@gmail.com


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