The Rev. Timothy Cargal, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Stated Clerk for Preparation for Ministry in Mid Council Ministries of the Office of the General Assembly.
“... the Land that I Will Show You” is the blog of the Office of Preparation for Ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This blog is designed to serve as a resource for those discerning and preparing for a call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament as ordained teaching elders of the church. It will also provide a place for reflecting on and dialoging about the changing context of pastoral ministry in the early 21st century.
For quick announcements about changes or developments in the preparation process, dates related to exams or other key events, discussion boards, surveys, etc., you can follow us on Facebook at “Preparing for Presbyterian Ministry.”
As a new year approaches, it is customary to look back as we also look toward the future. It is in that spirit that I share in this post some statistics I compiled recently looking at trends among current teaching elders and those in the process of preparation for ministry.
First, a brief description of the overall context. There are currently just over 21,000 teaching elders in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and about 2,300 inquirers and candidates, for a ratio of roughly 1 person in preparation for every 9 current teaching elders. However, 37% of current teaching elders have “retired” status; thus, the ratio of those in preparation to those who are currently “active” is about 1 for every 5. Of course, a good number of those in the discernment and preparation process will conclude that their call to ministry is in areas of service other than as teaching elders (about half of those under care are still inquirers). But it is also true that a good number of the roughly 13,000 “active” teaching elders are “at large” members of their presbyteries, not currently serving in either pastoral or validated specialized ministries.
The most significant thing I have found in looking at patterns among teaching elders and those under care is a clear trend toward more diversity among teaching elders.
Currently, there are 3 men for every woman among teaching elders (75% to 25%, respectively), but among those who are “active” it is 2 men for every woman (67% to 33%). The move toward higher proportions of women will certainly continue. They already represent higher proportions within younger age groupings (those in their 30s and 40s) as compared to older ages (50s and 60s). Among those under care there is majority of women: 29% of all those under care are female candidates, compared to 23% who are male candidates. Inquirers are evenly split between women and men (24% each of all those under care).
Increasing diversity is true among racial-ethnic groups as well. The percentage of all teaching elders who are Asian, Black or Hispanic is a percentage point higher for “active” as compared to “retired,” and higher still among inquirers and candidates. Thus, Asians comprise 6% of all current teaching elders, but 7% of those who are “active” and 11% of those under care. For African Americans the figures are 3%, 4% and 8%, respectively, and for Hispanics 2%, 3% and 3%.
The proportion of women teaching elders within racial-ethnic groups varies considerably.
Personally, I draw two conclusions as I look toward the future in light of these trends—which, when taken together, can be reasons for hope. First, while the ratios between active teaching elders and those who are under care do not suggest all those in preparation will have newly created vacancies in current positions waiting for them, the fact is that we are in a place where we have a growing need for more people to begin new ministries in new contexts. Second, the increasing diversity among those discerning a call to ministry of Word and Sacrament is precisely what is required to bring the gospel to an increasingly diverse culture. If those currently under care perceive their call is to beginning new ministries, the opportunities for them to utilize their gifts will be there.
What do you see as you look to the possibilities for ministry in the coming new year and the years beyond?