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Hamilton to young clergy: Go forth and multiply

Hamilton to young clergy: Go forth and multiply

TAMPA – Rev. Adam Hamilton is known as a visionary, but the view he took today in a small worship space on the Hyde Park UMC campus might have puzzled most onlookers.

"We're talking about 5,000 churches coming out of this room right here," he told about 30 young clergy from across the South, as well as Arizona and Pennsylvania. The group was invited to share coffee, pastries and shoptalk with the leader of The United Methodist Church's largest congregation, Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., on the last day of Large Church Initiative 2013 at Hyde Park. 

Adam Hamilton talks to a young clergy member at Hyde Park's LCI 2013
Rev. Adam Hamilton, left, chats with a young clergy member invited to an informal breakfast get-together at the Large Church Initiative being staged at Hyde Park UMC. Photo by Susan Green.

While others focus on the gloomy statistics of churches closing and clergy openings shrinking – and Hamilton doesn't sugarcoat that reality – he looks at clergy retirement trends and predicts a shortage in church leadership a couple of generations away.

"The real opportunity here is for people who are now in the sixth grade," Hamilton told listeners. "You are the recruitment arm. … The most important work you do may be to find five young people to mentor. … I can't emphasize enough how important that is."

Hamilton said if every member of the group identified and cultivated five youths who were passionate about their faith and the future of the church, and those youths went on to train and become ministers and recruit, there would be enough pastors to lead 5,000 churches.

He noted that some seminaries are looking ahead and making plans to reduce the number of hours needed for a divinity degree from 90 to 79, so that students can realistically complete the work in three years. Hamilton has been serving on the board of St. Paul School of Theology, which plans to move this fall from nearby Kansas City, Mo., to the Resurrection campus and work in partnership with the church.

Before he developed Resurrection, Hamilton was an associate pastor for two years. Even as a young seminary graduate, he said, his passion was revitalizing The United Methodist Church. He said he took his district superintendent out to lunch several times and reminded him of his dream of leading either an inner city church in Kansas City, Mo., or starting a new church on the city's south side where he grew up.

Eventually, he received the green light to start a church, though there was no money for worship space. He ended up starting the Church of the Resurrection in a funeral home with only a few initial attendees.

Today Resurrection has about 16,000 members and an average weekly attendance of more than 8,000. But Hamilton said that's not the goal young clergy should aspire to.

"The goal is effective leadership," Hamilton said. "The goal has to be, 'I really want to see people become committed to Christ.'"

He reflected on some of the qualities clergy must have to lead, including modeling mission involvement, tithing and other good works that parishioners are asked to do.

He also advised against pitfalls, recalling two young clergy who shared a passion for their church work and allowed it to blossom into a relationship that ended up destroying one family and career and severely damaging another.  

"Most of what happened at Resurrection hasn't happened without some measure of jumping in when people said it couldn't be done."

"You would be a remarkable person to never have feelings for another person besides your spouse," Hamilton cautioned. "The question is what do you do about it?"

Church leaders in particular might be more vulnerable to those kinds of temptations, he added.

"The fact that you represent God makes you more attractive than you are," he said, drawing laughter from the crowd. "I'm just saying, 'Don't blow it.'"

Listeners were invited to ask questions after Hamilton's presentation. Some asked how they can pursue their leadership dreams without being perceived as trying to make their own appointments.

Hamilton suggested developing "people skills" and learning the art of gentle persistence.

"Don't wait around and hope somebody figures out what you want to do," he said. He suggested that young pastors train some lay members to help with tasks like routine calls to parishioners in the hospital, thus freeing up some time for innovation.

"Most of what happened at Resurrection hasn't happened without some measure of jumping in when people said it couldn't be done," Hamilton said. "You're young enough to not know any better."

-- Susan Green is the editor of Florida Conference Connection.