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Rethinking Ministerial Ideals in Light of the Clergy Crisis

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The profile of American clergy is rapidly changing, especially when gauged in terms of their increasing age and the small number of young people who begin ministry in their twenties. This article contends that the problem of recruitment is the result of a destabilization of the profession that has occurred in recent decades and has called into question the value of the clergy's traditional skills and knowledge. Understanding the real root of the crisis explains the prevalence of ministerial ideals that instruct clergy, above all, to use their profound understanding of their own life experience to make their ministry meaningful to contemporary people. Such an approach has a number of shortcomings, not the least of which is that it has little to say about how those who lack life experience are to be qualified for ministry. Rather than appealing to life experience, it will be more fruitful to focus on the recovery of the clergy's confidence in the intellectual content of their profession and the intrinsic value of its fundamental practices.

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