There is much talk about the “need” for Annual Conferences to elect younger persons as delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences. I’ve heard some arguments for making a specfic effort to elect a clergy person who is under age 40, or perhaps under age 45. To be clear, I take very seriously the Lewis Center for Church Leadership report by Lovett Weems from last spring regarding the dramatic decline in younger clergy (their focus was on Elders under age 35). And I do think that inclusion of younger clergy leadership is critical for the church. But I’m not certain that voting for General Conference delegates simply according to age demographic is the best way of addressing that concern.
I would appreciate the opportunity to serve as a delegate, but not merely because I’m “younger clergy.” And, though the politics associated with these elections might testify to the contrary at times, I don’t view this as something that any of us “runs for.” This is about discerning who among us we would task with the work of the General Conference. As such, all persons eligible should be considered unless they have reason to remove themselves from consideration.
So, without further delay, here is why I may vote for a younger clergyperson for delegate, but not because they are younger:
1. We are not electing representatives, we are selecting delegates. A representative’s work is in representing the needs, concerns, opinions, etc. of group from which they are sent. A representative approach assumes that the makeup of the body that does the electing and sending of persons should be approximated in the makeup of the group of persons who are elected and sent. But we are not electing representatives, we are selecting delegates. A delegate is a person who is tasked with discerning and making decisions on behalf of the body that selects and sends them. This is a critical distinction, in my mind. Certainly, we do well not to ignore how the delegations is more or less representative of the whole. But, the delegation need not be representative to the Nth degree of it’s sending body. The main thing is selecting people who will serve well and faithfully lead the church.
2. “Younger clergy” are not a monolith. If only it were as simple as electing someone with a certain age range and knowing that the future direction of the church is now in good hands since a younger voice is included. But this is not the case. Younger clergy are all over the spectrum on the issues and concerns of the church today. This brings me to my final point…
3. Related to the first two, and building in particular on number 2, I have value priorities that are higher and more substantial than selecting someone in my age range as a General Conference delegate. Those priorities are: (a) Where someone is on doctrine, on the moral/ethical teaching of the church, and on missional priorities and methodology, and (b) What are someone’s leadership abilities. Put another way, (a) Am I good with the direction someone wants to see us go? and (b) Do I think they can be a part of taking us in that direction? If someone doesn’t pass those two filters for me, I’m not voting for them regardless of what demographic they fall within.
For me, I’m looking for those 2 qualities first, then looking within that subset to see what possibilities exist for having a group that aligns in some measure representatively with the Annual Conference.