What can we do about this? One step is to work with greater focus and energy and priority with our Christian education and youth ministries.
Second, we clergy need to think about how we were called to ministry.
Personally, the seed was planted when I was 12 years old and Vincent Crane, pastor at our Congregational Church in Forest Grove, Ore., took me aside at the end of a church camp and said, "Mark, I believe you will make a wonderful pastor someday. To encourage that possibility, please take this with you." He then handed me a silver pocket cross.
Less than a year later, struggling within over whether or not God really was and could be, I visited with my home pastor, Kenneth Biel, at Zion Congregational Church in Portland, Ore. I don't remember what Ken said. What I do remember is the entire time he carried a newborn baby in his arms and walked back and forth showing great care for that infant. I felt even more caring in his listening to me, not giving me pat theological answers. He simply cared with his presence, a marvelous gift.
Shortly after that I decided to enter the ministry, at about 15 years of age.
Where does this lead? Where I began. There are too few pastors in our denomination under 35! What can we do about it? That's my third point. We should look for youth in our churches whom we believe should consider ministry and help them go in that direction.
All of us need to give time and energy and priority to sharing in God's call to our youth to consider ministry, by offering them the same possibility that Parson Crane offered the slightly built, left-handed, 12-year-old boy 48 years ago.
The Rev. Mark Henry Miller is Conference Minister of the UCC's South Central Conference.