In a few days, over 100 young clergy, most who serve in the Nazarene denomination, will meet together in Oklahoma City for the first Young Clergy Conference. Organized by Brit Bolerjack and Jason Smith, this conference will create a space for young clergy from across the US and Canada to gather and have a seat at the table. This conference is just the beginning.
Thanks to both Brit and Jason for taking a few minutes out of a busy week, as they prepare for the conference, to share the story behind the Young Clergy Conference and their plans for the future of both the conference and a larger umbrella ministry, Young Clergy Network.
What inspired you to plan the Young Clergy Conference?
Jason: A few years ago I was invited to participate in a gathering of about 80 pastors, educators, and District Superintendents from the Church of the Nazarene in the US and Canada. I was one of the youngest people in the room and the only pastor who was not a Senior Pastor. I could not believe I had a seat at that table! One of the older pastors in the group challenged us to return home and recreate the spirit of those meetings in our own local contexts. Looking back at all that so many pastors had done for me, I felt like there was something I should do for pastors who were coming up behind me. I felt called by God at that moment to create a local gathering of young Nazarene pastors in Oklahoma.
Over the years, in various roles I have been privileged to fill, I have watched many of my favorite young people who once felt a call of God on their life leave the Church of the Nazarene, ministry, and sometimes even faith itself. Each time, I have felt a sting of pain and loss. Could I have done something more to make an impact on these young pastors? Could I have encouraged these individuals in their relationship with God and their call to ministry? It was these questions that led Brit Bolerjack and me to host conferences for young clergy throughout Oklahoma as a way to serve God, young pastors, and the Church of the Nazarene.
We call these conferences Young Ministers in Conversation and have nicknamed them the Gathering. Brit and I are on staff together at OKC First Church, and when she heard me talking about this dream, she said, “I love it. Let’s do it.” Since that moment, we’ve been a team (along with her husband, Aaron, who does anything and everything to make things happen during the events). We host the Gathering events three times a year and have built our times together around the core values of conversation, encouragement, prayer, and education. They have been remarkable! We’ve been given meaningful feedback from pastors who come from across the three districts in the state of Oklahoma. Here’s an example of what a pastor said about the Gathering:
“I’m not the only young pastor in the world, as it seems at times. I’m not the only one who sees the world the way I do or teaches the way I teach. The things that are important to me are important to other Nazarenes my age. [The Gathering] is a place where conversations can take place between human beings and not social media profiles. It’s a place to build meaningful relationships instead of simply maintaining shallow online ‘friendships.’”
It was that sort of feedback that led Brit to say, “Why don’t we offer this sort of opportunity to young Nazarene clergy across the US and Canada?” We received a grant to bring in Fr. Richard Rohr, and the rest is history.
What has been the response to the conference?
Brit: The response has been overwhelmingly positive! For every person who has signed up, one or two more have told me they are sad to miss it and plan to come next year. Several more experienced pastors have reached out to say they’re glad we’re doing this for the young clergy. So many people wanted to help out as volunteers that we had to close down volunteer registration at 25 people.
What’s next? What do you see for the future, both for the conference and for young clergy?
Brit: Our goal is to have a Young Clergy Conference nearly every year: we’ve already started planning the next one for March 4-6, 2018! At this year’s conference, we are launching our umbrella ministry, Young Clergy Network. Through the website, youngclergy.net, we hope to listen to, collaborate with, and empower young pastors to make safe spaces in their own local contexts. Even though we are calling it Young Clergy Network, the real network is all of you—everyone who believes in young clergy is a part of this movement. We hope to resource others to listen to pastors near them, offer to mentor, or even just coordinate meetups and connect.
Anyone can join the YCN website (for free!) to stay in the loop on young clergy news and initiatives—we will even be releasing videos from the conference there. We’re launching Young Clergy Network as a ministry of OKC First Church to the wider denomination, which will run the conferences, produce This Nazarene Life podcast, as well as offer various digital resources online at youngclergy.net. It’s the culmination of our hard work and a free resource to anyone hoping to get involved—go check it out!
Beyond the conference and the podcast, we at Young Clergy Network are already planning two Young Clergy Meetups at General Assembly in Indianapolis this summer. Join the network to stay in the loop on all the plans! It’s our hope that young pastors across the denomination will start planning young clergy meetups in their own neck of the woods. Not everyone can come to a single US-based event, so supporting grassroots collaboration is important to us. It’s our hope and prayer that God will use these efforts to encourage and inspire young pastors as they do the work of the kingdom.
Brit Bolerjack is the College and Community Pastor and the Director of Young Clergy Network at Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene.
Jason Smith is the Associate Pastor at Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene, where he has served for over 15 years. He’s also Co-Director of Young Clergy Network.