Age is just a number, and yet many pastors slow down after serving in professional ministry for 30+ years. We are tired . . . unless we find these 21st Century ministry shifts to be exciting and gratifying, and we are committed to un-learning much of what we learned in seminary back in the 1970s -1990s.
Even a 30 year old pastor can offer tired leadership and a 60+ year old pastor can offer energized leadership. It just depends. I’m talking about generalities here.
I wrote this post five years ago and unfortunately it hurt the feelings of some of my 60-something colleagues. Some called it an example of age-ism.
As you read today’s post you might accuse me of being unfair to pastors under 40. But here goes . . .
As I talk with leaders all over the country – mostly in my own denomination – I’m seeing an interesting trend: some congregations who have called “young pastors” have regretted it.
[Please note: This doesn’t mean that all young pastors are ineffective. It doesn’t mean that all churches you’ve called young pastor are dissatisfied. It means that congregations and the youngest generation of pastors often have different expectations for ministerial leadership.]
Over the past 10 years or so, most of the congregations I’ve worked with have sought out pastors in their 30s or early forties to be their solo pastor/senior pastor in hopes that a young leader will attract other young people with young kids. Here is what they have found (and again, these are generalizations):
- Parenting has changed just as much as congregations have changed. Younger generations of parents are less willing to sacrifice their families for their careers. They are seeking a little more balance, and this often conflicts with congregations who expect their pastors to be available every weekend and most nights.
- Younger pastors want to Get Things Done in a way that makes some congregations feel uncomfortable. Most denominational congregations have entrenched cultures that makes change difficult. It takes a long time – sometimes a decade – to build trust and relationships before the culture can be identified and shifted even an inch.
Although members of Gen X and Gen Y have been patiently waiting for Baby Boomers to retire, I’m seeing Pastor Nominating Committees look for seasoned pastors who know how to shift the culture of traditional churches. Those pastors look like the older generation of members, and yet they have 21st Century Ministry chops.
I believe that the most effective professional ministers of any age have these things:
- The tools to shift a congregation from a mid-20th Century culture to a 21st Century culture for the sake of the Gospel. They ask the “why?” questions. They model relationships over regulations. They remind everybody that the church is not a club; it’s a community that exists to be Christ in the world.
- Good boundaries. No pastor should be working every day and every night. A healthy pastor has friends outside the congregation. A healthy pastor equips others to do ministry rather than doing it all themselves.
- Emotional intelligence. Being able to interact with a wide variety of human beings is essential. Healthy pastors are not moody, egotistical, bullying or controlling. On most days.
Especially for those churches whose pastors are now retiring at the age of 70-something after serving for multiple decades, it might seem tempting to call a 32 year old pastor next. Chances are, though, that the resulting jolt might too dramatic for that pastor to be successful – no matter how gifted they are.
I suggest that after a long term pastorate with a retiring pastor, some congregations seek out seasoned pastors with energy who know how to lead the church into 21st Century ministry. Maybe those leaders are 40-something and maybe they are 60-something. It totally depends on who that pastor is.
Interesting enough, I’ve heard of several congregations over the past year who have called and installed 65 year old pastors, ostensibly five years from retirement. Hmm. That could work for several reasons . . . and it could be a longish buffer between the old way of being the church and a new way of being the church which will prime the congregation for calling a 30 or 40-something pastor in five years.
Would love your comments, even if this post makes you angry.
Image source here.