Do I Dare Share This Detail?

I wrote a blog post last week that shared a trend I’ve noticed – for better or worse – in my denomination.  I addressed the post to Pastor Nominating Committees but most comments came from young clergywomen who were stung and I realized that – again, for better or worse – I left out a significant detail.

The post is about age and ageism and it’s also about gender and sexism.

Again  – here are the nuggets I’ve noticed regarding trends in calling new pastors:

  • All churches seem to realize they need to change in order to move forward into the 21st Century.  Most of them don’t want to change.
  • Some churches have called young pastors in hopes that those young pastors (preferably with young children) will attract other young families.
  • Young pastors often have better boundaries in terms of trying to balance church time and personal time, and yet the perception is that all pastors are supposed to work/be available 24/7.  That perception is not helpful.  Expectations between “young pastors” and congregations might subsequently clash.
  • Some congregations – as a reaction to calling a young pastor last time – tell me that this time they are seeking a “seasoned pastor” whose children are not so young – if they have children at all.  I attribute this to the fact that “seasoned pastors” will bring about necessary changes more slowly than a young pastor with an urgent vision to make changes now.*

*I’m 63 and my vision is also urgent, for what it’s worth.  If we don’t use these current pivotal days to bring about change right now, we are missing out on current unique opportunities to be The Church.

There is a detail I omitted from my previous post and I share it now to add to the conversation.  But first here’s what I’m not saying:

  • I’m not saying that all churches are the same and “one size fits all.”
  • I’m not saying that all young pastors are the same.
  • I’m not saying that there are no young (under 40) pastors equipped to serve as Heads of Staff.

The detail I omitted before is that all the congregations I talked with – who once called a “young pastor” and now want to call a “seasoned pastor” – had called young male pastors. I don’t know exactly why it didn’t work out or was unsatisfactory.  Maybe it was because the congregation didn’t expect a male pastor to want to parent his children alongside his spouse to the point of limiting evening and Saturday meetings.  Maybe it was because the young male pastor reminded them of a young male pastor they called in 1970 who was indeed available to them 24/7.  Maybe it was because they simply called the wrong young male pastors.

So there’s that.

It’s also true that since I wrote that blog post, ten pastors over the age of 64 privately messaged me to say that they had recently been called and installed to new churches.  This surprises me.  At least one of them had spoken to me about retiring in the next year and yet he was approached by a church that insisted he apply.  Almost all of those 64+ year old pastors were not looking for new calls.  They were contacted by Pastor Nominating Committees directly.

So what does this all mean?

Speaking as a Mid-Council Leader who is often asked to recommend candidates to Pastor Nominating Committees, I have the privilege and obligation to recommend healthy pastors to congregations in hopes that those congregations will thrive.  Sometimes my suggestions go unheeded.  Sometimes congregations go with “a safer choice.”

My hope is that The Church will stop choosing what’s “safe” and start choosing what’s faithful.  Your next pastor may not look like the majority of members (a shout out to calling Women of Color.)  Your next pastor might speak more languages than your members speak – but they speak the language of your church neighbors.  Your next pastor might indeed be a 64 year old.  Your next pastor might indeed be a 30 year old.

It’s all about God and being faithful.  It’s not about us and being fearful.  Thoughts?

4 responses to “Do I Dare Share This Detail?

  1. You nailed it with that last short paragraph! Where is our faith and why are we fearful? You are wise and I enjoy your insight!

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  2. You’ve said a lot of important things in the years I’ve read your blog. This may be the most important thing you’ve ever said: “It’s all about God and being faithful. It’s not about us and being fearful.”

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  3. Jan – I always appreciate your insight. I’m starting to ask PNC’s “what does this choice say about us as a church?” But your question about fearfulness/faithfulness is spot on. My thanks.

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