So, Let’s Talk More About Generations

I wrote yesterday about pastors in different generations:  The Greatest, The Silent Generation, The Boomers, Gen X, The Millennials, and the Zs.  There was controversy, especially because I, myself, confused the generations in my post.  I first wrote “Millennials” when I meant to write “Gen X.”

Frustration ensued and rightly so.

I, too, have found that Generation X is often passed over when Pastor Nominating Committees are seeking new leadership.  A Boomer Pastor retires at 70 and the congregation subsequently calls a 35 year old to be the new Head of Staff.  I received quite a few private messages about my contributions to the dismissing of Generation X and they were right.

My #1 concern as a church person is that congregations find pastors who will lead them in such a way that they will thrive in the 21st Century.  Such pastors can be found in every generation.  They are:

  • Entrepreneurial
  • Authentic
  • Deeply faithful
  • Emotionally intelligent
  • Unafraid of failure
  • Missional

For what it’s worth, here are some facts about my own denomination – the Presbyterian Church USA:

  1. Of the nine largest congregations in my denomination, 8 of them are led by Gen X Pastors and only one is led by a Boomer.  At least in 8 of those largest of the large congregations, their senior leaders are between the ages of 41 and 56.
  2. Of those nine largest congregations, only one of those Heads of Staff is a woman.  Not one is a Person of Color or a person who identifies as LGBTQA+ or a person who is differently abled – as far as I know.
  3. Median congregational membership in the PCUSA is 70 people as of 12-31-19 according to PCUSA Research Services.  Many congregations cannot call full time pastors of any age.

Here’s what I wonder:  Are people called or not called to serve churches for reasons beyond generational?  Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color have a very hard time in the call process.  This is also true for LGBTQA+ pastors. (God bless the Black Queer Clergy.)  As a mid-council leader, I have literally heard Pastor Nominating Committees say that their churches “are not ready” for a gay pastor or a brown pastor.  It’s not always about age.

I would like to hear your personal stories, particularly about your own age or your own generation. I suspect there is anxiety and frustration all around among Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Pastors.

A few stories that inform the generational issues for me:

  • A seasoned pastor asked me a couple years ago how he could engage the neighborhood around his church building and I suggested books, films, podcasts, mentors, blogs, and retreat leaders.  And he responded by saying that he was only looking for “a brochure or something at his age.” (He is a youngish Boomer.) He said he didn’t have the energy “at this point” to delve into it.  And he probably will not retire anytime soon.  (This kind of thing makes me want to yell, “Get behind me, Satan.”)
  • Another seasoned pastor told me that he feels written off for being “another old white guy.”  He is in his mid-60s and still feels the energy and imagination to serve for a while longer.  The fruits of his ministry continue to tell me that he’s right.
  • A pastor in her late fifties told me that she got a phone call from a church looking for a speaker for their officer’s retreat.  She thought they were about to ask her to be the speaker when the caller said, “We were wondering if you could suggest a younger clergywoman to keynote our retreat.” Ouch.
  • I have a collegue who’s a 30-something rock star and she was called to be the pastor of a medium-sized congregation because they’d hoped she could “bring in the young families.”  And she’s wonderful. But she is not taken seriously by the older generation in the church and it sabotages her ability to do what they’ve called her to do.
  • I have a Gen X friend who was called to serve a large congregation when she was in her early 40s.  Her predecessor stayed for 30 years and it’s expected that she will stay that long as well.  I asked her once if she thought she would actually do that, and she said, “I think I’ll have to whether I want to or not.  Who would call me as a 50-something or 60-something pastor.”

All in all, I’m finding that there are excellent and not-so-excellent pastors in every generation.  But – again – I would appreciate hearing your stories if you want to share.

And thanks for forgiving me my brain blip yesterday.

4 responses to “So, Let’s Talk More About Generations

  1. I’m 66. I did CREDO when I was 54 and from that remarkable event I went away with my deep call AND desire to be a generative person and pastor. I could give many examples of the ways The Spirit made generativity real in my life. In short, I retired from my 18 year pastorate in order than a younger person could step into leadership. I left a flourishing church to follow a different call to be generative in service to others. It’s happening and I’m grateful for the choice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Four years ago I started out (at 69) with plenty of energy. But the congregation, all but one over 60, didn’t have energy for anything “new.” They wonder why they have no younger people. I’ve done my best to open them to the “new world out there,” and they respond by lamenting that there are no churches for older people any more. They think I’m too young to understand old people, and reject my NEXT-Church mode of thinking. (So I don’t attend NEXT any more.)


  3. Pingback: Are You (Or Is Your Pastor) Discerning Retirement? | A Church for Starving Artists

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