Thursday, March 28, 2013

The plight of older ministers

As I work with pastor search committees I find that many of them are wanting a young creative pastor who will bring new life into their churches.  There are several things wrong with their request.  One, quite often if a pastor does attempt to do anything that will bring new life into a church it is met with resistance.  A church once told me they wanted a pastor who would grow their youth group.  A few months after calling a new pastor I met a member of that church's search committee at a restaurant.  When I asked if their pastor had grown a youth group in the church she replied that he had.  I commented that must have made the church happy, and she replied that it had actually created problems in their church.  Many of the older members were upset because the pastor was spending all his time with the young people and ignoring them.  Some had left the church and others had quit giving creating some financial problems in the church.  That pastor did not last long.

About a year ago I met with the search committee of another bivocational church who told me they wanted a pastor who would grow their church.  I had never done this before but this time I asked, "Are you sure about that?  You do realize that if you could grow this church by doing what you've been doing it would already be growing, don't you?  That means you are telling me you want a pastor who will come in here and turn everything upside down.  Is that what you really want?"  They began to look sideways at each other and smile.  Finally, one of them said, "Maybe we need to think about that for a little while."  The fact is, many older, established churches really don't want a new pastor to bring new life into their church.  They want a chaplain, a caretaker, someone who will love them and be there for them and keep things relatively calm, and if any growth does occur without upsetting things that will be a plus.

The other problem with the original statement is the belief that young pastors will be more creative than older ones.  That simply is not always the case.  Yes, there are some older pastors who are very traditional in their approach to ministry, and they are locked into doing things like they did when they began ministry thirty years ago.  However, there are many pastors nearing the age of retirement who are very creative in their approach to ministry.  These pastors draw from a lifetime of experience and study and are not afraid to take risks and try new things.  Some ministers fresh out of seminary only know what they were taught in their seminary classes which are not known for being especially creative.

I recently had lunch with a minister colleague who is seeking a place to serve.  His concern is that he is in his early 60s, and he knows many churches will not be able to move past his birth year when they look at his resume.  Talking with this person it was obvious that he has great insights into ministry and probably has many more good years to serve, if a church will give him that option.

Reading through the Old Testament it seems that many of God's choicest servants began some of their best ministry in their later years.  It seems a shame that some of our churches fail to see the value in the experience and wisdom that many of our older pastors could bring them.  These ministers who have seen and heard it all could be the non-anxious presence that some of our churches need to be able to move forward.

When I was in my early 50s a denominational leader told me I should try to be where I wanted to finish my ministry by the time I was 55.  As I now work with churches looking for pastors I see some who are willing to consider a person who is approaching 60 years of age, but not many.  Even fewer will consider someone older than 60.    That's a shame because there are many ministers 60 years of age and older who still have a lot to offer a church.  They are sharp, active, and quite creative in their thinking.  They certainly are not ready to retire.  I believe many of our churches would be well served by these older clergy persons.  If your church is seeking a pastor do not automatically discount those whose age might be above your "magic" number.  You could be missing out on the perfect person for the position.  In fact, you could be missing out on the person God has prepared to be your next pastor.

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