Saturday, July 10, 2010

A narrow window?

While I was at the PCA's General Assembly, I had opportunity to spend time with a number of pastors who were either in transition or preparing to enter into it. One interesting fact arose: the perception of a narrow window.

Three of the men I spoke with indicated that they felt they were facing a barrier because they were "older" -- which, in these cases, translated into somewhere in their 50s -- and that it seemed like many churches might not consider a pastor who was of that age for a solo or Senior Pastor position. My sense is that this concern was based on at least nominal exposure to hesitation about this on the part of one or more search committees.

At the same time, my own experience (and that of others I've known) is that "younger" men (maybe early 30s or younger?) are also often overlooked for such positions.

I have guesses about why these false barriers are there: for the "younger" men, there is concern or even a fear of a lack of experience and/or lack of wisdom or spiritual maturity; for the "older" men, there is concern about approaching retirement and/or age bringing on health problems.

While neither concern is entirely unfounded, I want to push back against those and encourage both pastors and search committees alike:
  • [Younger] Lack of experience and/or spiritual maturity are factors at any age; isn't it far better to consider the man, and not necessarily his age?
  • [Younger] How much of your concern is based on your own experiences at that age? In other words, are you evaluating a candidate by age simply by thinking, "I wouldn't have been able to be a solo/Senior Pastor when I was that age"? If this is so, isn't it possible that your experiences might be the exception instead of the rule?
  • [Older] Are you basing your assumptions about retirement age on the model of the business world, rather than of the pastorate? Is it reasonable to assert that, because our culture assumes retirement between the ages of 62 and 67, pastors will also retire then? Have you asked yourself whether pastors (or anyone else, for that matter) should retire at that age?
  • [Older] What basis do such assumptions about age and health have? Does the fact that, in general, pastors tend to be healthier than other demographics (due to lifestyles of moderation, stability, and good mechanisms for coping with stress) mitigate your concerns at all?

Anecdotally, I know several Senior Pastors of churches that are in their mid-30s or younger, who are incredibly capable. I also know a number of pastors who have served ably and actively into their 70s. In my experience, I haven't found age to be a valuable primary consideration.

One more comment in defense of my colleagues mentioned on the outset, whose maturity and "older" age seems to be a liability: were I on a search committee, several things would stand out in favor of such men. Most have experience, wisdom, and spiritual maturity that is the fruit of many years of ministry. If they have children, the children are often grown and are either adults or approaching adulthood-- which means that their family may not require a salary that can support multiple young children. They also will have paid off education loans, and will have established some equity in their homes. While financial matters ought not be the primary driving force, these factors add up to a compelling picture.

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