Sunday, February 12, 2017

Are Elderly Elders A Bad Thing?

According to Barna, the occupants of pulpits in America are getting a lot older:
As clergy live longer and stay in ministry longer, the average age of Protestant senior pastors has risen to 54—a decade older than 25 years before, when the average age was 44....The pulpit has been graying for decades. In the ’60s, a majority of pastors were under 45. In 2017, most are over 60.
That is supposed to start the alarm bells ringing but I noticed something else in this report:
Today’s pastors are less likely to go from congregation to congregation during their careers. Back in 1992, Barna found the average church tenure was four years, compared to more than 10 years in 2017...Older clergy may actually have a harder time finding new jobs as they age, forcing them to stay longer. As CT Pastors has reported, when a senior pastor spot opens up, some churches seek out younger candidates who are expected to serve long-term or draw in younger congregants.
Well, I sort of think that elders staying put is a good thing. The new-church-every-four-years model is a sickness in the church, reflective of the general discontentment in our culture and "ministry as just another career" model. Younger men often seem to see their current church as a stepping stone to the next church, a church that they will feel "called to", a calling that invariably seems to be accompanied by a higher salary. Conversely older pastors are more content and satisfied with where they are:
Older pastors also enjoy their ministry work more. Leaders age 50 and older, as well as those who have been in ministry for more than 30 years, report being “highly satisfied” with their vocation as a pastor and with their current church more often than younger and less-experienced leaders.
While we as a society place a premium on youth, the church would probably benefit from more experienced and seasoned leadership. A young pastor with a stereotypical pastor's wife and 2.5 kids might look good on your webpage but if your young pastor is spending half of his sermon prep time in his office looking for a new "calling", he is probably not serving his church very well.

Of course there should be a deep bench in any fellowship of men who are in training to become elders but that is unfortunately not a popular part of the functioning of pastors:
Overall, two-thirds of pastors rank preaching and teaching as their favorite aspect of their job. The least favorite aspect? Only 2 percent picked organizing church meetings and events as their No. 1 task.
In the middle of those two, 1 in 10 called “developing other leaders” their most enjoyable task—a crucial role as pastors prepare to pass leadership on to a new generation of preachers.
“The bare facts of the matter are that even the wisest of older pastors is not here indefinitely, and his wisdom will be lost to the community of faith unless it is invested with the next generation,” the report stated. “Even more urgent, however, is the prospect of a massive leadership shortage in the coming decades.”

I can understand why that is. Training men up to be elders is time-consuming and probably often frustrating but it is so critical to the long-term health of a church fellowship. It is obviously easier to just hire a guy from another church but that is not in the best interest of that man, of your fellowship or the fellowship that is abandoned to come to your church.

The reports from Barna are always interesting to me even as they kind of make me sad. There is not much in the church that is more critical to the health of that fellowship than having mature, well-trained men to lead the church by example and teaching and yet it is one of the least healthy aspects of our church culture. There are few challenges in the church that demand more from the current leadership than training up the next generation of elders but we tend to demand current elders do everything but invest the time and effort it requires. If you want a healthy and vibrant church, you have to start with healthy, qualified elders. If we get that right, everything else will fall far more easily into place.

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