The average pastor in America is fifty-seven years old, which is thirteen years older than it was just three decades ago. Yet, many pastors find themselves put out to pasture or placed on the shelf once they turn 50. This means an unknown number of average-aged preachers await phone calls and emails that never come, while search committees look to fill pulpits with younger pastors.
Should this change? Absolutely. I was in my late 50s when I originally addressed this issue. Now, at 64, my feelings are stronger than ever. Consequently, consider these four reasons churches should call men in their 50s as pastors.
Certainly, after 30 years as a senior pastor, I still have a lot to learn. But thank God I’m not what I used to be. My heart has softened and my skin thickened over the past three decades. I’m now more sensitive to the things that should bother me and get less frustrated concerning the things that shouldn’t.
As a young pastor, I recall getting all wound up about denominational battles. Currently, I could get bogged down in theological debates large and small, but would rather keep Jesus as the focal point of discussion. In my early years, I’d attend a seminar or conference and then run back itching to implement what worked for the speakers. Apparently, I'm not alone. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard about a young preacher in an established/traditional church making major changes (eliminating the choir, changing the leadership structure) with the result of alienating the people and being sent packing.
As pastors, we won’t succeed without being “shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Change is great; most churches need it. But major change should only take place once a minister has built confidence and gained trust. Older pastors understand this.
This is similar to but not the same as #1. Some lessons are learned and logged only through longevity. It’s taken me a lot of years to experience the funerals of a baby, teenagers, and a young dad murdered by his brother-in-law. Add to that a few explosive business meetings, community disasters, and betrayals by friends. I didn’t enjoy these experiences, but wouldn’t trade the lessons learned for anything. Younger pastors can certainly to relate to young adults, but may, on the other hand, struggle with the aging and elderly.
A lot of churches still contain large contingencies of older congregants. And I’ve got news for you, their tribe is increasing. Today 1 in 7 Americans is 65 or older. In fifteen years, it will be 1 in 5. While those in this group will become increasingly tech-savvy, they’ll always appreciate pastors who drop a handwritten note in the mail now and then, or, better yet, drop by for a personal visit. These are habits many 50+ aged pastors have been practicing for years.
My sermon cupboard was bare when I started preaching full-time in 1990. The majority of my days were consumed with preparation for Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday nights. Today, thankfully, the cupboard is full. But rather than creating a license for laziness, it allows for invaluable margin in my schedule. I use that time for fresh study, book/blog writing, personal visits, community involvement, and prayer.
While many churches will look exclusively for a younger pastor, I think this is a mistake. Many younger pastors would benefit from the opportunity to learn under a mentor-pastor who can help them navigate through the pitfalls and potholes of ministry. I’m thrilled about the young pastors that God is calling and using in churches. I just hope the phones start ringing for Baby Boomer preachers across the country who still have a lot left in the tank.
Todd Gaddis served 30 years as full-time senior pastor and is currently interim pastor at First Baptist Church in Statham.