I’m not picking on young pastors. Not by any means. Young pastors (and their families) are wonderful.
Nor am I picking on churches which like young pastors. Good for them.
In fact, I want to commend every church on the planet which is aging but interested in younger pastors because they’re concerned about reaching the younger generations for Christ.
On the other hand, some congregations simply want to die in peace, and I have nothing good to say about that.
It’s the myth of the young pastor that I’m concerned about today.
Well, yes, maybe, or no, maybe.
I’ll concede that there’s probably something to the idea that we typically attract to ourselves, are able to influence, those within a decade on either side of our age. So, at forty-five, I can most effectively minister to (“serve” in normal English) those who are thirty-five to fifty-five.
I’m not sure that there’s any scientific evidence for this, but I’m fine with it as long as we’re using words like “typically,” “most effectively” or “naturally.”
But even this truism – on which the myth is, in part, constructed – may or may not be so true. There are some sixty or even seventy-something youth group leaders who love and understand teens and have powerful ministries with them.
And there are preaching pastors in their seventies and even in their eighties who communicate very effectively with thousands of listeners who are decades younger than themselves.
But that’s only part of the myth.
The heart of the myth is the idea that a church will automatically grow with younger families if the pastor is a younger man with a young family.
Here’s the crux of the issue. If the young pastor, who probably knows something about the needs, tastes, questions, concerns and communication styles of those his age, is allowed to adapt his church’s strategy to reach those of his generation, wonderful things can result. Certainly the young pastor should be an “expert” on knowing how to reach people his own age.
It’s that simple.
Churches which are willing to adapt themselves to reach generations younger than themselves – bless their hearts – should also keep in mind that while the younger candidate may be a “natural expert” at understanding his own generation and the generation of his children, he might be much less skillful at leading churches through the process of change as many older, seasoned leaders might be.
So what a church gains by procuring the energetic, fresh-faced leader it might lose in terms of leadership wisdom.
The best-case scenario might be the calling of a young pastor who is wise and humble enough to secure coaching from a veteran leader. (Churches should joyfully spend funds on this coaching!)
I have the privilege of coaching some younger pastors who fit that description. Their congregations are richly blessed to have them.
One more thought; aging folks who are willing to adapt their church to reach those younger than themselves are a rare and wonderful breed. Their bodies are aging but their hearts are young. They sacrifice their kind of music and their kind of preaching and their kind of coffee for the sake of reaching their children and grandchildren. These folks should be commended, honored and listened to carefully.
If I myself ever get old (little joke here) I hope to be one of them.