When I resigned my last church I gave the church board some advice which I’ve come to rethink. Here’s what I told them: “Hire someone young.” They did, and he is doing a great job. But my advice reflects an interesting mindset in today’s culture when it comes to finding a new pastor. The mantra is younger is far better.
In an ironic twist, I spoke as a guest at a church a few months later. They invited me back to speak again. They were without a pastor and they asked me to interview. During the interview there were a few young people on the church board who asked questions like, “You are my dad’s age. He’s thinking about retirement. How long will you stay?” The advice I gave my former board came back to bite hard. They hired someone younger than me.
In the last week I’ve been approached by three different people asking me for advice on how an over 50 minister could find a job. It seems, no congregation wants to hire a minister over 50 years of age. In giving this some deep thought I realize this is a big mistake.
Here’s 4 compelling reasons why a church ought to hire a minister over the age of 50.
First, the over 50 minister has a wealth of experience the younger does not yet possess.
If experience is the best teacher then the older minister has a PhD in ministry. I know by the time I pushed past the 50 mark I had seen about everything you could imagine in terms of ministry challenges. I knew the ropes. Many lessons had been learned the hard way.
Why would a church want to take a chance in hiring a young guy who is just learning the ropes? He hasn’t been through the school of hard knocks. For example he might change the Sunday morning music assuming everyone will rejoice at his progressive leadership!
Most churches are failing to consider a minister over 50 as a strong candidate. Big mistake. He or she is at the age where they have a wealth of experience to share with a congregation.
Second, at the age of 50 a minister is not looking to use the next church as a stepping stone to next bigger church.
And if you think many pastors aren’t thinking in those terms you haven’t been around too many pastors.
In the interview I just mentioned, my reply to the question of how long I would stay I said, “Until God tells me to leave.” Now, let’s be bold and honest, for some younger ministers the answer is “until I get offered a bigger church.” Younger pastors are naturally concerned about the career side of ministry. But an over 50 minister has learned bigger is far from always being better. And as a result might stay long term instead of using the church as a stepping stone.
Third, by the time a minister reaches 50 the skills of ministry have been honed.
Early on it became evident which skills needed to improve. A smart minister has worked to improve in the discovered areas of deficiency. Books have been read, classes taken, and advice form congregants heeded.
Take preaching for example. Nothing improves a speaker like getting up in front of a crowd twice a week for 20 years! By the tine a minister reaches 50 the skills have ministry have gone through the refining process. And if the minister is weak in certain areas he or she has learned to hire staff to complement the areas of weakness.
Four, and this might be the most significant reason, most ministers over 50 have been broken.
Nothing humbles a minister like ministry! If arrogance exists a congregation will humble you.
I heard a speaker tell a group of ministerial students what to do as they headed into the town of their first pastorate. He told them to stop at the edge of town and out of the U-Haul. They were to write on a little slip of paper these words: “My Pride.” Then the paper needed to be placed inside of an empty match box and buried alongside the road. Pride does not belong in ministry.
A minister over 50 has learned this reason. And a ministry who has become broken came be used more powerfully than none who is not.
There are many factors to be considered in hiring a new minister. All of them need to be weighed with care. But please do not automatically throw the name of a candidate on the discard pile because of age. It just might be the biggest mistake a church could make.