Category Archives: Minister

Older Ministers: Called to preach; still ready to serve III

How, then, can church leadership so inconsistently declare that only young preachers can reach young people?  The “experts” in church growth tell us the average minister will reach people five years each side of him.  The problem with that rule is that it makes no room for exceptions.  When I was an 18 year preacher, I specialized in reaching 25-40 year olds.  Now that I’m 78, reaching 25-40 years remains my strength.  How can rules be applied to any group, when exceptions within the groups declare them inadequate and untrustworthy models?  Whose perception is wrong then:  mine, while I’m succeeding with the very age group experts say I should fail to reach—or those who love generalities and ignore specifics?

I continue to champion younger ministers as new church leaders and in awakening weak churches.  However, let the fiction die that only young ministers can reach young people; and let the fiction die that, while older ministers can’t reach young people, young ministers CAN reach older people.  Let whoever remains able, capable, intentional, interested and committed to preaching have opportunities to fill pulpits.  Let the church stop being the world’s greatest discriminator against age and set her Senior leaders free to serve God’s people and the lost.  We can’t afford to have any willing workers forcefully retired!

Churches that seek younger ministers invariably want them experienced.  But experience and youth are as far apart in life as in the dictionary.  Naturally, at least a few young ministers have a maturity that proves the exception—but at least a few older ministers have a youthfulness that disproves the rule.  On behalf of all the older ministers who have silently endured discrimination, I appeal to the churches:  don’t automatically discard their resumes; don’t judge effectiveness by age; at least consider interviewing such candidates.  That person could possibly be exactly what a church of younger people wants and needs.

In conclusion, while it’s myopic folly to measure a minister’s effectiveness by his age, most churches are far more willing to let a younger man fail than are willing to let an older man succeed in ministerial leadership.  Isn’t it time the church stopped covertly practicing a discrimination that secular society won’t tolerate, and corrects, if necessary, through litigation?

P.S.  In his Diary, June 28, 1774, on his 72nd birthday, John Wesley boasted of a strength similar to his 42nd birthday.  Fourteen years later, the same day, he entered his 85th year.  While not so agile as before, not so strong in sight, not without pains unknown to him in his 72nd year, he retained his zeal for travel and preaching.  Not of few older ministers can repeat Wesley’s claims.  Growing older in Christ’s ministry, they remain ready to serve if called. – FINI –

Older Ministers: Called to preach; still ready to serve II

I suggest three reasons older ministers offer a competitive edge in many ministries.  One, their age renders them fearless of people; they willingly speak their minds and expose the fallacies of living without God; and they’re almost always more sensitive in seizing the opportune time to urge a decision for Christ.  Two, older ministers are often flexible in embracing a broader range of worship styles and outreach strategies, where younger men fix on one methodology of worship and preaching style.  Three, older is a matter of perspective.  Everyone knows how America is graying.  Many know of the re‑hiring of Seniors by corporations and businesses.   My son Scott tells me that the average age of residents moving into Atascadero Christian Home is 85 years!   That means that people are only not living longer, but living healthier longer.  Given that fact, the usefulness of older Pastors is extended, not truncated.  Is the church going to be the last institution on earth to capitalize on its unused Senior assets?  Are we going to reject the continuing ability and capability of ministers in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s?

My witness comes from recent personal experiences.  In the summer of 1996 I had people in their early 30’s ask me to consider being their minister because they liked my leadership and preaching.  In the fall of 1996, I had a young couple in their 30’s urge me to secure a preaching position because my messages had positively impacted them.  At the same time, a young man, not a Christian, told his wife he would come to our church if I preached there.  Yet, in the fall of 1997 I was told by a pulpit committee that I was too old because they have mostly young couples in their congregation.

From October‑December, 2002, I supplied for a large church in Carlsbad, California.  We had three services each Sunday, and I preached at each.  It never failed that people in their 30’s and 40’s raved about the preaching.  Because I had something worthwhile to say, they didn’t notice that I was then 66, not 35.   They didn’t quit coming because I came there; they would have continued coming had I stayed there.     – CONTINUED –

Older Ministers: Called to preach; still ready to serve I

While appearing before the British Academy Film Awards in April, 1999, 67 year old actress Elizabeth Taylor received a lifetime achievement award.  In her acceptance speech, she said it encouraged her to act again.  The problem was, “nobody will have me.”

Any senior, in any career, can identify with her conclusion.  And one need not be in his late sixties to discover it.

At a new church conference at Ozark Christian College in 1986, where I then taught, I kept hearing older church planters question the capability of young ministers for that task.  I defended the young men.  I had already seen the success my 22 year old son Lance experienced as minister of the new Christian Church in Manteno, Illinois, under the artful tutelage of Bob Sloniger, CDEA director.  I reasoned that, with guidance and correction from a wiser, experienced minister, other raw young men would grow with their role while making a minimum number of mistakes.  It was either that or stop holding such conferences in our Bible Colleges, revving the engines of 20‑22 year old Bible college students to become new church planters, then choking them by delaying new church baptism till they were 30‑35 years old.

I had the prescience to see their potential; I had no prescience to see that twenty years later, those same 20‑22 year old boys would consider older ministers incapable of leading new churches, invigorating dying churches or relating successfully to younger people.  How could a score of years have so altered their opinion of us, when it’s only affirmed ours of them?  After all, older ministers reached them!  What change in us or them would have rendered us incapable now of reaching 20‑40 year olds?

Naturally, there are older preachers young people don’t want:  those whose exercise is limited to hand to mouth, enlarging their girth; not between their ears, renewing their mind; who’d rather reminisce over past than anticipate future successes; who are closed to new methodologies that permit growth but open to rigid tradition that guarantees plateauing and decline; who fear change but not the decline that invariably accompanies fear of change; whose mind has reaped its harvest because they’ve stopped sowing the next crop of ideas; who obviously preach without reserves instead of obviously teaching from the overflow of an inner excess; who are preached out, not pumped up; who are burned out, not fired up.

No one wants an older minister with these limitations.  Does the church want any minister with them?  And if it’s easier for older than younger ministers to get this way, it isn’t inevitable.  Indeed, while some ministers are old at thirty-five, others are still young beyond sixty or seventy!

Sinners remain the same, as does God’s means of saving them.  Yet, today, after George Barna defines a new group of sinners, church leaders excitedly devise strategies to reach them.  When lo and behold, Barna defines another distinct group, and we as excitedly study that group until he defines another—which he will continue to do; that’s his job; his organization never grows less complicated or, in its own mind, less relevant.  The real effect of such up‑to‑date studies is that studying to understand groups unconsciously substitutes for teaching them.  We’ve somehow convinced ourselves that our method of sharing Christ is as important as the message we share.  That’s a terrible misjudgment of Christ’s appeal and of the Holy Spirit’s ability to equip even poorly spoken words with conversion power.

If we’re going to demand comprehensive knowledge of lost people groups, and excellent communication skills in reaching them before we evangelize them, they will die in their sins while we’re still talking about how to rescue them.  We’ll always find reasons why we’re not yet ready, while the Holy Spirit anxiously awaits any willing witness to reach them.

Understand, now: we should value effort at team‑building, complementary gift‑building in leadership teams and targeting audiences.  But actually telling individuals in any particular group—however poorly it’s done—that Christ’s death has forgiven their sins far excels a mere intellectual understanding of the group’s characteristics.

Human needs haven’t changed and God’s solution to human need remains the same.  Anyone, whatever his age, who communicates the Gospel powerfully, clearly and relevantly will be welcomed by any age group.  Years separate us, time doesn’t.  We need to distinguish the two ideas.  Years go by the calendar, but time can fly with the speed of light.  That’s why Paul told us to redeem the time, not the years Colossians 4:5 (KJV).  A prospect may be amenable to Jesus on a specific occasion—the opportune time to evangelize him.  If we fail to seize that opportunity, the person can fly from receptivity with the speed of light, and the next time we see him, he’s unreachable, though it’s been but a day or a week.  That’s one significant difference between years and time.    – CONTINUED –