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 –