The summer is a time of transition for many churches and pastors. For over 25 years, I have been an observer, participant and now resource person for pastoral search teams. My first such experience was when I was the Pastoral Search Team chair for Lake Worth Christian Reformed Church in Lake Worth, Florida. God used that experience in 1990 along with others to move me from being an attorney to a Calvin Theological Seminary student.
Some recent conversations I have had with churches, pastors and candidates prompt me to name a reality that exists and needs to be challenged. The reality is that there is a prejudice — a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience — that generally operates against two groups of pastors.
The two groups that many times find a bias against them are candidates seeking their first pastoral position and pastors who are near or turning sixty years old. In other words, at both ends of the pastoral age spectrum, the young and not so young face challenges that pastors in their thirties and forties do not face. It gets even more complicated and serious when the pastor is a woman.
The rationale that covers this prejudice varies, but it usually fits into a few categories:
“We want someone to connect with all of our church. For the young pastor, the concern is that we are not sure they have enough experience to connect with those who are middle-aged and older. For the older pastor, the concern is that we are not sure they will be able to connect with young people and young couples.
“We want someone who can lead us.” For the young pastor, the concern is that we are not sure they have enough experience to be a leader because they still have so much to learn. For the older pastor, the questions are if they are only going to be here for another five to six years can they really lead us into the future and can they keep up with whatever is next in ministry?
The result of this prejudice is pain. The young pastor may not get an opportunity to grow and develop. The older pastor gets pushed out of a church or fears what could happen as they get older.
Is there a better way? I would suggest that there is a key question that if answered positively can help search team move beyond the superficial issue of age. Here is the question that I suggest may help in discernment: “Is this person a humble, life-long learner who is interested in people?”
Patrick Lencioni in his new book, The Ideal Team Player, advocates that a person who is humble, hungry (to learn) and people-smart will be an ideal team player. Lencioni is a Christian who also desires that churches thrive. Churches thrive when they support pastors of any age. After all, pastors of any age can be humble, hungry, and people-smart.
A final picture I want to share comes from Rev. Lugene “Archie” Bazuin who was a Calvin Seminary Distinguished Alumni Recipient in 2015. Rev. Bazuin is now over 90 years old and has served long and faithfully in many settings. In one of his first charges, he served at First Christian Reformed Church in Fulton, Illinois. Rev. Bazuin recounted for me that one of the memories he holds onto from his time in my hometown of Fulton was when an older person in the church would drop by during the week or even on a Saturday night and ask, “What are you preaching?” As Rev. Bazuin shared what was to come, he also found the lay leader sharing insights and providing encouragement. The sermon got better before it was even preached. A church member and a pastor learned and listened together.
That can still happen — no matter the age.