Posts Tagged ‘older pastors and forced termination’

My wife Kim and I have been noticing something recently.

It seems to us that more often than not, whenever we hear that still another pastor has been forced to resign from his church, that pastor falls into the 55-65 age category … and he is usually in his early 60s.

I was thinking about this pattern recently when I ran across an article last weekend about the Washington Nationals pursuit of a new manager.

Even though he was interviewed for the job, 66-year-old Dusty Baker – formerly Manager of the Year three times with the Giants, Cubs, and Reds – was not initially hired by the Nationals.

Speaking of himself as both an African-American and an older manager, Baker told John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle:

“How many teams are willing to accept what we have to offer?  We’ve got something to offer,” Baker said.  “How much respect do they have for my knowledge and expertise and wisdom over the years?  There’s a certain thing called a life experience degree.  There used to be.”

You’re right, Dusty … there used to be respect for “knowledge and expertise and wisdom over the years.”  But in all too many churches these days, those qualities seem to count for nothing.

(After the Nationals announced that Bud Black was hired as manager, Black turned down the position, and Dusty Baker – who is a great guy – was hired instead.)

Even though I see a pattern starting to develop, maybe older pastors aren’t more likely to be forced out than younger ones.

But assuming my premise has merit, why would any church force out a pastor just because of his age?

Let me suggest five reasons among many … and these are just ideas, not laws cut in stone:

First, older pastors are perceived to be less energetic than younger pastors.

This may or may not be the case.

Some younger pastors are entitled and lazy, refusing to work more than 40 hours.  I have worked with and met some of these people.

On the other hand, many older pastors – if not most – work at least 50 hours a week, many working at least 60.

I suppose it’s generally true that pastors older than 55 have slowed down a bit, but so what?  They more than make up for it with their vast experience and hard-earned wisdom.

Proverbs 20:29 puts it this way: “The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.”

Proverbs 16:31 adds, “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life.”

Yes, young men usually have greater physical strength than older men, but the gray hair of older men is twice equated with “splendor” or respect in Proverbs.

I don’t like or agree with the perception that older pastors are fading and falling apart, but probably some people in every church believe this.

Second, older pastors are perceived to be less “cool” than younger pastors.

There are millions of Americans who act like life began the day they were born.

They aren’t interested in much of anything that came before them.  They don’t care about how great a pitcher Sandy Koufax was … or what a great songwriter Bob Dylan was and still is … or how Richard Nixon managed to win the Presidency in 1968.

They’re far more interested in celebrities like Johnny Manziel … Katy Perry … and Barack Obama.

Koufax, Dylan, and Nixon represent the past, and are therefore deemed irrelevant.

Manziel, Perry, and Obama represent the present and future, so count a great deal more.

Many years ago, I visited a church where the pastor – a younger man – began the service by telling the congregation how much he loved reality shows on television.  He said he watched every one he possibly could.

Everyone loved his comments … except Pastor Jim sitting in the back.  (I don’t watch any reality TV whatsoever.)

No matter how much they try and keep up with popular culture, quoting the lyrics of a Taylor Swift song doesn’t really suit a pastor 60 years of age … but works much better with a pastor in his early 30s … and those are the people a church needs to reach if they’re going to grow.

Because younger people tend to accept popular culture uncritically … and many older pastors don’t understand or like it … older pastors may be viewed as “uncool” … even if they are godly men.

Third, older pastors are perceived as unable to reach young families as well as younger pastors.

There is an axiom among church growth proponents that pastors are best able to reach people who are ten years older and ten years younger than they are.

For example, if f I’m a pastor, and I’m 40 years old, I can best reach people ages 30 through 50.

If I’m 60 years old, I can best reach people ages 50 through 70.

(By this standard, was Jesus best at reaching people in their early 20s and 40s?)

This doesn’t mean that I can’t reach people who are much younger or much older.

It does mean that it will be more difficult … take more effort … and force me outside my comfort zone.

I was 27 when I first became a pastor.  The church board … composed of four men that averaged close to 65 years of age … gave me a charter to reach young families for Christ.

Nearly two years later, the church was all under 30 and over 60 … with only a handful of people in-between.

When the under 30s grew to the same size as the over 60s, the older group felt threatened and began making demands of the younger group.

I could sense a war was going to break out … but then, a sister church invited us to merge with them, and the war was transferred five miles away.

Let’s be honest: statistics indicate that the younger someone is, the more open they are to the gospel, and the older someone is, the more resistant they are.

So if a church is going to reach young families … which most churches say they want to do … then they may start thinking, “We need a pastor in his early to mid-thirties.”

And if their current pastor is over 55, they may … consciously or unconsciously … chase him right off their campus.

Fourth, older pastors are perceived to be less flexible than younger pastors.

I grew up in the home of a Baptist pastor, and older Baptists don’t dance.  (We can’t dance, but that’s another matter.)

I never attended a school dance in my life … my friends didn’t go, either … and I don’t think I missed anything.

So imagine how shocked I was when someone came up to me many years ago and suggested that we have a dance for singles in our worship center!

That idea was rejected quickly.

“But,” I was told, “many other churches have dances for singles.”

I didn’t care.  The answer was still, “No.”

In my mind, I was expressing my convictions … but to others, I was a stubborn, out-of-touch stick-in-the-mud.

I’m just as stubborn about giving altar calls.  The last one I gave was around 1980 … and only because my pastor at the time told me I had to.

There is a perception out there … right or wrong … that when they hear a creative idea from someone, a younger pastor will say, “Yes,” while an older pastor will say, “No.”

This perception is often held by those closest to the pastor … members of the board and staff … who have their own ideas about the direction the church should take.  But they find that the pastor wants them to champion his ideas while he rarely champions any of theirs.

Near the end of my last ministry, this was how the church board felt toward me.  We had a healthy reserve fund, and I wanted to use a good portion of those funds to start a third service.  After all, our church had been outreach-oriented for years, and my vision was entirely in line with our mission statement and history.

But the board turned down my third service proposal, and wanted to engage in maintenance tasks instead, at least in the short term.  Because I didn’t agree with them, I was labeled “stubborn.”

Younger pastors can be just as stubborn as older pastors, but they often aren’t viewed that way, because they’re seen as “works-in-progress,” while older pastors are “finished products” who just aren’t pliable enough.

Finally, older pastors are perceived to be harder to control than younger pastors.

To me, this is the crux of the problem: a church board … and a congregation … have a much more difficult time making an older pastor bend to their will.

Older pastors know from several decades of experience what works and won’t work for them in a church.  So when a staffer or a board member says, “Pastor, let’s do this” or “Why don’t we try that?”, the older pastor quickly combs through his memory and thinks to himself, “I tried that in two different churches, and it didn’t work in either one.  I’m not about to try that a third time.”

Members of the board might meet informally and say to each other, “We’re sure our proposal will work, but the pastor doesn’t even want to try it.”  And there doesn’t seem to be anything the board can do to change his mind.

But a younger pastor … maybe with just a few years of church experience … may come across as much more open to the same idea.

In John Shea’s article on Dusty Baker, the journalist made this observation:

“The trend in baseball is for owners to hire young, numbers-oriented general managers, often out of the Ivy League, and for those GMs to hire managers with little or no experience who’d buy into their sabermetric philosophies and lineup preferences.”

Translation: younger general managers wish to hire managers they can more easily control.

And they can’t control an old-school manager who relies on hunches, intuition, and gut feelings more than computer-generated patterns.

It’s my belief that when a church board and a pastor don’t agree on their church’s direction, the board will cooperate with their pastor for a while.

But if the family members or friends of board members threaten to leave the church … or stop giving … or stop coming … the board feels pressured, and their anxiety may propel them toward controlling their pastor more forcefully.

And if the pastor resists … and many older pastors do … then the board may conclude that the pastor has to go because they simply can’t control him.

While reading Chris Creech’s book Toxic Church, the author presents information he received from our mutual friend Dr. Charles Chandler from the Ministering to Ministers Foundation about pastors who are more likely to be abused by their congregations:

“Dr. Chandler reports that abuse is more likely to occur when a pastor reaches the age of fifty.  Abuse is more likely to occur when a pastor has had a long tenure.  Abuse is more likely to occur when a pastor has had some significant physical problem.  Abuse is more likely to occur when a dissident member of the church acts in collusion with a staff member of the church.”

Did you notice that first sentence?  “Abuse is more likely to occur when a pastor reaches the age of fifty.”

When my wife and I experienced a major conflict in our church six years ago, an outside consultant witnessed certain events firsthand and claimed that my wife and I were suffering abuse.  He wrote in his report, “How much more should Jim and Kim endure?”

I was 55 years of age when that conflict started, and 56 when it concluded.

Years ago, when I knew I would be leaving a church that I was pastoring, I spoke with one of my ministry mentors – a top church growth expert – who told me, “I’m sure you’ll find a new church.  You’re the right age.”

I was 44 years old.

Thirteen years later, I spoke with that same mentor again about my prospects for finding another pastorate.  But this time, he told me, “Nobody is going to hire you.  You’re the wrong age.”

I wonder how many pastors are pushed out of their churches simply because they’re “the wrong age.”

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