Today, half of American pastors are older than 55. In 1992, less than a quarter of pastors in the U.S. (24 percent) were that old.

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TylerR's picture

Editor

Don't think it'll get any better. I think it will get worse. As congregations get smaller, I believe younger pastors will increasingly burn out due to the pitiful salaries their congregations can provide and flee for secular professions. I think churches need to re-think their expectations for pastors commensurate with salary, and re-evaluate whether the "one fulltime, solo pastor against the world" model is really the best way to do things.

I know I've mentioned this before, but I enjoy banging this particular drum.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

....whether a big part of this is that with the exemption from Social Security that is available to pastors, a lot of guys simply can't afford to retire.  So a certain portion of pastors over age 65 are simply on on the job retirement, which might explain a certain portion of that church shrinkage Tyler is talking about.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Steve Newman's picture

Is that we aren't turning out more pastors. There aren't enough replacements to be found - anywhere.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Are we sure? For example, is enrollment in ministry majors down at Maranatha, Faith, BJU, etc? 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

I'd venture the assertion that in some established churches there are pastors who are past retirement age who don't want to retire. I now of two where the pastor does nothing but preach old sermons and haven't the will or the energy to do the other work of the ministry. In both the church sees the problem but has no idea what to do.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Editor

Fire him. Unfortunately, like all bureaucracies, inertia is the order of the day. How about a real kick in the teeth - implement annual performance appraisals for the pastoral staff by the deacons and hold them accountable - like a normal job. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

josh p's picture

Ron I have seen this same scenario. It’s really a sad imitation of pastoral ministry. 

Bert Perry's picture

TylerR wrote:

Fire him. Unfortunately, like all bureaucracies, inertia is the order of the day. How about a real kick in the teeth - implement annual performance appraisals for the pastoral staff by the deacons and hold them accountable - like a normal job. 

Tyler, I tend to agree that deacon boards ought to respond to "on the job retirement" with such an action, but the flip side is that the same deacon boards have created the problem by paying pastors poorly, ensuring that they won't be able to retire when the time comes.  So it would be somewhat hypocritical to tell them that now they get to throw the guy into the dustbin when they've created the situation.  We might also guess that poor pay packages might tend to result in "pastors" who really aren't apt to teach, but rather (again) simply regard it as easier work than donning a blue vest with a smiley face on it.

One other note; there are great ways of getting feedback to employees, but the annual performance review was described by Deming as one of the seven deadly diseases of corporate life for a reason.  Specifically, my company looked at the data, and what they saw was that no matter how the review turned out--great performance, OK, needs to improve, whatever--performance declined after the reviews.  So praise God, they got rid of them.   I get feedback from my manager each week.  I would commend a deacon board that takes a serious look at whether the sermons are truly Biblical and relevant, and that he's actually making disciples.

And as I noted in the first paragraph, that probably means a decades-long path of repentance.  It would be a blessed one, mind you, but it would take a while.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I think performance reviews, tied to relevant and measurable performance standards, are only sometimes "diseases" because, often, they're just rubber-stamped lies. I've seen this as a leader in both military and state government. The same boiler-plate language is re-hashed from year to year, supervisors are too frightened to be honest, and the whole process becomes pointless.

My point is just that there should be some mechanism for critical feedback and, thus, improvement for a pastor. I'd venture to say a large proportion of pastors have not had honest, real, constructive criticism ever - and if they get it, it's interpreted as a spiteful attack (which it sometimes is, to be sure).

But, to return to the larger issue, it's disgraceful and pitiful for a pastor to just recycle his old stuff and coast. If you're doing this, then it's time to go. If he won't go, its time to fire him. I'm not sure how common this is, but I've seen it. The guy I'm thinking of knew it was wrong, and he found a replacement for himself.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

I'm currently on the search committee for a youth pastor at my church, and a few things I've noticed are very interesting.  First of all, despite being a decent sized church--attendance each Sunday north of 300--and having no debt, we're not buried in resumes.  OK, that makes it easier, but it does indicate that Steve and Craig have a point about not too many pastors being in the pipeline.  We're even seeing guys in their thirties applying, which makes sense given the closings of Northland, Pillsbury, and a bunch of other schools, along with significant reductions in student bodies at surviving schools like BJU.  It's very different from 20 years back, when you'd have a big pile of resumes, almost all of which were new graduates of the ripe old age of 22-24 years.  

Another interesting thing is that in terms of training, they all look about the same--it's a standard Bible college curriculum whether it's from Faith, Northland, Frontier, or wherever.  They also interview about the same--we've got a list of questions we ask, and whether they grew up FBFI or EFCA, the answers are remarkably similar.  The bright side of that is that in a "broad fundagelical" sense, we've got a lot of uniformity--the down side is that a lot of them don't seem to think outside that box.  Given that an elder is supposed to be "apt to teach", a lack of thinking things through in new ways is troubling to me.

Take it for what it's worth.  Also worth noting regarding a lack of pastors is that a neighboring church where I used to attend was about to close until a guy was brought in.  Lots of reasons for all this, and we can have (and do have) some spirited debates on the whys and how to fix it, but for the record.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

pvawter's picture

The fact that life expectancies for folks who make it to middle age are extending into the mid-80s means that pastoring into your 70s is not going to be unusual. Haydn Shaw calls this life stage "second life," beginning around age 65. Couple that with the life stage of emerging adulthood and it's no surprise that we're seeing fewer pastors in their 20s. It's not a death knell, but it is a new reality, and it is probably a good thing since older pastors are likely to be wiser and more stable than 20-somethings.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Everyone has experiences that they project to the church at large.  The point is that the church at large is large, and no size fits all. No size may even fit most.

I have seen many control-freak boards more than I have seen the opposite, but that is in my part of the country and my circles. Tyler has apparently seen the opposite problem in his circle.

I have had several pastor friends looking for places of ministry, and they don't come easy.  But, again, I am talking Bible churches up north, not Baptist churches down south (for example).  I have seen some pretty ridiculous pay scales for very demanding credentials (e.g., salary under 30 K for an M.Div).  To me, that takes a lot of nerve. If a church cannot pay a reasonable wage, they should not demand 7 years education after high school.

I have only HALF jokingly suggested pastors need a union. Some denominations serve as one, but it is shameful. One board holds a thumb over a pastor and controls him like a hired hand, like they own him. Another treats him with respect. Yet another might be like Tyler's picture.  There really needs to be more objective standards out there, reasonable and balanced expectations and respect for the pastor not just as a leader (functionary), but as a human being who is also a brother in Christ.

I have generally had good boards (not always, but mostly), but I have seen my peers come and go.  Frankly, many churches do not deserve ANY pastor. And, on the other hand, there are some pastors who should never have been in ministry.

Kind of funny that some churches are so guilty of age discrimination.  Many might argue that with age comes wisdom and that the term elder (which, in a church office, is not strictly an "age" term) originated from the belief that older men were the better leaders.

In I John, the Apostle highlights the positives of differing ages:

I am writing to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
    because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, children,
    because you know the Father.
14 I write to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
    because you are strong,
    and the word of God abides in you,
    and you have overcome the evil one.

Old men can often have the advantage of knowing God (better), and that is a good quality in a shepherd.  Some churches, however, often minimize that aspect of the Christian life, IMO, but prefer only the young "fighters."  

 

"The Midrash Detective"

G. N. Barkman's picture

Age is obviously one factor that applies to everyone, but is it really a highly significant indicator of pastoral effectiveness?  We've all known young pastors who were above average for their age, and older pastors who were sadly sub-par.  It's not really a matter of age, but of ability and dedication.  If a man is feeding the sheep and maintaining the respect of his congregation with his leadership, what difference does age make?

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

To Ed's comments:

  • As long as you have Baptist churches, you'll have autonomous churches, and that means you'll see a million different ways of doing things, and nobody's experiences will ever be quite the same!
  • My only point about performance reviews is that there should be some mechanism for critical feedback - not from the folks who always say, "Good sermon, Pastor!", but from people you know and trust to be brutally honest. We all know people who are awful preachers and pastors, and one reason may be because they're never received critical feedback - or welcomed it, either.
  • This is one area where a dual-pastor model will help.

To Bro. Barkman:

  • You're right - age doesn't really matter. It doesn't matter if a guy is over 55. Is he doing a good and faithful job? That's the real question.

I am not sure whether the pastoral pickings are slim. I've heard anecdotes (here and elsewhere) that they are. My own experience as a deacon on a pastoral search committee eight years ago is that we had too many applicants. We're starting a search for a new pastor ourselves now at my current church, and I'll let you know how things turn out!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

One thing that ought to be said about valuing ability/character over age is that if, as a rule, one doesn't find increasing ability and character among people as they age, one ought to seriously question whether that church is actively involved in making disciples.  No?  We can quibble on the criteria of what makes a "seasoned saint" increasingly Godly or carnal, but we ought to see some growth over the years if we're really being sanctified.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.