There is an old joke that says the typical church seeks a pastor who is 35 years old, has 25 years of ministry experience, two children and a wife who plays the piano.
After working with many churches in their search for a pastor, I can tell you that is the expectation for some.
I’ve had many search committees tell me that their next pastor needs to be married with children, and one actually commented that it would be really good if their new pastor’s wife could play the piano.
Countless committees have stated that their church would prefer a younger pastor who has new ideas that would help grow their church.
One of the questions I ask is why they think only young pastors can have new ideas.
I do know some younger pastors who are extremely creative, and their churches are engaging in fantastic ministry in their communities.
I also know some older pastors who are very creative and continue to lead their churches in excellent ministry.
It is a huge mistake to believe that all younger pastors can be creative and that all older pastors cannot effectively lead a church in today’s society.
Some churches express concern that if they call an older pastor he or she will not be there for a long time.
The reality is that most pastors don’t remain in smaller churches for very long anyway. Statistics vary, but the average tenure in a church is only three to four years, regardless of the age of the pastor.
Many younger pastors who want to climb “the ministerial ladder” are going to be looking for a larger church soon after arriving at a small church.
By contrast, some older pastors have little interest in serving in a larger church. In fact, many have already been in those churches and are excited about being in a smaller one.
Another concern is that an older pastor would not be able to relate well to young people.
One church liked a retired pastor after interviewing him but decided not to call him as pastor. When I asked why, they said they did not think he could build their youth group.
I pointed out to them that the youngest person in that church was in his mid-50s, and the average age of the congregation was probably near 70.
They also had no youth in the church and were unlikely to attract any regardless of whom they called as pastor. I continue to believe that candidate would have been a good match for that church.
One concern that has been expressed only a few times to me about an older candidate is whether he or she would have the energy required to pastor a church. In most cases, this is not an issue.
If the church expects the pastor to give the church 80 to 90 hours a week, that will be a problem for anyone regardless of age and is an unrealistic expectation anyway.
The needs of most smaller churches are well within the energy capabilities of older clergy.
Older pastors also bring something to the church that younger ministry cannot provide: experience.
They have been through the battles and learned which ones are worth fighting and which ones are not.
Many of them understand the importance of building relationships with people, which is vital in the smaller church. They also understand that not every great idea is right for that particular time or place.
There are some things about ministry that one can only learn through years of doing ministry, and older pastors bring that with them.
One of the things that ministers are often told is that they should be where they want to finish their ministry by the age of 55.
After that, it can be very difficult to move to a new ministry because so many churches are looking for younger leadership.
There is a great deal of truth in that advice. Many of the churches that I assist in their pastoral search will not consider anyone over the age of 60. I think this is a huge mistake.
A reality facing many smaller churches today is difficulty finding pastoral leadership. They compound this problem by automatically excluding older pastors from consideration.
There are many older pastors, even retired ministers, who would enjoy serving in a smaller church.
Yet, they are often not given the opportunity even though they have much to offer the church and want to be engaged in meaningful ministry.
The next time your church is searching for a pastor, don’t automatically exclude those of us with a little (or a lot) of grey in our hair. You might be pleased with the ministry you would receive.
Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Ind., for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Bivocational Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.
Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years followed by a 14-year ministry as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky.