Nearly all of the attention and encouragement given to pastors in conferences, podcasts, books, videos, or otherwise, is pointed to a stereotype of a younger pastor who is out there trying to change the world.
A person who is often overlooked is that more senior pastors who has been out there ministering with excellence for at least a couple decades. The kind of pastor I’m talking about is the last guy described here in an insightful little story told by Jonathan Alexander which I shared recently, but this tidbit bears repeating here …
I remember having lunch with John for the first time. John was on our elder leadership team, and I had just arrived as the new Pastor of Community Life. So John and I are at lunch having some light conversation, and he says this to me: “You won’t be really effective until you’re in your 40s.” Mind you, I had just turned 30. And when I left my 20s behind I remember thinking, “Finally, I’m 30 years old … now people will take me seriously.” And here I have John telling me I have 10 more years before I can even be effective.
I’ll confess, I wasn’t too pleased in the moment. But instead of getting up and walking out (and stiffing him with the bill), I listened to what he had to say. He began to explain, “When you’re in your 20s, you’re trying to figure out who you are, what your gifts are, and what you’re good at. Then when you hit your 30s, you know 4-5 things that you’re good at and you hone in on them. And then finally, when you hit your 40s you know the 1 or 2 things that you are great at and you maximize those through your 40s and 50s. Then in your mid to late 50s, in your 60s and beyond, you’re figuring out how to pass those things on to the next generation.”
It’s these guys who have been ministering for so many years they have refined their ministry and they have been pouring into younger leaders for years. They have led their congregations with humility and excellence, and have made a real impact for the kingdom of God. These are the guys who have written the books all the other ministers read to learn from, and whose examples they reference. It’s these more senior leaders I’d like to take notice of and offer some encouragement with a pinch of challenge.
Even though these are the guys who have been blazing the trails, setting the examples, and providing encouragement for all the rest of us, they can use some of their own encouragement. Today’s church in Western culture is ageist, it worships young pastors who preach in skinny jeans and fitted shirts and are members of the same gym you are. Often overlooked are the men who have spent decades in their study and on their knees so they could competently lead all the rest of us. As churches search for “young ministers with young families” who can “attract” young families from the communities, these more senior of pastors can be overlooked and vastly under-valued. Here’s a few words of encouragement for them:
You’re not even close to being done, you’re just hitting your stride!
Now that you’re arriving at a place in your relationship with Jesus that you’re more mature in your faith than most everyone you lead and minister with, it’s not time to back off! Now is the time to bless your congregation, community, and the greater church with the wisdom you’ve gained through a longer, sustained journey of faith. While you encourage and support younger ministers coming up in the church, they’re still trying to figure out life (marriage, parenting, what servant leadership is) and they’re still coming to you for advice because you’ve “been there, done that,” there’s little they’ll experience you haven’t already been through. Reaching this level of maturity doesn’t mean it’s time to step aside, it means it’s time to step up even more! Unleash all that God has been teaching you for the benefit of everyone you serve, and let the church benefit from years of consistent excellence.
It’s time to raise the bar, not pass the baton. Growing wiser in the faith is an opportunity to grow deeper in Jesus. You know from decades of experience that everything you’ve accomplished really was achieved through Christ, and all for His glory. So use that depth you’ve gained to go deeper with Jesus, and then do what you’ve done for all these many years — pass on to everyone else an even deeper experience with the Lord.