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Church Leadership: Is 50 the New 30?

Last year, I wrote a post called “The Alexander Syndrome” that’s been coming back to my mind lately.

This was the basic premise: At the age of 30, Alexander looked upon his Kingdom and wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer. In evangelical folklore, we are constantly inundated with stories of wildly successful churches (read: BIG) and with pastors who are almost surprisingly young (late 20s to early 30s). These stories have slowly seeped their way into the subconscious of many young pastors, and there is an unspoken pressure that says, “By the time you’re 30, you need to have done something ridiculously significant and made your mark on the world.” This leads to a frenetic, stressed way of living for many of these pastors who find themselves not measuring up and constantly “behind” the curve (at least in their minds).

But here’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.

What if the most fruitful ministry years are really supposed to be when you’re between the ages of 50-70?

For quite some time, there has been a paradigm that has said a senior leader’s most significant time of ministry would be between the ages of 35-45. Why? Because in a traditional church setting, the senior leader’s most important contribution is the teaching they give on Sunday. Furthermore, within this model, a speaker can usually attract people who are 10 years older and 10 years younger. The ages of 35-45 would mean you’re attracting people who are newly married (pre-kids) all the way to empty nesters whose kids have just gone to college. That means you get couples from their 20s to their late 50s AND all of their kids.

At least that’s the thought.

But clearly, the contents of my blog have always been far more concerned with movements. I don’t have anything against traditional church models, per se, but simply to say that I see the call of the Kingdom to be far more movemental in its properties than institutional in nature.

Now I’ve had the opportunity to study sustainable, meaningful movements. I’ve also had the opportunity to work alongside someone who is leading one.

And here is my contention: You simply couldn’t lead a meaningful Kingdom movement before the age of 50. You could maybe start one and plant seeds for it. But in terms of leading one, growing one, sustaining one, I wonder if you have to be 50 and older.

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doug@3dm.com'
Doug is the Director of Communications for 3DM, and organization devoted to building a disciple-making culture in the local church.