Guest Post by Stan Toler
Many churches refuse to consider potential pastors who are in their 50s and 60s, and I believe that’s a great mistake. Sixty is the new 40, and “senior” pastors have more to contribute now than ever.
Age discrimination is indeed a factor in the hiring of pastors and staff members. Thom Rainer has concluded that it is “pervasive” in the church and has been for some two decades.
Both older and younger pastors may be excluded from consideration because they do not fit the preconceived profile of the church board or search committee.
I’m convinced that churches do not do this maliciously but genuinely believe they are helping their congregations.
I am equally convinced that many congregations are missing out on some the best candidates to help their congregation grow, especially in the wake of long-term stagnation or conflict.
I’m a great cheerleader for young people in ministry, yet in this post I’d like to address the special benefits of hiring pastors in their 50s and 60s.
Men and women in this age group are often seen as “coasting” or “marking time” until retirement. In my experience, that is an unwarranted—and inaccurate—generalization.
Here are 11 reasons to give mature leaders an equal opportunity.
1. High Trust
The pastorate can be a high-stress profession, and many clergy burn out or drop out. The mere fact that a mature minister continues to have passion for ministry shows that they have an ample dose of maturity, wisdom, patience, and credibility.
2. Low Distractions
Empty nesters have the ability to focus on whatever they choose. The days of changing diapers, correcting homework, and rushing out the door to soccer practice are over. Mature ministers have more time to devote to their passion.
3. Thicker Skin, Softer Heart
Seasoned pastors have become comfortable in their own skin. They’ve been through contentious board meetings, close softball games, shotgun weddings, and crisis counseling sessions. They’ve seen the underside of life from a pastor’s point of view, and they understand human weakness. They are well able to be patient, compassionate, and gentle with their congregants.
4. Decades of Experience
The usual rationale for hiring younger pastors is that they have fresh ideas, lots of energy, and will attract young people. That freshness comes at the expense of experience, which mature pastors have in abundance. They’ve probably conducted the funeral of a child or a suicide. They’ve seen churches through transitions. They’ve managed money when times were tough. That rich experience translates into wise leadership.
5. Well-Paced Change
It’s a myth that older pastors are stuck in the past and don’t want to initiate change. However, many have seen congregations divided by ill-thought or hurried changes, especially in response to crises. Mature pastors are patient. They understand how to implement change.
6. Big-Picture Thinking
Many more seasoned pastors have spent their career in mid-sized and smaller churches. As solo pastors or senior pastors with a small staff, they have borne the burden of seeing the big picture. They understand how discipleship impacts church finances, and how facilities maintenance affects momentum. They think holistically about church health and growth.
7. Well-Chosen Battles
Not every situation is a crisis to be managed, a mountain to climb, or a hill to die on. Mature pastors can recognize the difference between a programming fad and a genuine shift in discipleship or ecclesiology. They know when to change and when to wait, when to confront and when to walk away.
8. Clear Sense of Identity
Mature pastors have had decades to work out their gifting, their role, and the unique contribution they make to a congregation. They know who they are, what they can do, and, just as important, what they can’t. They understand their own calling.
9. Secure in Their Career
I love young pastors, and I thrive on their energy, passion, and willingness to try anything. Yet I know that some of the younger pastors I teach will not be in the ministry five years from now. They’re finding themselves and their professional identities. And that’s exactly what they should be doing. Older ministers have answer all those questions. They’re doing something that they know for sure they are called to do—and will continue doing so long as they have the opportunity.
10. Institutional Memory
Pastors in their third or fourth decade of ministry understand the church and their own denominations. They know how it works, what it reacts to, and its shared beliefs. They know doctrine, ecclesiology, and the history of their movement. Far from being a ball and chain, this rich memory makes a firm foundation for growth and change.
11. Lots of Energy Left
Thirty years ago, a car with 100,000 miles on it was considered worn out. Now cars routinely go twice or three times that distance. Same with people. They’re living longer and healthier than ever before. A 62-year-old minister has years left before retirement—and the energy to keep a good pace.
I was given a chance to pastor a church as 17-year-old junior in high school, so I am all for promoting young people into ministry positions. I understand the value of youth.
Yet I see that many churches are placing all their eggs in that basket, counting on youthful vitality alone to revive or change their waning congregations.
Remember that John was about 90 when he received the Revelation. Moses was 80 when called to lead the children of Israel. And Caleb as at least that age when he rightly said, “I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then” (Joshua 14:11).
Don’t overlook a pastor who could made a real difference for your church and community because of their age. That wisdom and experience could be just what your congregation needs.
Stan Toler is an international speaker and best-selling author, but he’s best known as a pastor to pastors. In a ministry career spanning 50 years, he’s held nearly every role in the church from youth pastor to general superintendent. His more than 100 books have sold over 3 million copies, and he keeps a travel and speaking schedule of over 100 dates per year. His latest book is The Power of Your Attitude.