Because I work with many churches and church leaders, church leadership headhunters often call me asking if I know of someone’s name they might pass on to a church trying to fill a position. I had been hearing the same request over and again so I asked one of the headhunters this question, “When a church is looking for a senior pastor or staff member, do they tell you what the maximum age is of the person the church is willing to consider?” The fellow on the other end of the line responded affirmatively. I then asked the next obvious question, “What is that age?” When he said the number most churches were verbalizing to him I was dumbfounded. Without hesitation he said, “35” (It was either 35 or 30, I can’t remember which so I’m giving the benefit of the doubt by giving the higher number.). At some point, the average search team makes a decision and writes it down. They have decided that they will only consider someone in the position that is in their mid-thirties or younger.
But this bias isn’t limited to committees. It may be especially troubling when 30 something pastors are hiring their next staff member. I was once sitting with a group of senior pastors. During a conversation about a church in need of a pastor, one of the more vocal, outspoken pastors in the group declared, “I know that church. They’ll never be a growing church because they won’t be able to get a young pastor to come to their church.” The insinuation… Church leaders over 35 are obviously going to be ineffective leaders.
I’m so glad that some of the present decision makers didn’t make the call on some of the most important people in biblical history. Think about it… 80 year old Moses wouldn’t have made the first cut. Neither would Joshua. Joshua was given charge of the conquest of Canaan the last thirty years of his life and he was 110 when he died. Daniel served God from the days of his youth, for over 70 years. Most believe he was over 80 when he was one of the governors over the kingdom of Babylon, was thrown into the lion’s den, prospered during the reigns of Darius and Cyrus, and received visions that are still important to us to this day. Had he had those visions in today’s church culture, he may not have been respected enough to get them published. Even Paul, the most important church planter of all time, the chosen man of God who took the gospel to non-Jews couldn’t get a position in many of today’s churches. In Philemon 9 he refers to himself as, “Paul, an old man…”. Yet we know that during his later years he was still writing, traveling, visiting and encouraging churches, and endured the life of a prisoner on behalf of the Gospel.
Maybe today’s church needs to remember what the Bible promises concerning people of age and maturity who have grown in righteousness.
The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
Psalm 94:12 – 15
Looks like one age group a pastor search team can count on to be effective, at least according to Scripture, are older people who have journeyed with God. The Bible says that they will, “bear fruit in old age”. (vs. 14)
Or maybe today’s church needs to remember that all categories that bring about mental segregation were set aside when the body of Christ was established… 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:26 – 29
Or maybe it would be wise for those making the next hire to consider a person’s spiritual maturity, ministry experience, spiritual gifts, calling, and passion for the community they’ll be ministering in. When these things are taken into consideration age means nothing.
Most importantly… Maybe today’s selection team should be careful when they speak with their congregation. Oftentimes they say to the church members, “We’re praying and seeking God’s person for this position.” Why should they be careful? Because if the team is limiting God to people under or over a certain age, they may not be seeking the next person God wants to bring to the church. They may be seeking to present a candidate that fits the view they have in their minds eye, and what we see in our flawed, sin ridden, imperfect mind may look nothing like what God is seeing in His.