A Leadership Paradox
I’ve been contemplating a return to vocational ministry over the last year. I can’t get away from the reality that my heart has a pastoral bent. I’m not clear yet what shape that may take–senior, lead or solo pastor, or a staff position providing pastoral care–but I’m concluding it’s how I’m wired. I would like to give my remaining productive days to this calling.
I’ve discovered a couple of things in my search. One, there appears to be an age prejudice running through the church world. I get the impression that many hiring boards assume that if you are over 35 or 40, you are out of touch, out of energy, and of no real use to their pursuits in building successful church organizations.
I find this prejudice confusing. As a nearly 53-year-old, seasoned and experienced leader, I believe I have more to offer now than I ever have.
Second, I’ve recently been focusing my Scripture study and meditation on Ephesians. In it, Paul lays out an incredibly deep and complex theological basis for the Christian experience in the first three chapters. In 4:1, he launches into his application. He expounds on what authentic Christian living looks like.
What’s the first quality he highlights? Humility and gentleness.
Those attributes are seldom, if ever, spoken of in the Christian formation culture I’ve been a part of. When they are, they tend to be minimized at best, sometimes scorned as weakness. Yet Paul places them first, as if they are primary character traits foundational to living the life he envisions for Christ followers.
I’ve been working on merging these two discoveries. What would it be like if we could somehow make humility and gentleness be the primary criteria in choosing our church leaders?
What if instead of asking prospective pastoral staff to list their accomplishments and detail their doctrinal positions, hiring committees first and foremost insisted that candidates be humble and gentle?
What would churches look like if their pastors were known more for their humility and gentleness than their oratory skills and charismatic leadership and their success in accomplishing goals?
I find that I’m much more equipped to appreciate and embrace humility and gentleness in my 50’s, than I was in my 30’s and 40’s. I suspect that this is generally true for most of us. Age and experience certainly are an advantage in developing these qualities. It’s not a guarantee, but certainly possible. But I fear that there’s a good chunk of American church culture willing to dismiss much needed mature leadership because of age prejudice.