The On-going Struggle of Older Pastors Vs. Younger Pastors

Orginally published on Monday, March 12, 2007 at 6:03 AM
by Earl Creps

I used to describe some of what I do as “Worldview Therapy,” defined as anger management for younger leaders and grief recovery for the older. I’ve met hundreds of the first group on the road who are genuinely upset about the state of the Church and its ministers. They fear that the iron hand of Boomer control will remain in place so long that, by the time circumstances force some transitions, it will be too late. Many of these younger friends were simply walking away from the Boomer vision of church, often identified as the “big box” (like Wal-Mart). The rationales I heard ranged from what one friend called his “postmodern crisis” to more traditional reasons like a lack of personal relationship with the senior leader.

Almost simultaneously, the older ministers I was meeting a couple years ago were talking to me off the books about feeling like the future was slipping away from them. These peers kept a brave face, and were often regarded as successful, but they expressed dismay over the unwillingness of the young to follow them, either as members of their churches or their staffs.

So I invested a lot of time encouraging the young ones to look past the angry part to some new sense of mission. I told the old that their best days could still be ahead of them if they listened for God’s voice. I thought I had this kind of thing pretty much sorted out.

Then a couple months ago I started hearing some new language from both tribes. First, a group of youth ministers shocked me with their positive statements about their senior pastors. Didn’t they know this relationship is supposed to be tense?

Then, a thirtysomething leader told me that he actually is past the angry part now and wants to work on “re-embracing” his heritage (in this case Pentecostal) but is unsure how to do so without identifying with some aspects of our neighborhood that he finds questionable.

Just weeks before, a successful mid-life leader of a big box ministry made a confession in front of a discussion group I was leading with these words: “I am so tired of church.” His comments took the air out of the room, but they were repeated in yet another state by a pastor of about the same age who openly speaks with his staff of his search for something (anything) fresh and meaningful in his calling.

Obviously this is weird science, so I have no way of knowing how representative these remarks are, but consider the possibility that there are at least three ways that these leadership cohorts relate to each other:

(1) Problem/Solution: conflict ensues when each side sees itself as the solution to the “problems” represented by the other, e.g., both view their counterpart as unwilling to listen to the ideas that could fix things.

(2) Solution/Solution: relational distance increases when each cohort advances a different solution for the problems of the Church overall, creating a war of paradigms.

(3) Problem/Problem: both groups might come together around their mutual inadequacies if key influencers among them could simply say their own problems out loud--with their peers at first, and then in each other’s presence.

What if older leaders heard the young say something like, “I’m ready to re-embrace substance, but not style, how do you understand the difference?”

And what if the young heard the middle-aged say something like, “This church thing is taking the life out of me; why do you still love it?”

I’ll spot you that this is a fantasy meeting of the first order that would require a breathtaking level of honesty that lots of us may not have to give. But perhaps that’s because we’ve had almost no models. I also want to stipulate that conflict per se is not evil. In fact it can create long-term health. So the point here is not to eliminate it, but to prevent it from squandering our potential together.

Neither battling over alternative solutions nor treating each other as diseases to be cured is a path forward. What if we changed our vocabulary at times from accusation (“You’re weak”) to confession (“I’m weak”)? The worst that could happen is that we would have something to talk about other than the ways in which we do not get along.

About the Author:  Earl Creps has spent several years visiting congregations that are attempting to engage emerging culture. He directs doctoral studies for the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri (http://www.agts.edu).  Earl and his wife Janet have pastored three churches, one Boomer, one Builder, and one GenX. He speaks, trains, and consults with ministries around the country. Earl’s book, Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders, was published by Jossey-Bass/Leadership Network in 2006. Connect with Earl at http://www.earlcreps.com .



This post has been viewed 3523 times so far.

  There are 15 Comments:

  • Posted by

    I have served in several churches as a music director over the years.  I have found that where there was a generation gap between myself and the senior pastor, it just has not worked out.  In the churches that I have served where the pastor and I were closer in age, we meshed well.  I am back at a church where the senior pastor is 20 years older, he is intent on making me a traditionalist, and I am intent on making him more contemporary.  So far, I’m succeeding.  He has taken some of my advice, and I have taken some of his. His messages are more laid back, he comes out from behind the pulpit, he uses more relative illustrations, and the contemporary service is growing dramatically.  I have taken more time to work on hymns and doxologies and gloria patris, and we have also seen increased numbers in our traditional service.  Either way, we need to be relevant and consistent in our ministries.  Traditionalists need to realize the need for a more contemporary service, and those who are gung ho contemporary need to realize that the traditionalists are primarily those who have come before us, and we need not turn them away.  Ideally, we need to all worship together, generation to generation.

  • Posted by RevJeff

    So HUMILITY is a key to successful ministry?  Who’ would have thunk it?

  • Posted by

    As a 30-something children’s pastor, I identified very closely with this article.  Last year, I left a church where I had no confidence that the 50-something senior pastor had the competence and vision to lead the church successfully (He referred to the church’s decline as “getting down to Gideon’s 300").  I’m now at a much younger church, enjoying the freedom of a healthier vision.  I don’t think I could have sat down with my previous pastor and had the frank conversation that this article suggests.

  • Posted by kent

    I cannot image that if my bottom line desire to serve Jesus and see his kingdom advance, and someone younger or older has the same desire that we could not learn from one another and work together.

    The problem comes down to which method and path we do we take. My way or the highway has never been an effectvie kingdom bullding strategy.

  • Posted by Bart

    You are right, the my way or the highway never works well.  I have seen a “traditional” church hire a “contemoprary’ music director, only ot tell him that he must be traditonal or take the highway.  I have seen contemporary music guys go to a traditional church and then treaten to leave if they don’t get their way in music.  The problem is that neither communicated well in the interview process about what exactly would be the role and position.  But isn’t this my way or the highway view held by all of us?  If I don’t get the things I want I will hop to another church is the way we as Christians have embraced.  It has been embraced by leadership as expressed in the post from last week about choosing who you will lose, and in focusing on who your target audience is.  If you don’t fit what we want we will abandon you.  We need to look at the church and it’s purpose and function in a different light.

  • Posted by

    I agree with Bart.  The my way or the highway is way to prevelant in our churches today.  The way people float from church to church based on preferences has always been a puzzling and frustrating thing to me.  Maybe they do it because we as leaders model it.  Is there something more to church than just making it how you like it? 

    Why are we as leaders so afraid to have honest conversations with each other.  I have met some older pastors who are confident in their calling and secure in their positions.  I worked with one almost 30 years my senior who allowed me to try new and different things even if they failed.  I wish that I had been more humble in my willingness to learn from his wisdom.

    Why the generation gap.  Yes culture changes and methods should grow and develop.  Yet the heart of ministry, loving God and others (Matt. 22) never changes.  Rev Jeff is right Humility, Humility, Humility

    My rambling is over.

  • I would a gree with many points in the article and have experience both sides.  In my first ministry - the Senior pastor wasn’t that old actually - but he was insecure - and retired on the job.  He didn’t want anyone rocking the boat.  Today I have a senior pastor who supports the new and values the old.  He sees the need for new ideas and methods to try to re-ignite faith and action.  At the same time he ensures we do not stray too far from theologically sound principle and practice.  Here we are beginning to break boxes and our senior pastor is in his 60s.  Age4 can have some to do with it - comfort zone has so much more!

  • Posted by

    Along with humility is authenticity. When a pastor no matter his age reveal his heart and passion for God and his people. The congregation will respond. I have been to the generationally challenged church and now work at a generationally meshing church. The various generations value the others and share with authenticity about their faith in God. I also think that both generations need to expect God will say something fresh to the new situation they presently find themselves.  A humble and treachable spirit is vital to that emerging experiece.

  • Posted by kent

    Consumer base theology always bring strife. yes we carry that my way of highway attitude, and it is sin. Yup I meant to say sin, because it exludes and divides. The church I serve is not mine, I am sinply one in a long line that care forit and then pass it a long. I serve not consume.

    Calcification of the mind and heart have infected too many senior pastors. At 51 I have to have the flexibilty to learn and grow. I have to know that what worked in 1995 won’t necessarily work in 2007. Can I have a conversation those who are younger than me, and there are sooooo many of them, and engage in the gvie and take learning?

  • Posted by

    I can relate to the article. I am serving as Pastor of Worship Arts where I attempt to serve a wide variety of age groups. We offer music mix from choral arrangements to David Crowder. Our leadership style is team, with Jesus being the “lead pastor” We have differences, but they are embraced. Our common goal is to see people come to Christ and for believers to mature.  Age, in this situation does not matter.... all of us (young and old) are on the same journey together!

  • Posted by

    Great discussion - we need to allow the Lord to use these situations to grow us and I’ talking on both sides of the fence - both older pastor and younger. bp mentioned “ I don’t think I could have had that frank conversation.” I take it from that it was never confronted - why? We run away from situations too quickly in the church. Healthy conflict confronted in a spirit of love changes mindsets and helps us to grow. I remember having one of those conflicts before I was a pastor with a much older pastor who said “no way it will be done my way.” I went to prayer and asked the Lord to either change me or change him. The Lord changed him. Many occasions though I have had to surrender, after all it’s Christ we serve. Let’s confront these situations “IN LOVE” and include much prayer for the other person and allow Christ to do the changing - not us.

  • Posted by

    Just a thought that there is room in the church for sincere differences of opinion over methods of ministry.  For example, Paul and Barnabus came to an impasse over whether to bring along Mark.  The result was that they each went their separate ways.  In doing so, though, more people were reached witht he gospel!

    Some senior pastor who wants to remain very traditional in his approach to ministry way very well be following Christ’s call for his life.  In the same fashion, the young turk who wants to go downtown and start a church in a storefront what ministers to the artsy crowd that frequents that section of town may be right where he needs to be. 

    Yes, we can learn from one another, but we don’t necessarily have to meet in the middle.

  • Posted by kent

    I wonder if the reason more of these conversations are not happening is because there nor many places for them to occur? If they occur in the chruch where you have vocational safety issue in play candor may be sacrifcied and power is exercised. If not in the churhc then where? At denominational meetings, where not everyone attends, or if you do attend and say somthing that is “unacceptable” future vocational opportunities may disappear? So where?

    It would be fun to have community forums where differing church back grounds can gather and converse, passionately, about such issues. Face to face in conversation. Not lectures, but dialogue. That would be alright.

  • Posted by

    Kiwi Jeff, I saw several other people have that conversation with the pastor over a period of several months.  I repeatedly saw him react with indifference to how his leadership was affecting the church, always blaming the people who were leaving.  And yes, like Bart suggests, much of what I eventually learned about the church should have come out in the interview process.  But I never said “my way or the highway.” I prayed and waited for an open door, then I quietly left, even though I was told it was ministerial suicide to leave a position without having another one lined up.  I spent the summer looking, and the right church finally found me.  So far it’s been wonderful--a breath of fresh air.

  • Posted by

    I wonder if it is less to do with age than with passion.  Maybe so many years in the pulpit start to wear down some pastors, as in the example above, where they just don’t want to rock the boat anymore.  Or maybe they are still working from their vision from the church they had 15 years ago without any new revelation or methods. 

    Then you have a young pastor come on board who wants waves as high as they can get if that’s what it takes to get the boat to where it needs to go, or at least where the new pastor percieves it should go.  Maybe there is balance.  Maybe there is a better way.  This ties in with wanting to give up in ministry sometimes.  The head pastor seems to have no true definition of vision and purpose for the church, and another department head is so excited and fired up, ready to go so the two working together may lead to a lot of miscommunication and frustration.  I speak in generalities, but it is the case where I am now.  The pastor has no true vision for the church except to preach to the people who come in on Sunday mornings.  Hearing him talk, he basically wants everyone to be nice to each other.  I can’t figure out beyond that what he really wants. 

    God challenged me with Phillipians 2- In all humility, consider others better than yourself.  Paul challenges the church to be one in heart, mind, spirit and vision.  The only way to do that is to put others first, consider them to know more than I do and continue on.  God establishes our authorities, and the head pastor is most certainly an authority for an associate or department head pastor.  So as far as I can, I push my vision.  Youth building for my community?  Most certainly.  Drama team?  Check!  Mulit-media integrated into the service?  You better believe it!  Concert style worship?  Yup.  Community events and constant outreach?  Wouldn’t have a ministry without it.  It is hard to have a vision and a passion when the headship over me doesn’t share that same enthusiasm, but on the bright side, he isn’t hampering my style and usually gives me free reign!

  • Page 1 of 1 pages

Post Your Comments:





Live Comment Preview:

Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below: