For church leaders, 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 conque. In evangelical folklore, we are constantly inundated with stories of wildly successful churches (read: BIG) with pastors who are almost surprisingly young (late 20′s to early 30′s). These stories have slowly seeped there 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 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 20′s to their late 50′s 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.
Because the accrued wisdom needed to lead a Kingdom movement is simply not possible for someone who is younger. For instance, the early church didn’t really begin to take on movemental properties, at least in my opinion, until Paul is training and sending out team beginning in Acts 19 in Ephesus. At that point in his life, Paul is probably well over 50.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t necessarily have to do with IQ and smarts and charismatic gifting. It comes with the wisdom of trying at something for more than 30 years and all the failure that this entails. We may love the stories of wild success that seemingly find overnight at a young age, but these things aren’t reproducible.
I’m starting to find certain things incredibly reproducible and every day my ability to do them grows…even in the midst of failure. I expect that will lead to a lot of gained wisdom in the next 20 years, right?
For me, I find this liberating. No longer is the pressure there to perform, achieve and prove by the eve of my 31st birthday. What it does is allow me to simply listen to what God is asking me to do and to constantly reflect on what I’m learning as I respond to what he’s saying…in both success and failure. Knowing that the more experience and reflection I have, the more capacity I have to lead something truly movemental in the future.
This isn’t me trying to skirt responsibility, but to process the nature of human development and growth as I’m observing things around me.
I wonder if that makes sense? What say you, faithful readers?
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