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Is something wrong with getting older?

May 22, 2013

There has been a certain amount of internet chatter these past few days about older clergy.  It all started with an article that indicated that the Texas United Methodists wanted to discourage people over 45 from becoming pastors; proposing instead that they “pursue other expressions of lay ministry.”  You can see their reasoning by following the link, as well as a new link to their response to the uproar they have set off.

In a nutshell it seems to me that the poor Methodists are concerned that their current pastoral demographics tip quite heavily to the 45+ range and they didn’t want to make matters worse.  Perhaps they feared that this demographic was sending a message that their “open hearts, open minds, open doors” motto was really only for us older folks.  Perhaps they feel they needed to show a younger and more hip face to the world.   And they may be right.  I suspect that it has been some time since anyone used the word Methodist in the same sentence as young and hip.

The whole matter seems to have moved, on the internet at least, away from the Methodists themselves into a discussion on the merits of older vs. younger clergy and, in the ways these discussions often drift, even into the strengths and weaknesses of younger and older believers.  As someone with 45 barely discernible in life’s rear view mirror I’ve followed the discussion with interest.

So which is better?  Older clergy, and for that matter, congregants?   Or younger?  As you might expect, there is a certain, but not unanimous, trending that the older you are the more you seem to think the old folks have a lot to offer.  Shockingly, the younger you are, again with exceptions, the more the idea of younger clergy seems to be appealing.

Thus far the tenor of the debate has been civil.  Neither side is exactly comfortable being outright critical of the other; I suppose nobody wants to be accused of ageism.  The older folks, in general, are credited with wisdom and experience and accused of being stuck in their ways and out of touch.  The younger ones are energetic, in touch, and more attuned to what is needed today and accused of being impetuous and naïve.

One distasteful, but true, consideration is that all generations tend to be somewhat more comfortable with their peers.  It is easier to relate to those your age as you share common issues and problems.  I’ve seen the “eyes glazed over” look younger folks get when a conversation starts with the phrase “I remember when…”

So, as an older person, what do I do?  Here are some principles that come to mind.

–          It is not about age but attitude, in particular humility and the willingness to learn.  If there is a common thread in the talk of weakness in older clergy it is that they are so sure about so much that they can sometimes appear to be lecturing more than conversing.

–          I need to accept, and not worry about, the reality that some aspects of life have passed me by.  In my lifetime there have been at least four major transformations in the technology of communication.  I’m sure more are coming.  I will never be as comfortable with new technologies that developed when I was after 50 as those born to it but my value and worth is not riding on being “with it.”

–          If I have any wisdom it is not in the form of giving specific advice to younger folks on things they understand better than me.  I probably won’t be the author of the next “ah ha” moment.  My gifts should be to offer help in refining ideas and support in execution.

–          I think we should switch sides in the young vs. old discussion.  Too often older folks revere the status quo, or even the past, while younger ones champion fresh starts and new initiatives.  I’d rather see my generation cheering, encouraging, protecting and supporting younger people as they lead with their ideas.  By the same token I’d like to see younger people expressing appreciation and value for what previous generations have given them.  Things may need to change but every generation stands on the shoulders of the one before.

What about you?  What do you think of the merits of older, and younger, clergy?

 

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From → Christianity

One Comment
  1. younger people learned from older people’s experiences and older people learned new things from younger people. they both have the merits, and it’s a matter of being dedicated to learn new things.

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