Age Old Questions Pt 3: Am I too Young to be a Pastor?
I started seminary at the peach fuzz age of 23 years young. The naivety of youth made me feel invincible enough to take the 3 year route to a 4 year degree which meant I (pointlessly) graduated with the MDiv degree as a ministerial tadpole, at age 26. Unless I wanted to start a youth cult, my prospects of being a pastor were as thin as my curriculum vitae.
Just like a profession, the job advertisements read “Must have 10 years of experience.” How to get experience as a pastor without being a pastor is a conundrum that channels young seminary grads into children’s ministry. This is where your flannel-graph skill set secures you your first flock of preteens to cut your expository teeth on. Once you’ve mastered a battery of sermons on obeying your parents, tithing your pocket-money, sharing your Playstation, and standing up to bullies like Goliath, you are eligible for the next level of experience: the young adult circuit.
Youth ministry lets you trade in your flannel-graph easel and picture Bible for an iPad and flask of vanilla latte while you preach from your smart phone to an audience that envies your faux-hawk hairstyle and trendy Hebrew tattoo. With a growing repertoire of camp games, pop-culture references, and sermons mostly on lust, video games, and body piercing, you can now append to your swelling résumé that you have the prerequisite “experience” needed to shepherd a flock of hoary headed saints who have been saved longer than you’ve been alive.
Children’s and youth ministries are both worthy arenas, but not all seminoids are gifted in this genre of service, and end up trading in their blonde peroxide frosted tips for a little gray peppering on their temples.
Ironically, when churches plug well-rounded pastors into rigid age-related ministry (the proverbial square hole) to run the intern gamete for five years, they think they are preparing them for future ministry, but are then often disappointed at their eventually middle-aged youth pastor’s trendy ways, youthful appearance, funky style, and persistent use of the word “dude.” Well, what did you expect— that five years of communicating with hipster Millennials would make his preaching more mature and more appealing to baby-boomers?
But churches aren’t all to blame. Young pastors need to work hard at being respectable and making that evident, not through a cultivated image, but by their behavior.
Paul told his young liege, the timid tyke, Timothy:
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim 4:12-15).
The solution to pastoral inexperience and lack of candles on your birthday cake, is to let your life speak for itself. The solution for young pastors is simple but rigorous: Set an example…devote yourself…use your gift…practice…immerse. And the result? “So that all may see your progress.”
As long as you are noticeably progressing, i.e. heading the right direction, your flock will put up with a generous dose of your failures. Use the words “dude,” “like,” and “gnarly” sparingly and with decreasing frequency, and eventually the church curmudgeons will stop turning their hearing aids to mute as you start your sermon.
Related article: Young Guns: Despising the Youth of Pastors.