Now, at 33, I’m the lead pastor of a church plant. I regularly get told, “You don’t look like a pastor?!” I actually enjoy this comment. Most people apparently think that a pastor has to be a certain age (50’s +), and dress with a weird white collar, or at least a suit and tie. I play Xbox, preach in jeans and a V-neck, and recognize most of the artists on your teens playlist. Not exactly the typical “clergy” persona, I guess.
Most churches looking to hire a pastor, want a man who is at least 50, has a Masters of Divinity, and 20 years experience. It’s obvious to me that a young pastor has always received significant criticism for their youth. Even the apostle Paul gave his young protege, Timothy (a young pastor) some important instruction: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
So here are a few benefits I see to having a young, lead pastor:
- Tenure. A young lead pastor has the potential to serve one church for 30+ years. LifeCity’s sending church saw it’s best years under the 44 year ministry of a personal friend and mentor, Mel Brown. The church was running about 120 people when he became “pastor” back in 1968. At the point he retired, the church was running over 800 every week. You could count on one hand the number of people who were there before him at that point. Which means he had been pastor to them, their kids, grand kids, and even many great grandkids to some of those “original” members. He was 25 when he started.
- Multi-generational. In their late 20s – early 30s, young pastors can relate equally well to teens as they can to their parents. We’ve seen the challenges of our parents’ generation, our own, and the one coming behind us with nearly equal contact. A church generally attracts people in the community who are in the same stage of life as them. Having a younger pastor makes a church feel more welcoming to a family his age.
- Passion. One of the greatest assets a young church leaders has is an unbroken spirit. Many seasoned veterans in ministry have taken massive emotional and relational wounds over the years. You can’t live through the gut-wrenching experiences many pastors have had to lead families and churches through without losing some of your zeal and drive along the way. And to be perfectly clear, young pastors will get theirs also, given just a little more time… But beforehand, these early years of our pastoral ministry are limited and precious for what they have to offer the church in terms of vision, leadership, passion, and faith for God to do the unimaginable. This should be leveraged by those they lead, not scorned.
- Outreach. When young pastors talk about reaching people far from God to fully experience life in Christ, we’re not talking theory – we’re talking about our own current relationships. We almost all have friends that we’re trying to live Jesus toward and show the love of God. At some point in pastoring over decades in the same place, the overwhelming majority of your friendships consist largely of people within the church. It takes much greater effort at that point to befriend those outside the church and remember what it’s like to live your faith to someone who doesn’t have the same starting point as you. For young leaders, it’s quite fresh – and urgent.
And as I’ve already mentioned one mentor from an older era, let me also be quick to say – my ministry, and everything I’ve learned is indebted to those who have faithfully lead by example before me. I could write countless posts about each of the great men who have influenced my life, family, and ministry. I hope to pass the torch of leadership to the next generation, just as many of them have to mine.