I turned forty-five last week. It doesn’t seem possible to me that I am as old as all that, to be honest. There was a time not so long ago when I imagined forty-five to be ancient, over-the-hill, past the prime of life, irrelevant and out of touch.
I have always taken great comfort in the moments when someone ways to me, “You don’t look old enough to be a pastor!” I suppose that will end at some point. I’m on the threshold between what is considered “young clergy” in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and what might be considered “almost-older clergy.”
A friend of mine, who is already in the “older clergy” category, recently said something that troubled me. He had just attended our quarterly presbytery meeting and offered the following critique: “I looked around,” he said, “and all I saw were grey heads. It was just a bunch of old farts and retired pastors. There were hardly any young people in that meeting.”
I wonder, though, if the lack of youth in the PC(USA) leadership is in part a by-product of the growing reticence that the baby boomer generation seems to have toward retirement.
My friend told me of a conversation he had with a colleague who indicated he planned on working for 13 more years, which would mean he’ll retire at age 74. Another colleague in our presbytery recently retired, but – not yet a year later – is actively serving as a designated pastor. When asked why he came out of retirement, he replied, “I wasn’t good at it.”
As I grow a bit older myself and contemplate how I would feel in the same situation—I don’t blame these older pastors. I probably wouldn’t be that good at retirement either.
However, when you combine the fact that many baby boomer-aged ministers are retiring later in life and with the overall decline of membership in PC(USA), the result is fewer and fewer positions and opportunities for younger clergy. Further, over half of the churches in the PC(USA) have less than a hundred members. This essentially means that most of them have fewer than fifty people actively involved, which results in an inability to adequately pay young ministers who may have student loans, additional family expenses, etc. When you consider this in addition to the growing burden of health care costs being passed on to churches, it’s even more of a financial consideration for churches searching for a pastor.
And, in my own observations, most of these PC(USA) churches seem to prefer ministers with some experience and would rather call a retired minister (who wasn’t really good at being retired) than give a young pastor a chance.
Perhaps, rather than spending millions upon millions of dollars to hold controversial and divisive General Assemblies, or wasting millions on things like “the preservation of Presbyterian History” (a real line item), the PC(USA) should divert more funds into planting new churches or providing more opportunities and incentives for existing churches to call young pastors in lead or associate roles. This would create new and vital roles for younger ministers and strengthen the PC(USA) for the future.
As for me… I plan on working until I’m at least 95. This is just way too fun to stop.
Leon Bloder is a preacher, a poet, a would-be writer, a husband, a father, a son, a dreamer, a sinner, a pastor, a fellow-traveler and a failed artist. He is talentless, but well-connected. He stumbles after Jesus, but hopes beyond hope that he is stumbling in the right direction. Leon has been married to Merideth for 22 years, is the father of three awesome boys, and serves in ministry at the First Presbyterian Church of Eustis in Eustis, Florida. Visit his website.