What makes a better pastor, youth or experience?

I have a bone to pick with CNN writer John Blake. His recent article ponders some new statistics about seminaries which, in part, find,

…the nation’s seminaries are enjoying a baby boomers boom – the 50-or-older demographic group is the fastest-growing demographic at U.S. divinity schools, according to the Association of Theological Schools (ATS).

The article glosses over the motivation for older individuals entering seminary.  Not to disparage my late-blooming colleagues, because many of them are excellent pastors, but I don’t think we can overlook the appeal of ministry during an economic downturn.  This, I think, is especially true in the mainline denominations, many of whom provide relatively stable jobs (sometimes, unfortunately, tantamount to tenure) once you have been fully recieved as a pastor in the ecclesial community.  We shouldn’t be ashamed of the economic motivation; pastors are human beings, after all, and we want our kids to have food like everyone else.

But near the end, the article descends into the realm of “maybe…” and annoys me.  Here’s what Blake asks:

The article brought a question to my mind, though. In athletics, age is a liability.  Older athletes lose strength and flexibility.

But could old age equip people to be better ministers?

For example, how can a young minister who has never been married or had children or even lost many friends to death counsel grieving couples?

And might an older minister do better at dealing with the temptations of ego, sex, and money?

Is it better to be a rookie minister when you have gray hair?

I shall respond to each question in turn:

A)  Possibly, at first.  An older pastor can potentially relate to older church members better.  Also, there is a feeling that an older person has the “wisdom of age” even if they don’t have church experience.  But my experience has been that, at under 30, I love spending time with my older members and have an excellent report with them. 

B)  I’m not sure what this question is asking.  It looks like it may be asking specifically about counseling a couple grieving the loss of a child.  But really, the question is nothing new.  It’s the same old, “How do Catholic priests counsel married couples?” issue, which misunderstands the nature of pastoral counseling.  A pastor is equipped to be present with people at any stage of life, pray with and for them, and share with them the wisdom of the Church as handed down through Scripture and tradition.  Serious counseling should only be done by pastors with serious training.  But, old or young, new or veteran, a good pastor can sit and grieve with anyone.  We are always dealing with situations we’ve never faced (because there are a lot of different things that go wrong in this life!); that’s the nature of the calling.  We might just as well ask, “How can a pastor who was married at 23 counsel a person who is single at 45?”  As pastors, we must do our work in the hope that the Lord will provide what He requires.  That’s faith.

C)  No.  Dumb question.  As we age, the temptations of ego, sex, and money do not go away.  Look at Hugh Hefner.  Look at Silvio Berlusconi.  There are a lot of ego-driven, sex-crazed, greedy old men around.  And women.  Think about all those “real housewives” shows.  I hope they use the term ‘real’ lightly.

D)  Perhaps.  But there is one big drawback: it takes time to learn the ropes of ministry.  You can read all the books you want to, get all the degrees you want to, but nothing replaces time in the pastoral office for understanding and effectiveness.  “Life experience” does not replace actual pastoral experience.   Pastors, old and young, can of course serve with faithfulness and effectiveness.  It is never too late to hear the call, and I appreciate all most who heed it.  But there is no denying that starting out early gives the pastor a chance to learn, over a lifetime, what the ministerial vocation is all about.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are pastors.

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