As a pastor under 35, I often encounter disinformation about myself and my fellow young clergy. Congregations, older clergy, pulpit search committees, and denominational leadership often fall victim to mythology about young pastors. There are many myths out there, but here are three I find most significant:
Myth #1: Young Clergy = Young Families
One of the most persistent myths about young clergy is that if a church hires (or a Bishop sends) a young pastor, young people and their families will instantly flock to the church. This is a serious fallacy. While a young pastor *could* be especially insightful in reaching young adults for Christ, discipling them, and building relationships with them, it won’t matter a hill of beans if the church itself is not invested in doing the same. If you have never asked a Christian young adult what they think about the world or what they are looking for (if at all!) in a faith community, you need to rethink if you really want young adults in your church.
Reality: A young pastor can help, but it takes a congregation dedicated to knowing, investing in, and serving with young adults to reach young adults. If you are praying for a young pastor to come so that she or he can do all the work of reaching young people, you are setting up that pastor to fail. You want a magic wand, not a pastor.
Myth #2: Young Clergy Don’t Like Older Adults
We live in a society where different generations don’t interact with regularity. The breakdown of the family means that we might not know the generations before or after us. Where ancient cultures valued the wisdom of age, our marketing-driven economy only wants the self-indulgent wallets of the 20-40 crowd. Many churches are convinced that young clergy don’t care about or aren’t interested in ministry with older adults.
Reality: This is a deep lie. Most of my young clergy colleagues value not only older clergy, from whom we have much to learn, but also the older adults we are blessed and called to serve. Stubbornness and close-mindedness are not limited to any age, and neither are joy or spiritual maturity.
Myth #3: Young Clergy All Want to Work with Youth and Children
Many of my young clergy friends who staff larger churches are often pigeonholed as the youth and/or children’s minister. While many young pastors serve very effectively in these roles, one’s age does not necessarily correspond to giftedness with various generational ministries. Just because a young pastor has three young children, it does not follow that she or he wants to work with children day-in and day-out. Just because a young clergy likes the same bands that the youth do, doesn’t mean that the new young pastor is a good fit for the youth program.
Reality: Young clergy all have different gifts, skills, and interests. Some might be great at planning contemporary worship, and others might love traditional liturgy. Some may love doing the children’s moment and others might hate it. You will meet young pastors who love visitation and pastoral care, and others who loathe it. There are young pastors passionate about administration, and others who are allergic to meetings.
The Bottom Line
Don’t assume a young pastor has a specific set of skills or interests. Ask where they are gifted, be upfront about expectations, and be realistic about desired results.