One of the reasons why I wrote Start Well is because many who are moving into ministry leadership are moving into established churches who lean older than they are. Pew Forum polled a number of religious backgrounds and showed that nearly 50% of our church attendance is over 50 years old. For those of us in our 20s and 30s, this is a huge generational gap, In many cases, we're being asked to lead churches and ministries with people who are old enough to be our parents or grandparents. It can be intimidating.
Leading above your age doesn't have to be scary though. For most of us who serve in established, older congregations, it's a source of great joy. But with that joy comes a responsibility to lead well.
1. Listen more, Talk less - One of the easiest things for us to do in leadership is talk. We get paid to teach/preach. We're used to people listening to us. But when you're leading over your age, you need to listen more than anything else. Listen to people talk about stories, successes, history, past leadership. And as you're listening you're doing a number of things. You're getting to know people, they're getting to know you, and more than anything they're seeing that you genuinely care.
2. Move Slowly - I get it. We like things quick. We're used to wi-fi hotspots and streaming video. It's the blessing and curse of being a Millennial. We're also used to seeing things change around us and we adapt. Think about how many times in the last year your Facebook app has changed! But when we lead over our age, we need to remember not to move too quickly. It's easy for us to simply say "Older people don't like change!" until we put ourselves in their shoes and consider the scope of what they've seen in their lifetime. My parents could remember the wonder of seeing their first color TV, my grandparents lived through the Depression. It's not that they're resistant to change, it's that they've seen so much and need time to process and work through the changes in their normal.
3. Invest Time - I'll never forget a friend in ministry sharing about his first Sunday on the job. Someone walked up to him and point blank said "So how long you planning to stay? A year like the last guy?" You could hear his Enthusiasm Balloon pop at that. But it's true. The average tenure for a ministry leader is about 3 years. When the popular consensus is that it takes 5-7 years to truly ingratiate yourself to the people it's no wonder that so many ministries recycle the same processes. They haven't found a leader who's willing to invest the time it takes. Pastor, if you want to see lasting fruit in your ministry, plan for 10 years. God may have other plans, but if you're restless at 18 months for the next challenge, you'll never see what God truly wants to do through you.
4. Talk Legacy - The church I pastor has a large number of senior adults. We live on the set of the Golden Girls. Most of our folks know their time is nearing an end. So they want to see a legacy, that what they've worked so hard on will continue after they're gone. And they've worked hard to build what we have in many of our churches. They were faithful givers, faithful workers, faithful prayers, faithful leaders. And they know too that there's a generational dilemma coming. So when you lead above your age, talk about legacy, what'll be there for the long haul. Invest in kids, in families, show them the future is bright.
5. Eat Cake - Be ready to eat, visit, drink coffee, and spend time with people. Your waistline will hate you, but you'll see fruit. One pastor I know led his church through a major change and when I asked what the secret was he smiled and said "I ate a lot of pie. Way too much." But it was by spending time with people over a meal or in their home he was able to be more than a talking head on Sunday morning, he was able to be their pastor.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.