Four Considerations for Baby Boomer Pastors

December 6, 2017
Cover Expressions
Post Quarantine Church
How to lead a virtual bible study

I am one of you.

We are the generation born between 1946 and 1964. Until the Millennials came along, we were the largest generation in American history. Our influence is still great.

But most of us are surprised our older years arrived so quickly. We can remember when we didn’t trust anyone over the age of 30. Now we think 30-somethings are kids. Many of us have difficulty dealing with this phase of our life and ministry. Older age was for “those people.” It never was supposed to be about us.

And now we are here. Our ages range from 54 to 72. We are in our fourth quarter. How do we end well, especially if we are in vocational ministry? Allow me to make four suggestions.

  1. Make your life one of mentoring. You have rich experiences. You have served as pastor of good churches and tough churches. You know the joys of ministry. You know the pains of ministry. You know what it is like to be ready to throw in the towel. Find a Millennial pastor. Grab a coffee with him. Go with no agenda other than to get to know him better and to pray for him. See what God will do with that relationship.
  2. Don’t let your vocation be your identity. Your identity is child of the living God. Your identity is Christ. It is not your title or your position or your church. We Boomers often get so caught up in our work and ministry that it begins to define who we are. As a consequence, we have trouble letting go when it’s time to leave. That brings me to the next point.
  3. Know when to leave. We Boomers won’t retire in the classic sense. We want to keep making a difference. But sometimes that means we hold on to a position too long. You are not indispensable. Trust God to find your successor. Trust God to help you with your finances. Trust God to find you a place where you can make a difference. But don’t hang on so long your church or organization declines and wonders if you will ever leave. It’s not about you. Make room for the next person. Make room for the next generation.
  4. Consider a fourth quarter ministry in another place. Perhaps it’s time to move on and serve under a younger pastor in another church, even if it’s part time. Perhaps it’s time to be highly intentional about mentoring, coaching, or consulting with other churches and pastors. Perhaps it’s time for you to take a subservient role even though you have led as a pastor for years. Consider all the options God may put before you.

We are about to see a great exodus of Boomer pastors and church leaders through retirement and death. The data indicates we don’t have enough church leaders to fill these vacancies. Maybe we Boomers can be highly intentional about raising up this next generation of church leaders.

It’s time, fellow Boomers. It’s time for us to consider how to transition in this phase of our life and ministry. Don’t hold on to those things where God has told you to let go.

It might be a scary next step. But, like your original call to ministry, the God who gave you a path and opportunities will do the same in this new, and possibly, last phase of ministry.

It’s time to let go, whatever that may mean, and trust God.

He will provide.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

49 Comments

  • Hi Thom,

    I read your blog regularly and have been encouraged and/or challenged on may occasions. This blog was “right on” for us Baby Boomers. After serving for many years in local church and Christian higher education leadership, I am now engaged in a ministry network called MentorLink (Check our website http://www.mentorlink.org). My observation is that most Baby Boom leaders are reticent to mentor because they do not know how to mentor younger leaders because no one mentored them as they entered ministry. My second observation is that we are very good at talking about mentoring, but we do little about it personally. My third observation is that if we do engage in a mentoring relationship, we tend to focus on more information and skills, rather than the heart/character/motives of a leader. I encourage you and your readers to check out our website and see the free resources that will assist you in this wonderful Kingdom work. Look especially the Transformational Values of the Heart. Thank you for giving me this forum to provide help for others to make the legacy stage of their life super meaningful and purposeful.

  • Thom,

    I am interested in more information on the exodus of Boomers. I was under the impression that there are now more ministers than ministry positions (especially full-time positions), but that may be wrong.

    I am part of “Generation X” (I’m 45). I don’t recall feeling disregarded or devaluded in my church.

  • Sorry, folks, but I have to agree with Mark Smith. When I was in seminary, all the emphasis was on Baby Boomers. Somewhere the emphasis switched from Baby Boomers to millennials. I’m the youngest child in a large family, but the older I get, the more I’m starting to see things from the perspective of the middle child. In my opinion, Generation X ought to be renamed “Generation Middle Child”.

    • Les Ferguson says on

      Ken (and Mark Smith), I can’t speak for everyone but I’m not discounting your perspective and experience as between the Boomers and the Millennials. While I am technically a Boomer I am not, especially when it comes to the Church. Before getting to the Church I am a Boomer because I was born in a magical year towards the end of the Baby Boom (almost 1963) – ironically I’m not really a Boomer nor a Gen-X. As a minister, having been ordained for almost 7 years (on the 18th) I am not a Boomer clergy nor a Gen-X clergy; nor really am I a Millennial.

      To my point, the past is and part of what is incumbent on moving forward is to intentionally. To realize the ways that the church lost a generation and take steps to prevent or mitigate the possibility in the future.

  • As a GenX member in the ministry, I’d second the “4th Quarter Ministry” need. Many of us who are younger are struggling with how to minister to the Boomers in our churches *and* develop good pathways to reach our own generations and the ones following after.

    I’ll make it plain: I need help. Our church cannot afford more full-time help, but I need someone who can help by both advising and helping minister. I doubt that I’m the only one out here like that.

    Many of us know we lack wisdom, we’ve read, we’ve studied, we’ve learned, but the gap between serving the needs of 55 and up and serving the needs of 25 and down, the churched-population and the unchurched population (and the de-churched) are beyond one person’s skills. But we’ve built churches that need strong help passing the ministry from the staff-system to a more robust church volunteer operation, and that needs help.

  • Thom, I thought the pastoral pool was huge in terms of men out there who are pastors. Are you saying there are not enough current pastors to meet the needs when some of these older pastors retire in the next 10 years? Not trying to debate you, but I find that hard to believe: with the huge pool of men out there.

  • Culturally, we see very inventive ways of blaming the other generations for the problems. Yet, the call to Christian unity exceeds the generational gaps and each group has enough inward reflection and repentance that is needed.

    As a millennial, thank you Dr. Rainer, for being a source of encouragement and wisdom. Your blogs and podcasts have been a source of teaching and guidance. Thank you for supporting young leaders we grow into the leadership positions that God has planned. I appreciate this article and young pastors and leaders such as myself are indebted to those who have come before us and paved the way.

    • Thank you, Daniel. Your words are a great encouragement.

    • Daniel,
      You did not grow up when the sins of the older generations (gossip, gluttony, smoking, bearing false witness) were not mentioned at all but the sins of the younger generations (loud music, rock music, long hair, guys with an earring) were one way tickets to hell pronounced from the pulpit with official sanction.

      • “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, reaching forth unto those things which are before. I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
        Philippians 3:13,14

        Thank you Dr. Rainer for all your guidance.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Thank you, Jim.

  • Craig Giddens says on

    Galatians 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, there is neither boomer nor millennial: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

  • Don’t forget about the GEnX. Half our numbers never made it because they were aborted. The remaining ones often quite gatekeepers. Many feel the squeeze of being X’ed by both boomer and millennials.

  • Mark Smith says on

    If Boomers are 1946-64, and Millennials are 1980-2000, who are those forgotten souls that society AND THE CHURCH rolled over who were born between 1964 and 1980? Their numbers are way reduced due to abortion, which killed millions of us in the initial wave of its use.
    I am one of them. It took YEARS for any Boomer to care about me, and in church after church I attended they never cared… Just speaking the truth.

    I would appreciate an apology. Maybe you need to think about it Boomer, and see how you treated people twenty to thirty years ago. Did you treat them as a person to mentor, or a threat to your power?

    • Les Ferguson says on

      Mark, I am concerned by your response. Not because it isn’t true but because it is filled with hatred. If this were but a one-off I’d just dismiss it as having a hot spot touched. But I sense there’s something deeper.

      I do not need to stand up for Dr. Rainer but as one who walks the way with all people I call things like I see them.

      For instance, consider what is being said: making advice to a group in power (boomers); not at the expense of those not in power but to prevent a recurrence of the lost generation.

      One last thing I observe, nothing done or said today will change what happened almost 40 years ago; we cannot go back and change time. But, I pray, as faithful witnesses of God’s reconciling grace, those in power and those who knowingly or unknowingly excluded a portion of society learn from their mistakes.

    • Removing the bitterness from your post, yes, our numbers are small. Gen X were not really wanted in churches nor were we taught the faith. Attendance in church mattered far more that knowing (how to defend) the faith. We came along too soon when our parents and grandparents were still firmly in control and catered to. Every organization that generation controlled did not want us. That is why so many of us are missing from civic organizations and Christianity. A few churches and temples (big and in cities) now have a 20-30-something group and some even have clergy of that age group specifically for that group. Otherwise, the senior clergy, unless they are not too much older than we are, still don’t care. Those Boomer clergy were unhappy over conducting weddings, baptisms, and anything else but funerals and it showed.

    • Though I cannot answer for an entire generation, I am truly sorry for the frustration and pain that Mark Smith experienced. I am a Boomer, and I don’t recall ever treating an X’er in a condescending way or pushing them off. For most of my ministry journey, I was an associate pastor – a worship pastor. Serving now as a senior pastor, I can imagine how such a tension and disregard could have happened. We are all insecure on some level, and the temptations and burdens of power could easily move a leader to disregard or be condescending to younger associates.

      I think part of the landscape of generational tension 20 years ago was that Boomers were quite driven for success (we were told we could be anything we wanted if we worked hard enough). At that time, Boomers were still “climbing the ladder” and that sometimes meant that the up-and-comers might be pushed down. This scenario, which I believe is a generally true picture, is an indictment on the business-like culture that the church developed in the 80’s and beyond. Thankfully, that is being challenged on many fronts today. We need a more biblical understanding of “success” in ministry. I believe we are getting there.

      I don’t recall ever treating X’ers in such a manner, personally. I know that, as a worship pastor, I was pressed on both sides. The Builders gave me a ton of resistance an I had an X’er colleague tell me that I was irrelevant. It took me a long time to get over that painful wound.

      These generational tensions are very real and fascinating. Someone has posted below that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek and, by extension, there should be no Boomer, X’er or Millennial. We do have generational sins that divide us. Let us be humble enough to discern and repent from them.

      Mark Smith, we all experience pain in the ministry. It is part of the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. I’m hoping and praying that the pain and resentment you have felt will be healed and subside over time.

    • Sorry, folks, but Mark Smith is absolutely right. When I was in seminary, all the focus was on Baby Boomers. Somewhere the focus switched from Baby Boomers to millennials. What happened to the generation in between?

      • That generation was deemed unwanted and some of them switched denominations, some decided to remain Christians without needing any church, and some gave up on religion completely.

    • Crystal Guderian says on

      Mark,
      I remember being told for decades I was to young and then suddenly I was too old… The comment below says you spoke with hate… I hear hurt, betrayal, a sense of being mistreated, overlooked and dismissed. Technically, I am a boomer and I am sorry… Get prepared, the church is going to need you.!! Get before the Lord and ask him what he wants you to do. It is your turn!

  • Great word Thom. I am 64 and left a senior pastorate to take on an interim ministry and have never had so much fun in this 4thquarter!

    • Blessings on this new phase of ministry, Don.

    • I find myself looking forward to that ‘magical’ time with a mixture of feelings. I have been blessed to serve in places where churches could not afford a full-time pastor (most of my ministry has been as a bi-vocational pastor), and the Lord has greatly blessed His work. But now I am close to retirement, and I am finding myself putting more and more effort into mentoring. I have been blessed to see at least two men I ministered to go into ministry – both older than myself – and a third (a GenXer) take on the task of pastoring a small church. I have also mentored a pastor from another country and culture. I am now actively mentoring a GenX pastor. I find this funny because I never considered myself a mentor. It just happened. Now, to be honest, I have always been a teacher of the Word, and maybe that is why I have had these wonderful experiences. I find I cannot fathom ministry without mentoring. I have been in my present ministry for seven years and find myself really enjoying putting so much of myself into helping others rather than seeing them as threats. Who knows, I might just move into that 4th quarter …

  • Thom,

    I’m the same age as you. I think about this stuff almost daily. Sage advice from you. At this point in my life, I take more joy in the success of those I mentor than “success” in my own ministry. Indeed, mentoring is becoming more and more a central part of my calling.

    Reminds me of Psalm 90

    “Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (vs. 12)

    Sage advice from Moses and from you.

  • Ken Lupton says on

    Excellent word Dr. Rainer! This Baby Boomer retired from LifeWay back on March 1st after 14 years as a Church Partner and 30 years of Church staff experience but I’ve remained active in Supply preaching, mentoring younger pastors/staff to some extent, and a few mystery Church Shopper assessments. I completed training in Transitional Pastoring recently and have potential opportunities to engage in that or work part time on church staff. I’m just waiting on the Lord for next steps. Your points are spot-on!

    • You have served well, Ken. And you are serving well now.

    • For a perspective, mentoring dropped out of most cultures in the middle of the 20th century. It’s quite biblical – it is the teaching model Jesus employed. I’ve been mentoring for close to 20 years, and my group consists of those between the ages of 17 and 49 (Gen X, Gen Y and the Millennials). I’ve now written over 125 posts on mentoring the next generation for MentorLink, a ministry that teaches leadership to pastors around the world. I had lunch yesterday with a man who feels he is being called to mentor but, like his peers, feels shaky about it since he’s never done it. Having read over 30 books on the topic and spent the last 4 years studying the issue, my feel is that the next generation is quite open to mentors (something like 80%). The mentor aged folks – particularly the Boomers – only are involved at a rate of 2 to 5%, which is way to small to meet the demand. My posts are done weekly and largely focus on studying the next generation and giving suggestions to mentors on how to encounter and engage them. You can find the blog at http://www.mentorlink.wordpress.com. Enjoy.

1 2