Four Considerations for Baby Boomer Pastors

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.

Posted on December 6, 2017

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • I will be 62 in January and have just begun my 28th year at my church in the Mississippi Delta. Bob Russell’s book, “Transition Plan” is on my reading list for giving consideration to this very subject. Seeking the Lord’s leadership on the perfect timing of this. In the meantime I’d love to have opportunities to Q and A with upcoming young pastors about my journey.

  • Hello Dr. Rainer,

    I am 46 yrs old and planted and pastored a church in NY for 10 years (1998-2008). The Lord called my wife and I back home (SoCal) and its been almost 10 years since we’ve been back. Now I sense a call to go back into the ministry and been praying. Reading your article makes me say “Here I am, send me!” So being still in my 40’s and still have the stamina to step into the pastoral role once again what do you recommend in looking for a church that is in need for a pastor? I am not wanting to go anywhere, but want to be and am open to where the Lord leads me and my family. I have two kids (2yr and 6yr) and feel that this is the time to transition from my current position and go back to pastoring a church. I hope I made sense 🙂 If you can send me an email that would be great if you prefer to reply that way. God bless and I always enjoy your podcasts!!

  • Alex Clayton says on

    Thank you for the post, one of the things that we need to be aware of is that when we are talking trends and breaking down statistics of different generations, these are only to bring awareness and not to divide us. There is no such thing as a boomer, x’er, millennial, or z-gen, gospel or church. Every church has at least 4 generations from great grandparent to new born at any one time. It is experiencing these life cycles from birth – to death that make church so awesome. Some things have not and will not change, the Word of God is the same for all generations, the basic temptations have not changed since the garden, and God loves all by sending his son. We need to be careful not to get involved in “identity spirituality”.
    Advise to the church:
    1. Make room at the leadership table for all generations. Most church leadership tables are filled with just a few boomers.
    2. Make goals for boomers. They are the goal setting generation
    3. Realize that a pastor under 40 has never been apart of a truly evangelistic church and needs to know how to evangelize and lead a church to make disciples (mentoring)
    4. A plan for succession
    5. Boomers – in addition to Thom’s excellent thoughts, add. continuing education to understand the different generations and how to reach them.
    6. Warning to the youth movement and churches; most young pastors will still use a church as a stepping stone to a larger ministry.
    “your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams” Acts 2:17. Let the Spirit cast visions and dreams in our ministries.

  • Although I have been alerted to this fact a couple of years ago by the former leader of the Vineyard movement, Bert Waggonner, I’m grateful for this reminder. I’m also surprised by the turn in this conversation in the comments. I am also a generation Xer from 1966, not far from the Boomers. I have grown up with the rejection, and I happen to be the middle child in my family.

    My journey was uphill through most of my ministry as a bi-vocational pastor. Lots of inner healing has helped me in the last decade. I never thought of the generation X in such a way as I thought it was just my personal situation. I am surprised to see this response.

    Much of my ministry has turned to mentoring during the last two decades. Since 1997, my wife and I have been missionaries in India and taught in a bible school and planted churches. Throughout these last 20+ years, we have mentored many who have gone out and done tremendous work for the Kingdom. I am grateful that the rejection I faced was properly channeled for mentoring others. Although much of the pain has been dealt with, it sometimes resurfaces. This conversation certainly brought up those memories.

    Another interesting factor is that my son is a millennial attending seminary and interning in a church as well. Any thought on what I might advise him?

    • I would suggest that he talk to associate pastors/rectors/rabbis about how they relate to the younger people. Look at churches with younger people like Capitol Hill Baptist and St. John’s on Lafayette Square. Listen to them preach to see if their sermons are different than those of the senior clergy. Learn to keep the sermon short and to the point. Find a female in seminary and work with her on reaching females. He can help her with reaching males.

  • Bert Perry says on

    Regarding Mark’s comments, I’m 48 and an “Xer”, though the term has never really appealed to me. My kids tease me that I’ve got something of a European or 1960s sensibility about my clothes, and that’s fine.

    In church, I’ve never really felt devalued because of my age, and I’ve had a number of excellent mentors among the older brothers in the churches I’ve attended. But that said, I can understand how my fellow “Xers” feel when things like wine, rock & roll, and long hair are preached against but not gluttony, gossip, greed, and the like. So can those Boomers who were part of the Jesus movement, really. Couple that with significant authoritarianism among those enamored of the 1950s and 1960s, and you’ve got a recipe for very real resentment. And I have experienced that, for sure.

  • So, if the older generation has invested a great deal of time, energy, and money in a profession, has garnered tons of experience AND is doing it well, they should jump into poverty so some young turk can walk in and take over because “he deserves it???”

    My dad was in the greatest generation. They complained their parents and grandparents should retire so they could have the jobs. Then we boomers complained church wasn’t “about us” enough. Now generations after us complain it is too much about us and not enough about them.

    And yet my Bible speaks of elders–the real kind, not the just-out-of-seminary-anointed kind and says to respect them, listen to them, learn from them.

    To the elders: as long as God calls you to serve, serve. Don’t be put out to pasture. To the younger set: wait your turn. Bide your time.

    For all of us: serve God, not man nor mammon.

    Senior highly qualified teachers are not asked to leave in order to make room for a newly minted crop, nor are senior MD’s put out to pasture to make room on staff for those just out of residency. Knowledge can be acquired quickly but wisdom takes time.

    Could this be less a problem the church is facing and more a problem of seminaries as business cranking out more professionals than there are jobs in the profession?

  • Bob Jorgensen says on

    Many churches have so underpaid their pastors that they cannot afford to retire and continue on for financial reasons …. yes, not a good reason, but represents reality. Leaders, make sure your pastor is in a place where he can retire and not be forces on to welfare rolls.

    • Bob,

      So true. Unfortunately, that’s the reality for a lot of “small church pastors” in America. They aren’t paid adequately during their ministry years and then they struggle when they’re 68 and older. Churches do poorly by them (sometimes by choice) and they don’t care. I’m a pastor, but my eyes are wide open. If you’re a pastor and you serve a larger church and are paid well, you’re very fortunate.

      For the majority of us, we’ll likely struggle in our late 60s, 70s, and even 80s. Too bad.

  • The cold reality is that boomers are not retiring or doing something else simply because they are unable to because of financial considerations. This is not only true of pastors but of teachers, lawyers, business people ect. Boomers are in the generation when pensions went the way of buggy whips. And in the fourth quarter, it is nearly impossible to change professions and still be able to make the kind of money that you make in the profession that you have been in for most of your life. I do appreciate the need for mentoring and we do need to do this. I would also mention that many of the great leaders in the Bible had their best years in the latter part of life, “retirement” is a unique American concept and not really found in Scripture. There are a number of notable leaders who would not give the advice of stepping aside. Rather, they would encourage pastors to be reinvigorated in their call.

  • Bill Miller says on

    Thank you

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