According to Christianity Today (July/August 2013), the Texas annual conference of the United Methodist Church is proposing that people over 45 years of age who express interest in becoming full time pastors should instead be encouraged to “pursue other expressions of lay ministry.”
The only reason the committee gives in the brief report is that this limitation would help the denomination “to plan for the future.” Other possible reasons of course could be guessed.
Still, on this matter consider a “second opinion” from Japan. Many years ago my wife and I were under consideration to be invited to Japan for a summer of interdenominational ministry. We learned later that the committee of Japanese ministers considering us had reservations. They asked, “How old is this man?” When they were told I was 42 they asked, “What does a young man that age have to tell us?” Traditionally, in Japan age is revered and people are assumed to get wiser as they get older. The invitation was generously extended.
Regarding the cutoff age of 45, count me as favoring a case-by-case decision. That’s because there are already second career ministers who have given mature, balanced service in needy situations and have later left a 20 or 30 year blessing behind them.
As an example, I’m thinking of the police officer who upon retirement offered himself for pastoral ministry. After a period of training he was assigned to a church that was in poor spiritual health. The man’s superintendent told me that he had excellent skills in dealing with difficult situations. This former officer had honed those skills on the streets during his first career and brought both good understanding and the right use of spiritual authority to his new assignment.
Here’s my idea of a model pastoral team for a hypothetical annual conference of fifty churches. Ten percent of the ministers would be thirty or younger, perhaps just out of seminary and early in their time of pastoral service. Ten percent would be within five years of retirement finishing a lifetime of pastoral ministry. The ages of the other 80 percent would be spread across the middle 30-to-60 bracket.
In such a situation, the young would bring energy and freshness to the conference though they would lack experience and need coaching. The mature 10 percent would bring wisdom and know-how but perhaps be a bit limited in rugged energy for the task. And the middle 80 percent would look both ways to give and receive inspiration as the team moved forward together.
To circle back to the possible cut-off age of 45, how about this possibility that trumps age: if a potential second-career minister has a vital, growing relationship with Jesus Christ, good health, the ability to preach at least one fresh, Bible-grounded sermon each week, the skill of a shepherd in giving pastoral care to persons both in the church and in the community, and reasonable administrative abilities for the ordering and leading of the congregation, my hunch is that there would be a needy congregation somewhere that would benefit greatly from the service of such a candidate.
At the same time, there is something honorable and inspiring about young persons who respond early in youth to the call of pastoral ministry, prepare well, and determine to give the whole span of their life to the service of God in shepherding communities of his people.