The Preacher and the Passing of Time

I heard a preacher tell a gathering of senior church leaders that they needed to be careful.  If they weren’t careful they could do enough damage in the last ten years of their ministry to undo all the good they had achieved in their first two or three decades.  He urged them to pour their energies into championing the next generation of leaders, rather than critiquing the young and striving to maintain elements of church life that had now grown stale.

The time comes for all of us, sooner or later, where we fit into the category of “older preachers.”  I think it is vital we think ahead of time what the tone of our ministry will be at that stage.  Some older preachers are an absolute delight to listen to – the combination of humility, wisdom, experience, knowledge, faith and passion can absolutely transform listeners, and provide a stability impossible to duplicate in the younger generation of preachers.

But some older preachers are an absolute liability – the combination of arrogance, stubbornness, ignorance, bitterness and apparently decreasing fruit of the Spirit can do real damage to listeners, and provide a stability impossible to thrive under for all younger listeners.

I remember a conversation with the eldest faculty member at seminary a decade ago.  He told me he had observed over the years that older faculty seemed to lose the mental sharpness and the energy to stay on top of their subject somewhere around the age of sixty-five.  Consequently he planned to retire around that age as soon as he got a hint that his mind was starting to fade (and the hint would come from asking trusted colleagues directly).  I respect that and hope to have the same plans in place for a new phase of ministry when age affects what I do.

That raises another related issue – is there a new phase of ministry open for those of a certain age?  I’m sure we would all be tempted to cling on to position and influence if the alternative is to feel like we’re on the scrap heap.  But what about positions emeritus?  I think of John Stott who retired decades ago, yet never retired, always having a key, but changing role to play.  Why not have opportunities to function as sage and champion for the next generation?  It takes wisdom to plan ahead, not only for ourselves, but also for others in the church.  The older generation can be a massive blessing to the ongoing growth of the church (or some can be a ball and chain to progress).

How is your preaching?  It is different to what it was ten years ago.  But in what way?  Does anything need to change in your approach, frequency, mindset, position?

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9 thoughts on “The Preacher and the Passing of Time

  1. Excellent. How I have seen preachers in their older age just lost their focus. After preaching for 47 years, today my energy and spirit and attitude seems fresh as it was when I started. My wife is a good gauge of ministry attitudes.. I want to end up like John MacArthur and not A.W. Pink.

    • That’s great to hear, and an encouragement for younger preachers. Just a thought, if I may . . . since your wife is of your generation, I wonder if it would also be wise to consult with some from the younger generations too on this issue? Not so much a comment for you in particular, Charles, but a comment to further the discussion with others reading the site. Warmly, Peter

  2. Peter, these are excellent words of wisdom, that coming from one viewing age 65 just over the hill. A good friend, from years ago, actually found his niche as he reached thoses alleged “Silver Years” as he turned his love & passion towards the often neglected realm of the senior & nursing homes. He became chaplain to several residences & found great reward for his efforts, as well as being able to open the eyes of a younger generation as well.

  3. I’m not 65 yet… but in a few days, I’ll be 54… All of a sudden, that’s awfully close to 65! I already notice the stress and weight of it all starting to affect me. I think it’s issues other than ministry that affect me, like spending enough time and assisting with my wife now that we are older; I have grand-children now and I love them so much, I need time with them; and now my father (who was a pastor for over 50 years, now retired) is sick and needs attention from me and my sister and brother.
    I sometimes…many times, actually…feel that my best years are over; if I was going to leave some example of effective ministry, I would have already. But with my own energy waning, I feel like I’m spinning my wheels…
    I have already begun to consider the next stage of ministry, but not as a pastor.
    I love people and I love to see them come to Christ and mature in Him. I may be able to still be involved in that from a “supporting” role rather than a leading one…
    Thanks for the blog. It is a great topic, with all the baby-boomers coming rapidly on the scene…

  4. Manuel, I certainly can relate… You sound so much like situations described in a recent OurDailyJourney devo titled “Sandwiched: (link:
    I really believe that, as long as God gives us breath, He has some ministry for us. After spending many years in Christian education & Music ministries, many of which were hard places, & now in poor health, my woife and I find that through our simple ministry of encouragement & prayer, we are reaching even more souls with Christ’s message of love, acceptance & encouragement than ever before. Keep your eyes expectantly on Jesus, and He will continue to give you the wisdom & vision you need. BTW, here’s a link to our WS album of recent CoCW mailings: (

    • I have just found this web site and find it fascinating. i ma beginning to examine my own work as a preacher at the age of 62+ and hoping that i will continue to be useful and relevant in my generation and know when i am not being too effective to slow down and do something else more useful

      • It might be worth noting there’s a scoohl of thought (if you will) that sees the issue not as believers expecting too much of leaders, but as leaders assuming too much for themselves and then getting caught in the conundrum described below. This isn’t a fringe perspective. Frank Viola ( Rethinking the Wineskin series) almost single-handedly revived the idea of home churches, and can be credited with a spinoff phenomena the widespread adoption of church home groups. George Barna is a leading Christian pollster / market researcher / identifier of trends and critical issues in the church. Here’s what they write in in Pagan Christianity? :Re: expectations of preachers “Unfortunately, few pastors have connected the dots to discover that it is their office that causes this underlying turbulence. Simply put: Jesus never intended any person to sport all the hats a present-day pastor is expected to wear. He never intended any one person to bear such a load … It is ‘lonely at the top’ because God never intended for anyone to be at the top – except His Son!” (pages 137-138)They go further Re: the position of pastor (to believers) “We believe the pastoral office has stolen your right to function as a full member of Christ’s body. It has distorted the reality of the body, making the pastor a giant mouth and transforming you into a tiny ear. It has rendered you a mute spectator who is proficient at taking sermon notes and passing an offering plate …“The modern-day pastoral office has overthrown the main thrust of the letter to the Hebrews – the ending of the old priesthood. It has made ineffectual the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12-14, that every member has both the right and the privilege to minister in a church meeting. It has voided the message of 1 Peter 2, that every brother and sister is a functioning priest …“But there is something more. The contemporary pastorate rivals the functional headship of Christ in His church. It illegitimately holds the unique place of centrality and headship among God’s people, a place that is reserved for only one Person – the Lord Jesus … By his office, the pastor displaces and supplants Christ’s headship by setting himself up as the church’s human head. For this reason, nothing so hinders the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose as does the present-day pastoral role …“Why? Because that purpose is centered on making Christ’s headship visibly manifested in the church through the free, open, mutually participatory, every-member functioning of the body. As long as the pastoral office is present in a particular church, that church will have a slim chance of witnessing such a glorious thing.” (pages 136-137)Thoughts?

  5. I was ordained at age 39 and I have been continually blessed by my close relationship with a 70-something retired pastor. He has constantly helped me avoid rookie pitfalls and mistakes, and otherwise helped me navigate through the inevitable politics of church life, in a manner that takes advantage of all of his experience. Then I look around and see brother-pastors about my age, or younger, who are trying to slug it out with no such mentoring; and it makes me wonder how in the world they survive. Sometimes, honestly, they don’t.

    Let me beg the over 65’s and those approaching that mark to pray that God will give you a younger man to mentor and counsel. Your experience can be such a blessing to the Body of Christ, even if you’re not the guy in the pulpit anymore.

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