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?