What do you tell a discouraged seminary graduate who runs into the dreaded “10 years minimum experience” requirement?

Which does your church prefer?

I recently spoke to graduating seminarians about the daunting task of finding vocational ministry employment in today’s church culture.

During one of the Q&A sessions this question came up. I offered some specific guidance on how to approach the Pastor Search Team in this situation.

In this article I’d like to back away from specifics and address the question, “Why is it stupid for the Pastor Search Team to prefer older pastors over younger ones?”

1 – It’s a direct violation of scriptural mandate

1 Timothy 4:12 is an open-and-shut case against bias in favor of older, more experienced pastors.

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

That should be the end of it.

But there are two other compelling reasons why the bias in favor of older pastors is lame.

2 – Older pastors won’t relate easily to Millennials

The majority of “seasoned” pastors are well-schooled in church growth rhetoric and the attractional church model. This consumer oriented approach operates on the twin assumptions that (1) people know they should attend church and (2) they would if they found one that appealed to them.

But it’s common knowledge that ecclesiastical consumerism is a turnoff for Millennial believers. Rather than something to consume they seek a cause to serve. [1]

Older pastors with decades of experience find it hard to forsake training and practices honed over the years.[2] In private conversations many tacitly acknowledge the shortcomings of the church growth movement (or, more accurately, what has become of it) but find it hard to fathom any other way of doing ministry.

If a church wants to reach the younger generations the search committee will need to lay aside this silly insistence that a potential candidate have X+ years of experience.

3 – Older pastors typically don’t continue to develop

Pastor Search Teams insisting on some magic “minimum experience” level are naive. They imagine that wisdom and skill improve from putting in the hours.

I can tell you definitively that’s nonsense.

Most pastors are too busy keeping the plates spinning. He has little time for personal or professional development. An annual denominational meeting doesn’t cut it. 3 or 4 days per year at a conference or convention may load her up with slick notebooks and a reading list, but it’s doubtful she’ll be able to carve the time out of an already busy schedule to push the initiative forward.

The vast majority of older pastors don’t engage in professional development.[3] Medical and legal societies require members to acquire CEUs to remain in professional practice. Churches don’t so their pastors won’t.

Ironically, younger pastors also struggle with the need for continuing professional education. They have their own laments about what they didn’t learn in seminary.[4]

The point is simply this: Years of service is no guarantee that a pastor has acquired the skills and wisdom needed to fill that position.

I recognize the need for some means of sorting through resumes to identify potential good fits. But rather than using an arbitrary number of calendar pages, the Pastor Search Team should think of specific leadership behaviors, relational skills, temperament[5] and chemistry.

For example, a Pastor Search Team may require 10 years of experience in hopes that candidates will have the ability to help them with _____________________  (fill in the blank). What’s the problem they’re trying to solve?

  • There’s significant conflict in the church that needs resolution?
  • The church has lost connection with the Missio Dei?
  • A financial crisis is a year away if income doesn’t improve?
  • There are no effective channels for spiritual maturation of the congregants?

If you put a pencil to it you’ll find that Pastor Search Teams use a “minimum experience” qualifier to (1) reduce the deluge of resumes and (2) hopefully find someone who can help them with their problem. But common sense tells us that they shouldn’t be looking at time served but expertise and wisdom.

The number of Pastor Search Teams that go brain dead on this issue are legion.

Conclusion

Smart Pastor Search Teams don’t have a “maximum age restriction”; they recognize the foolishness of giving preference to candidates who’ve ripped fewer pages off the calendar. A minister who engages in lifelong professional development will have greater skills and wisdom than younger pastors.[6]

Neither will they have a “minim experience” requirement. This practice rests on unfounded assumptions that don’t bear scrutiny in the real world.

If you’re on a Pastor Search Team that is insisting on a certain age or experience requirement, tell them to stop it!


  1. Michael Gryboski, “Evangelist: Church Failing Millennials by Not Giving Them a ‘Cause'”.  â†©
  2. This is not a universal truth. There are many highly experienced pastors that remain innovative. But they are in the minority; if pressed I would guess that they are in the 15% range.  â†©
  3. Invariably experienced pastors – often with 20 and 30 years of experience – will ask, “Why didn’t someone tell me this stuff 20 years ago? Why isn’t this taught in our seminaries?” when they’ve completed our training course.  â†©
  4. See Matt Smethurst, “Young Pastor, Here’s What I Wish I’d Known.”  â†©
  5. Our companion website, The Turnaround Pastor, identifies research into the distinction between turnaround pastors and non-turnaround pastors. The research is clear: the prime differences are in temperament and relational skills. Age and experience are irrelevant.  â†©
  6. That’s the essence of my argument in an earlier article. See “3 Reasons Its Stupid to Prefer Younger Pastors.”  â†©