A few months ago I wrote an article on Respect and Young Pastors that was really well received. So I thought, to be fair, we should address the issue of respect in regard to older pastors. Young pastors do need a healthy way to understand how we can gain the respect of others. Too often we come off like a bunch of disrespectful punks when expressing our views and executing our ministry vision. I, for one, am concerned about that. And I’m thankful to know other young guys who want to redeem the prevailing portrait of the young pastor today.
But on the flipside, I think some older pastors want to be respected by young guys too. Maybe you’re not one of those and could care less if young guys respect you or not. If that’s true, that attitude should probably be received as an alarm going off in your heart highlighting a need to do some introspection to see why you are jaded, and not practicing the grace of the gospel toward the next generation of leaders. But maybe you do consider yourself an older pastor who wants to have a positive relational influence with emerging leaders. If that’s true, I want to give you six traits of the kind of older pastor from whom maturing young pastors want to learn. Because he was a man who commanded the respect of talented rising pastoral leaders, the apostle Paul is who we’ll glean the traits of a respectable older pastor from as we meditate on his personal pastoral testimony in Acts 20:17-35.
“. . . I always lived among you . . .” (Verse 18b) Paul (like Jesus with the twelve) was accessible to those he trained. He invited them to join in the ministry he was doing as part of their training. He went out of his way to spend time instructing them. This is why he could write to one young pastor, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Some older pastors lack influence with younger guys because they don’t have an open door policy relationally. When they’re sought for advice they’re always too busy to help a younger guy out. If you’re a church planter and want to see a version of their by-laws, discipleship systems, or attend a board meeting to get a sense of how things should be done, forget about it. “Go and learn from the Spirit, like I had to,” they say. Pastors even do this to leaders in their own church. For some, the expression of a sense of calling to plant a church is as good as giving their two week notice in the eyes of their pastor. This kind of inaccessibility to younger pastors who merely want to glean from the experiences of those who’ve gone before them is crushing, and doesn’t inspire respect.
Be Humble about your experience
“. . . serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews . . .” (verse 19) Paul had been through more ministry battles than most, but he didn’t allow the things he’d seen and done to produce ministry pride. Instead, he kept a posture of humility. Humility is another important trait of a respectable older pastor. Some older guys carry around this “Don’t you know who I am?” kind of demeanor. When they hear young guys speak of their aspiration to be used of God they all but scoff at the “little guy who has no idea what he’s getting into.” They say things like, “I’ve been doing this for thirty years, son. Let’s see if you make it five, and then we’ll talk.”
I once heard Leo Geovinetti say, “Your age only tells us how long you’ve been on the road. It doesn’t tell us how far you’ve come.” The same is true in ministry. You can be in ministry for years and still carry an immature pride due to misapplication of what God has done through you. That’s tragic, uninspiring, and a major turnoff to younger leaders who are looking for Christ-like role models for influence, not rock stars.
Be a Preacher
“. . . how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Verses 20-21) Paul preached the whole counsel of God, repentance, and the clear biblical gospel. He didn’t mess around with God’s Word, and so should it be with all pastors. And young people who are serious about following Jesus have less and less patience with pastors who are sloppy preachers and exegetes, who soft peddle hard or difficult biblical truths. I believe this is partly why so many young pastors flock to the leadership of Reformed men like John Piper and Mark Driscoll. Whether you agree with everything they say or not (and I don’t), one thing is clear from these men’s preaching—they care about accuracy in the Word. They’re bold, text-driven, Christ-centered, unashamed of the gospel, and young guys respond to that.
I see this same trend in the Calvary Chapel Movement. If you ask the average young Calvary Chapel pastor who most inspires them in our movement, hands down the first three names that come out of their mouths are generally guys like David Guzik, Brian Brodersen, and Damian Kyle. Why? These men are careful exegetes, accurate expositors, and honest preachers, and that is respectable.
Be in the Game
“And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.” (Verses 22-23) Paul had seen God do so much through him that it would’ve been easy for him to glory in the old days, and forget about being on mission in the present. He didn’t do that. Paul thanked God for His past faithfulness, but stayed on mission in the present. If you’re an older guy, please don’t just tell us about the good old days. Tell us about the mission you’re on now. Show by example that, as long as you’re not dead, and God’s not dead, that the mission isn’t over. One of the most inspiring things to see as a young guy is a man like Chuck Smith who, in his mid-eighties amidst a fight with cancer, is preaching the Word three times a week. I look at that and think, “That’s how I want to be.” Inspiring older pastors stay on mission instead of just coasting and reliving the old days.
Be a Finisher
“But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Verse 24) What younger guys need more than anything is the example of older pastors who finish well. There is nothing more demoralizing than seeing older, respected pastors get taken out by moral failure and scandal. But there’s nothing more inspiring than seeing the old dudes finish strong.
Be a Releaser
“So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Verse 32) Older pastors, your affirmation is important to those who are trained under your leadership. I’ve known too many guys who’ve had to enter the wild waters of ministry with unneeded discouragement because their senior pastor didn’t have the guts or grace to lay hands on them, affirm them, and encourage them as they followed the leading of the Holy Spirit. This is shameful, and not worthy or inspiring of respect. I believe it is a good way to quench the Spirit’s work in future leaders.
As you survey Paul’s example, it’s easy to see why he was so respected amongst young leaders, and such a welcomed influence in their lives. So, to older pastors I offer the challenging question, are the traits of a respectable older pastor displayed in your life? If not, why not, and what are you going to do about it?