Learning from those much younger than I

Just because you are older and more experienced in ministry does not mean you cannot be spiritually blind. There must have been plenty of religious leaders in Jesus’ day older than Jesus, and yet they were leaders who Jesus characterized as spiritually blind (Matt. 15:13-14, 23:16-17).

What an indictment from a young rabbi, probably in most cases, younger than those confronting him.

When you have decades of ministry experience, you can still fall flat on your face, just as easily as anyone else. I Corinthians 10:12. No one in ministry — in all of life, right! — is exempt from this happening.

How many times have you said of a pastor, or heard it said of a pastor, “Oh boy, he was finished 2 years ago, and then stayed 2 more years.” (But in defense of the pastor, “How do you know when you are finished?” That is a great question — one for another blog post!)

I have seen antagonism where there should be sympathy between pastors and congregations because the pastor assumes non-existent feelings in his/her parishioners, and because of his/her preoccupation with a theological point of view.

Neither rarely wins the pastor points.

One of the temptations for me, after decades of ministry experience, still is to think that I can take care of myself, that because I am at the “top of my game,” I am doing “Just fine. Thank you very much!”

But if experienced adulthood, or even decades in the ministry means the ability to take care of oneself, then we need to reconsider how Jesus describes getting older to Peter his disciple.

 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. John 21:18

Sounds to me like getting older means a growing willingness to stretch out one’s hands and be guided by others, as Henri Nouwen says, when commenting on John 21:18.

At this point in my ministry to pastors and leaders — many of them younger than I am, often by several decades — I am asking myself, “What does it mean to be in dialogue with those who are younger than I am? How can I best be available to them –available to listen, ask questions, learn from their ideas, cheer them on to love and good works, and yes, to clearly say, ‘You must increase; I must decrease.'”? How else will young pastors keep their confidence and stay hopeful, if the more mature pastors don’t adopt this kind of posture?

Honestly, does taking that posture make me feel powerless?  Sometimes.  Inadequate? Sure. Like I am in the pre-school of ministry? Only about 3 or 4 times a day. Like after a 2-minute conversation with a pastor I’ve said everything I know?  Pretty much.  Like what I say may be just flat wrong? That, too.

I figure that hundreds of thousands of pastors in my age group can fight it, deny it or embrace it.

Fact is, when we are weak — maybe weaker than we even know — then we are strong. As I have considered my ministry future some this summer on a short study break out here in Phoenix, Arizona, the words the Lord once brought to the Apostle Paul’s mind have come to my mind more than once:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

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