Over the next three days, our presbytery will examine a number of men to determine their fitness for pastoral ministry. Some hope to be ordained almost immediately, for others that day will not be far away, Lord willing. We trust it will be a time of great joy.
These men will go into churches full of people many years their senior. My ordination was only nine years ago, so most people would still put me in the “young pastor” category, though as the almond tree quickly blossoms, that is changing. What can these older saints expect the Lord to do through such young, inexperienced men? It’s a good question, because the new man’s preaching may not be well polished, his knowledge of Scripture is not as thorough as it will be years from now, and his life experience makes him unable to personally relate in counseling settings to those who have been weathered by many years of life. Whether this article applies to you at present or not, it almost certainly will sometime, assuming you live a long life.
People who have walked with God for many years often have vivid memories of one or two older men who fed them in past times of dynamic spiritual growth. The growth curve is by nature more intense for those who are young or are new in the faith. How can older saints keep from comparing the new kid of the block to the man with so many years of wisdom who presided over their intense growth in the past (though, if the older people are honest, they might do the math and realize that the “old” pastor who presided over their growth was at that time about the same age as the young pastor is today).
Is the role of the older member simply to support the new guy so that he can influence the next generation by God’s grace? Is it simply to speak encouraging words or to provide help in other ways? We could address multiple aspects of ministry, but for now, let us consider the older member’s relationship to the preaching of the young pastor.
In my first three-and-a-half years of preaching, there was one old man who impressed me. He poured lavish praise on my preaching week after week. Every sermon was better than the last. At first, it was encouraging. Shortly, it was embarrassing. I’d see him making his way to the back of the church, and I knew what was coming – sometimes I wanted to hide under a rug, especially after I knew I’d preached a poor sermon. Locals who are reading this post are already smiling at this description of Bud Wilson, who is now with the Lord.
Then one day it hit me – Bud was not over the top in his excitement. You see, every sermon Bud heard really was better than the last, because he longed to hear from Jesus. The sermon that just ended was the freshest word he had heard from the Savior. He sought what he called “constant, conscious communion with Christ.” He had set the Lord always before him (Psalm 16:8). Consequently, the age of the preacher didn’t matter, the content of the text didn’t matter, and the technical quality of the sermon didn’t matter – though he would raise occasional exegetical questions and often added three more points and a poem to the sermon himself! Only Christ mattered! After understanding the heartfelt sincerity of his passion, I was able to celebrate deeply with him on a weekly basis after worship, and I soon wished that more people shared his desire to press on to know the Lord.
The point is, Bud was wrapped up in the word of Christ. I know he didn’t grow under my ministry in the same way as he had grown through the ministry of Dr. James Boice. But, I know he did grow and was excited to grow under my ministry because he sought that constant, conscious, communion with Christ. That he was still growing did more to encourage me than anything else. We who knew Bud know that there will never be another. Just as preachers should not try to be someone they are not, no church member should try to be Bud Wilson.
But older members with younger pastors can emulate his fervent desire to know Christ and his sincere expectation that God would cause him to grow through every word of Christ proclaimed – even through the weak words of a young preacher.