August 10, 2020

Ageism in the Church?


Some days more than others, and for various reasons, I’m glad I’m not a Methodist anymore. No, seriously, the trend this article from CT’s Live Blog reports is happening in many church bodies and denominations. I wonder what you think of it.

As for me, I’m all for young pastors — after all, I was one for many years — but is this wise? When you consider longer life spans, healthier living, and the advantages of having people with experience and wisdom in leadership positions, why would a church body ponder a decision like this?

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Methodists May Discourage Those Over 45 from Becoming Pastors
by Melissa Steffan


The overall average age of retirement is creeping slowly upward, but one regional United Methodist conference is promoting changes that would limit ordination opportunities for anyone over the age of 45.

The Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) has proposed new guidelines for candidates entering ministry. The guidelines encourage those over the age of 45 to “to pursue other expressions of lay ministry,” and they aim to recruit younger clergy.

According to the UMC, “The Rev. Carol Bruse, the chair of the conference’s 70-member board of ordained ministry, said the aim of the proposed standards is to help the conference plan for future needs. The policy would not affect current clergy or clergy candidates in the Texas Conference.”

But the UMC also acknowledges that ordination is a lengthy process. As a result, “elders 35 or older made up more than 94 percent of all provisional and ordained elders [in 2012], and 53 percent of all elders were age 55 or older.”

Some critics of the proposal have called it “outright ageism,” and others say the emphasis on younger leaders could misinterpret the mission of the church.

Comprised of nearly 285,000 members, the Texas Conference is one of the largest UMC conferences in the U.S., and it could be an influential leader among other conferences when it comes to lowering the average age of clergy. In any case, the conference does not plan to make its final decision on the proposal until October.



  1. Kent Haley says

    We are the UMC with open hearts, open minds, and open doors, unless you’re over 45. The elder ones among us are now too old to be elders.

    No, it is NOT wise. They are excluding wisdom when they exclude older candidates for ordination. Why would the church want to deprive itself of experience and wisdom it its ranks of ordained elders?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Gotta have those soul patch goatees and those Relevant Worships and Elders the age of the kids to keep all those kids from leaving at 18 and joining the Nones.

      Stay Groovy, Man.

  2. Let’s say I’m 55 and become a UMC pastor. How many years of ministry could I expect to put in? God willing, with my genes and today’s medical knowledge, 40 years. Maybe more. So what are these worries they have about the future?

    Unless, of course, their “worries” have to do with the future of how the UMC is perceived: As a denomination of old fuddy-duddies instead of young, hip clergy.

    • Wayne Cook says

      K.W., I don’t think that we Methodists have been perceived as a denomination of “young, hip” anythings for some time, if ever.

      I am a second (or possibly third) career pastor. I became a licensed local pastor in 2006 at age 47. A licensed local pastor goes through alternative (outside of seminary) training and is licensed to perform the duties of an ordained elder in the charge (church or circuit) to which they are appointed by the bishop. We do this because our theology of ordination (if we wish to delude ourselves to call it that) is convoluted to such an extent that ordination is tied to full membership in the Annual Conference and full itineracy. To be ordained would require an MDiv and 2-3 years of “probationary” service… that is if you pass all of the interviews in a timely fashion.

      At 54, I will never be ordained under our current system (which I don’t see changing anytime soon). To start, I never completed my Bachelor’s. You see, I was offered a position in the field for which I was training in college during the summer before my Junior year at a salary that was comparable to what the college placement office said I should expect upon completion of my degree. I left college thinking that I would always go back, but I never did. I rose through the ranks of my first and second professions and was serving as the VP of Technology when I gave it all up to answer the call, taking a 70% pay cut in the process. In order to be ordained in the UMC, I would need 2 years to complete my undergrad, 3 years of seminary for an MDiv, plus at least 2 years probation (none of my current service would be credited). Considering that I would not even be able to start this process financially until my daughter graduates college in 2016, the earliest I would be eligible for ordination would be at age 64. The UMC currently mandates retirement at 72 (for pension reasons). The financial commitment makes absolutely no sense to me. So, I will continue as I am as long as I am under appointment. And I can see myself doing nothing else.

      Sorry for writing an epistle here. 🙂 The bottom line is that I find the Texas Conference proposal abhorrent. But, then again, I have never ceased to be amazed at our institutional stupidity.

      • Well, let me take my tongue out of my cheek and thank you for the description of the hoops a UMC pastor has to jump through. And of course all the expenses entailed in that.

        But if someone wants to jump through those hoops, or feels God wants ’em to, I object to any other restrictions. Especially age restrictions. In the scriptures, God is notorious for not caring about age when he picks leaders, and we should be flexible enough to accommodate anyone who’s willing to do what it takes to get in. Mandatory retirement in the Kingdom of God is ridiculous.

        I knew a pastor who was forced to retire at 70; he took his pension and used it to start another church, and good for him.

        • Wayne Cook says

          As I said in the last paragraph of my epistle, I am not in favor of the proposal from the Texas Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. I find it to be ageist and an institutional slap in the face to anyone who doesn’t meet the demographic that the “church” wants.

          For me, the financial outlay with no guarantee of making it through the ordination process is not worth it, not to mention the pressure and the stress that it would put upon my family (as if ministry itself, at whatever level, doesn’t put enough stress on the family – who aren’t called btw – no matter what the folks in the pews may think). And that was a hard realization to make.

      • It looks like you can do everything an ordained pastor can do, but be a Bishop.
        I started a M.A. @ BNC in 1967. , I will finish this Dec. with about 62 post Graduate hours.
        We were bivocational pastors for about 15 years in the COFN. about 36 % of our elders are bi-vocational Pastors meaning they hold down a secular job and also are the pastor’s of a local church.
        In some ways in our church they are considered Speckled birds. They have all the respondsibitites of the ministry but are not considered in the baloting for any other ministry.
        Bi-vocationals in the COFN have very little to say about policy as they are not members of the boards that enact policy
        But they can identify with the apostles Paul and are some of our most dedicated ministrers.
        john Ross

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Let’s say I’m 55 and become a UMC pastor. How many years of ministry could I expect to put in? God willing, with my genes and today’s medical knowledge, 40 years. Maybe more.

      Two words: “RUN, LOGAN!”

      • Randy Thompson says

        Dear Headless:
        Your point is well taken, and I agree with you. But, your reference to “Logan’s Run” may well subvert your point. After all, it’s a cultural reference only someone over 55 would get! (At least you didn’t reference “Soylent Green.”)

        • Rick Ro. says

          Good grief! “Logan’s Run”? “Soylent Green”? What’s next? “Westworld”? “The Omega Man”? “Coma”? “Colossus: the Forbin Project”…?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            While we’re talking cheezy 70s-80s SF movies, how about “Demon Seed”, where a supercomputer rapes a woman to start a cyborg master race?

            Or the ideal sermon for Second Amendment Sunday:

          • Randy Thompson says

            What’s next? Why, “The Thing,” “Forbidden Planet,” “The Brain from Planet Arous,” “The Crawling Eyes” and “Gorgo,” of course!

            (Maybe this is why the Methodist Church takes a dim view of old people. . . )

      • Dana Ames says

        [HUG, message for you near the bottom here, if you haven’t seen it already:


      • Josh in FW says

        great movie, It was a common Saturday afternoon choice when I was growing up.

  3. CM or anyone else who would be kind enough to chime in,
    I am currently 30 years old and am now in college with aspirations of completing my undergraduate degree and going on to divinity school and being ordained in the Methodist church. The more I read and study about the Wesleys and the traditions of the church I am glad to be a member. But then I look around and see substantial “warning” signs. Examples would include this article, an article posted here (, schisms and toxicity in my own church, and numerous other things. I have always thought that these problems I am noticing aren’t specific just to my denomination but they are everywhere and I truly feel called to teach the Word so jumping into the Methodist tradition is just as good as any. But, I still have some doubts. Is there anyone out there with some advice or words of wisdom that may help in my discernment of what path to choose in becoming ordained in a mainline denomination?

    • David Cornwell says

      Will, the link you have provided sort of blows me away. He reflects exactly many of the things I experienced during my 65 years as a United Methoidst. It is well written and to the point. I always considered myself an “evangelical” Unted Methodist. The “Articles of Religion” were my guide to doctrine and theology. However startng at least 20 years ago a couple of very conservative groups organized with the aim of purifying dotrine and practice. They practice a narrow form of conservatism, much of it falling in line with “culture war” agenda and goals.

      I always enjoyed the robust fellowship and understanding of the faith provided by those who had an understanding somewhat different from mine. However these ultra conservative groups have attempted to demonize those with whom they have differences. This is sad. As the author of the link says:

      “Persons and ideas formerly considered to be conservative are now considered to be moderate.

      “Persons formerly moderates are now considered to be progressives or “liberals”.”

      I still love the UMC that I remember. I grieve about what it seems to have become. However I woudn’t think of offering you advice. Just be aware of what’s going on. May God give you guidance.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        However startng at least 20 years ago a couple of very conservative groups organized with the aim of purifying dotrine and practice. They practice a narrow form of conservatism, much of it falling in line with “culture war” agenda and goals.

        Purity of Ideology, just like the Communists.
        Purges, Spread the Revolution, and all.

        • David Cornwell says

          When it first started I had some sympathy for the movement. But it quickly led to extremes.

    • Try looking into the Church of the Nazarene. They are of the Wesleyan tradition and has not yet bowed down to the current trends in the larger UMC. The assistant pastor in my church retired from business at 51 years of age, went to seminary, got ordained and immediately found a home in our local congregation. It also helps that he serves without salary (his own choice). We also have a 40ish woman who is going to be ordained and she has been serving on staff (gratis) as well.

      If you are truly called then you will also be directed where to serve. We do not need more young graduates who want to make a living in the ministry, or who decide that ministry seems like a good career. We need God called people!

      • Nazarenes are guided by Charles Finney and Phoebe Palmer than John Wesley, sorry to say. Their heritage is quite Wesleyan.

    • Kent Haley says

      If your main goal is to preach/teach, I would not recommend UMC. In my experience, the pastor is so busy attending church committee, district committee, and conference committee meetings, and all sorts of other activities, that there is little time for any kind of serious study or sermon prep.

      • Wayne Cook says

        Your experience certainly isn’t mine. Preaching and teaching is an important part of my ministry and there is plenty of time for serious study and sermon prep. Time management is an important skill for a pastor to have so that you control your time and not let the time control you.

        • Kent Haley says

          I agree 100%. Time Mgmt is crucial. I myself am not a pastor. I am just relaying my observations of what I’ve seen at my local UMC. I’m glad its not the case everywhere.

    • Deb4kids says

      Hi Will,

      My husband and I recently returned to the UMC after an 18 years at a large evangelical church. I read your link and, to be honest, my opinion is that what he is describing ( lack of diverse and healthy discussion, no one seems to be “moderate”-anything anymore but simply two extremes talking past each other) is not unique to the UMC. What is unique is that, for now, this two “extremes” are still co-existing in the same denomination.

      Most of denominations ( as well as cable news shows and political parties) have pretty much camped out on one extreme fringe or the other in their own little Holy Huddles. To be honest, I’m not sure how much longer the UMC is going to be able to continue without a split but, for now, I believe that there still are many, many people who believe that the we need to co-exist and learn from each other.

      Our church is pastored by a 50-something woman who was ordained in her 30s. We are a diverse body..some knee-jerking going in both directions but, for now, we all still love and respect each other.

      My husband’s church roots are in the Nazarene Church and we are pretty much the “liberal black sheep” for attending the UMC. In my experience the Naz church is much more a spot on the “Evangelical Circus Tour” and very conservative on issues of politics and gender….Jim Dobson came to fame in the Nazarene Church and, at least to my in-laws, he is still a rock star.

      • Deb4kids says

        Actually not “gender” so much…they have been ordaining women for years…but I should have said “The Family”. Man is the head of the home, SAHMs are best for everyone…everything you would expect from the church that came us Focus on the Family.

        • Deb4kids says

          *Gave us..sorry

        • There is a lot of diversity within the Church of the Nazarene, but I have to say that your description is not representative of many of us. I am a woman working toward ordination (47 – so past the hip, relevant age) and I’ve been in the CotN my entire adult life. I’m not a social conservative and there is no pressure in my church community to be a SAHM. The church has changed significantly within my lifetime, and clergy education is placing more and more emphasis on Wesleyan theology and rich liturgy (as opposed to revivalism). I get frustrated with my denomination sometimes, but I also love it.

          • Rick Ro. says

            Hi, Sharon. My wife and I attended our Nazarene church nineteen years before finally joining! I still have issues with the denomination, too, but this particular Nazarene church is what we consider “our home.” Love God, love our neighbor. Doesn’t mean we have to love the denomination…LOL.

    • Josh in FW says

      It was weird reading the linked article, because I have grown up being told the Methodist Church was where ‘liberals’ went. [I grew up SBC] It was strange reading someone concerned about conservatives taking over when my whole life I’ve been surrounded by folks who are on constant guard against liberals taking over. It just goes to show how much our environment and world view affects how we see things. For example: I see myself as fairly moderate in my viewpoints, but when I meet people from other parts of the country I’m quickly told that my views are far right which is weird because I often have friends and family get on to me for being too liberal.
      I guess Texas is just strange like that.

  4. David Cornwell says

    I’m a former UMC pastor. At the end of my career I left the UMC for various reasons, some of them personal and some because of friends in another church. I was ordained at age 40 after going through all the screening, process, testing, interviews, etc.

    I’m not sure what the reason for limiting ordination opportunities might be, but it’s probably a combination of factors. One is the fact that the entire denomination is aging rapidly. Membership is dropping, and along with that, attendance. There is always the perception, rightly or wrongly, that younger pastors are the answer for turning things around. This is mostly wrong headed, but the percepton is there. Many churches seek someone young. So when a pastor hits 55 he/she has a tougher time being wanted.

    Not sure, but I think another reason might be economic. UMC pastors have a very good retirement program, which if one retires in good standing and with ordination intact brings along with it supplimental health insurance. This is very expensive to provide. Someone retiring after just a few years of service hasn’t really contrbuted much to this part of the retirment program.

    I don’t want to question motives or reasons, but these are among the possibilities.

    • Josh in FW says

      Those reasons make sense. It would probably cause less conflict to hire younger pastors than to change the retirement and health insurance benefits.

  5. Randy Thompson says

    I made enough mistakes when I went into pastoral ministry at age 40 to be glad I didn’t go into the ministry when I was younger. If I was a jerk at 40, I would have been intolerable at 30. I’m now over 60 and just now feel like I’m getting it. . . The great thing about age is, you have more stupid mistakes to learn from than younger folks.

    • Rick Ro. says

      For those get humbler as they age, you’re right. But there are plenty of people who become more prideful as they age, and those are the ones you don’t want heading up a church.

      • petrushka1611 says

        The pride of life can eat them alive. And some have gotten so used to being listened to without criticism that they think every idea that pops into their head is a good one, or they wouldn’t have thought of it to begin with.

        I’m also reminded of a line from a They Might Be Giants song: “But I was young and foolish then; I feel old and foolish now.”

  6. cermak_rd says

    Might this not be pragmatic? Simply a question of retirement benefits and also the fact that if you want to get people to convert to your tradition, the best time to get them is when they are young, and older people may not be as attractive to youth as younger people?

    • Rick Ro. says

      If you were running the church as a business, you’re probably right. There’s a great deal of pragmatism to these proposed guidelines. Maybe the question is, how much should a church denomination base its guidelines on pragmatic business acumen as opposed to Spirit-led, Biblical and Jesus-focused guidelines.

      • Very much my take as well, though I have no history or experience with the UMC, so my thoughts are from the peanut gallery (lightly sea salted).

  7. This is only a problem is one considers ordination necessary to have a significant ministry.

    Perhaps what they mean is this: The ordination process is a long and intensive one, at significant cost to the denom. If you are over 45, we do not want to invest such a large amount of time to train you because you have a shorter career in front of you than a 30yo. If you are older, do less training and get straight into non-ordained ministry, making use of your greater life experience.

    I’ve heard of a man over 70 applying for accreditation in my state!

  8. Disclaimer….what I know about the UMC could be inscribed on the head of a pin with PLENTY of room left over for the Lord’s prayer. I plead ignorance to the specific topic.


    I know that in the Roman Catholic Church, the age of ordination is creeping up, as men experience the world a bit, or, in some cases, spend half a lifetime as husbands and fathers before losing a spouse and becoming capital “F” Fathers. (I know, a Catholic issue….)

    However, in the overall look at life, and Christian Life particularly, it seems that wisdom does often follow the pains and mistakes and lessons God sends us over our decades. I have SO many faults, but the constant fear of failure and need to be perfect wandered off after my 50th birthday. I finally “get” that I am a screw-up, but still worthy of love and with something of value to say. It is not my success and overcoming that speaks to others, but my messes that show how much God loves me anyway. I have not shred of calling to offical ministry, but in teaching my young students how to be caring and smart nurses, I feel I am serving God and His people.

    In our blessed world, twenty-five is often a child, forty a new parent, and sixty the beginning of time to spread one’s wings. We need to stop worshipping the very young when those of seven or eight decades are vital, and have so much EXPEREINCE in love and pain to share with others…….JMHO.

  9. I wonder if one of the driving forces behind this is also the UMC’s fairly unique appointment system. If you are an elder in good standing (one has gone through the entire ordination process and a probationary period) you are guaranteed a placement. Yes, you read that right. The bishop has to–has to- find a place for every single one of the elders in his district. The most recent General Conference tried to do away with the guaranteed appointment system and was overturned by the Judicial Council.

    Which worked fine when the UMC was growing, particularly during the glory days of the mainline in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. But now, like the rest of the mainline, it’s shrinking. Which means, fewer churches, smaller churches, and less resource$ to support clergy. There is, if my Methodist friends are accurate, a relative glut of clergy in the UMC, with more coming out of the seminaries every year. Something’s got to give, and from a pragmatic standpoint, the conference has to choose whether to support and ordain people who are going to be around longer, and cynically, pay more into the pension and healthcare system than they take out.

    It’s definitely a bad situation. But not unique. A quick glance at the PCUSA’s call system (which is completely different from the UMC’s) shows 2032 people in the system, with 489 positions listed. 334 of the 2032 are seeking their first call, 138 of the 489 positions are open to first call pastors. And yes, there are grumblings in the PCUSA for all those older folks to retire and make room for the younger ones.

    • Deb4kids says

      My daughter attends a non-denominational “Bible” church which recently posted a Children’s Pastor opening and received close to 400 applications. No, it isn’t a well-known church with a Rock Star Senior pastor either.

      This is far from only a “Mainline Problem”.

      In the past decade Christian Universities and Seminaries have passed degrees in Youth Ministry, Christian Education and M Divs hand over fist without any regard for the “full time ministry worker glut” they are creating.

      Regardless of the age issue, I applaud the UMC for being upfront and honest with folks BEFORE they incur tons of educational debt at this stage of life. The jobs just aren’t going to be there. Save your money, keep your day job and serve the church as a layperson.

  10. As an old guy, I will throw myself in front of this bus by declaring it a tempest in a teapot.


    I believe this is a vocation issue. It is not enough to view the pastorate as a job, career, or (dare I say?) a call. It is understandable that someone who spent a life in a “secular” career may come to a time when he or she wants to change careers and answer the “call” to become a pastor. It sounds legitimate from a modern, particularly American, perspective, where at most an individual will stay at a job for eighteen months, then find another, even enter a completely different career or industry.

    It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time (I can say that. Remember I’m an old guy.) a person from childhood may have become an apprentice in a trade, then spending an entire life learning that trade or craft until (hopefully) becoming a master.

    I think it is the same for the pastorate. it is a life-long vocation requiring years of learning, training, and experience to become a true shepherding pastor. This revivalistic or peististic notion that someone can suddenly get struck on the head by a calling and enter compentently into the pastorate is…optimistic? It’s like someone taking up art late in life in hopes of becoming a master painter. Sometimes it happens; often, it doesn’t. Age is not necessarily a qualification for ministry if age is not accompanied with experience and integrity.

    I grew up in the UMC and am quite aware of the pention woes they have had over the decades. There may be very sincere, pragmatic reasons not to welcome people to enter pastoral training late in life. I am not saying that is all that is to this story; perhaps the UMC wants to build up its inventory of pastors with soul-patches and skinny jeans.

    • Josh in FW says

      Good point about long term development. I was thinking it was better for Pastor to have had a job in the secular world first so that he could better relate to his sheep, but your point is a very strong argument against leaving one career for another. I’m still entirely clear on the concept of vocation vs. career and need to do some more reading.

    • George C says

      People rarely become a master of anything, regardless of the age they start.

      I am not really for there being a clergy at all, but if I was I would suggest a 45 year-old MINIMUM.

  11. As someone who works on a district level in a denomination, I was really encouraged to read your post. Just that someone notices it is helpful. Anxiety and fear of irrelevancy has got to be one of the deadliest diseases spreading quickly through the church. Thanks for taking the time to write about this.

  12. So did God quit calling people to become Pastors once they hit 45?

  13. I am shocked, shocked to learn that members of a certain profession have attempted to exclude potential competitors. Surely such a thing could never happen among hairdressers or undertakers.

    Do Methodist churches show a tendency to call older men as their pastors? If so, then the entry of more older men would primarily threaten men of the same age, as well as younger ones, who began their careers in the church, and thus have more experience. After all, the congregation could hardly care about seniority issues–they are mainly interesting in finding a pastor who “looks the part,” who has the right gravitas, the right touch of gray at the temples.

    The retirement issue could be solved easily enough, by making eligibility dependent on working a minimum number of years, or by linking benefits to the number of years worked. In other words, rationalize the pension system in line with other industries.