Carl Trueman has been sharing some thoughts on the call to ministry and the role of the seminary in affirming it. In his first post, Trueman offers a quote from Bishop Donald Robinson questioning the wisdom of appointing young men in their mid twenties to the office of elder. Robinson says,
Two such problems may be mentioned: how can a man’s qualifications for such a ministry be confidently judged at a time when he still lacks those criteria which were employed in the New Testament for admission to the ministry of oversight, namely, the satisfactory discharging of the duties of being the head of a household, the successful educating of his children, his aptness to teach and discipline his household, and his blameless reputation among his neighbours? The second problem is similar: how can such a young man adequately exercise the ministry to which he is ordained, when he has no experience (of the kind mentioned in the New Testament) on which to draw?
Generally speaking, I agree with their concern. Sociologists have been documenting the growing trend of delayed adulthood for some time now. Young people are waiting longer to take on the responsibilities associated with adulthood such as getting married, settling into a career, and raising children. Additionally, we live in a transient culture where neighbors seem to change on a yearly basis (if not sooner). It is hard to develop a reputation with the people around us when so many of us are moving in and out of neighborhoods on a regular basis.
However, I think that each case must be determined on its own merits. The general trend may tend toward a lack of life experience for most twenty-somethings. Yet I know of a few friends who were married, had children, served in their church, and worked a steady job before the age of 25. Some young guys have more life experience than others at that age. We should be careful not to disqualify all young men just because they are young.
As for experience, I assume that Robinson is speaking of ministry experience. I would agree that a man being called to the pastorate should have some exposure to vocational ministry and the responsibilities of an elder. A person can gain valuable experience by way of internships, associate positions, and mentoring relationships. In my limited experience, every pastor that I served with or sat under had some kind of training or experience prior to becoming a senior pastor. We can certainly debate what type of training is sufficient or adequate but I believe that the majority of pastoral candidates have some type of pastoral ministry experience. If Robinson is speaking of life experience then we are back to the earlier discussion on age.
Of course, Robinson’s points certainly depend on a church’s view of the pastor. The Bible commonly uses the word elder to refer to the office of overseer in the church. Personally, I think there are sufficient grounds in Scripture for a plurality of elders within the church. However, many churches confuse the roles and functions of elders, deacons, and trustees in such a way that raises questions about the responsibilities of the individuals within each group. Trustees may function as elders and elders may serve as deacons. In this case, it may be hard to determine what a young man is qualified to do and what areas need further development. The problem reminds us that Scripture should guide our understanding of the offices within the church and not the latest trends in secular leadership.
So again, I agree with the general principle. Churches should be careful not to appoint a man to the highest level of leadership on the primary basis of a theological degree. At the same time, they should not disqualify a man on the basis of his youth alone. The Pastoral Epistles clearly lay out the qualifications of an elder. Scripture should be our standard for judging the suitability of a pastoral candidate. The man who fits the description found in Scripture is fit to fill that role within our churches.