Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 1, 1949
NUMBER 17, PAGE 1,6c

Life Ends At Forty

Cled E. Wallace

A story has been dramatized and screened to the effect that "Life Begins At Forty". With many churches this does not apply to preachers. A well-known church in a large Texas city has just completed an expensive and imposing edifice such as are coming to be known among us as "church plants". A meeting place is too plebeian. We must put on dog like the nations around us. It so happened that this church, a good one in many respects, needed a preacher. A certain disciple contacted me for a recommendation. The specifications and blue-print that the sought-after preacher must measure up to were interesting. He should preferably be thirty-five or under. Oh, horrors! He must not be over forty-five. He must be a wow with the young people, a good organizer and it wouldn't do any particular harm if he could preach provided he knew how to exercise proper tact and approach. This appeared to be the general idea. This sort of thing appears to be growing among the churches and it might be well to ponder the fruits of such a policy. It would not help much to sit down and cry and scold but some conservative and sensible warning is in order.

Since a lot of this foolishness was borrowed from the world and the denominations that infest it, and was not taken from the New Testament, possibly a warning from original sources would be more effective than citing the scriptures. The Lutheran Witness takes a crack at the problem editorially, for it has become a problem even in sectarian circles. The Witness cites the recommendations of "a large church convention". Its "Commission on Pastoral Relation" protested against "the fad for youth in the pulpit". Apart from the teaching of the scriptures, which some churches appear not to care too much about, the protest and warning sound sensible.

"Talented young men will hesitate to enter the ministry if they realize that they will have only a few years of active service. If a man is worthless at forty-five, he was no better at thirty-five...Too often the demand for youth comes from some church official who wants an inexperienced pastor whom he can control. 'Our seminaries should be reminded that the usefulness of many young men is handicapped by too much responsibility during the early years of their ministry. The man, the church, the denomination, and the Kingdom all suffer when this mistake is made."

We can leave out "the denomination" and consider the consequences of such a policy on "the man, the church, and the kingdom". It is a sad commentary on how far we have drifted from New Testament order and ideals when such practices become a problem among simple churches of Christ. Paul, the aged, could have had some such in mind when he warned Timothy that "the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables. "Preachers both young and old should take this to heart: "But be thou sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry". (II Tim. 4:3-5) If all will "preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" then some of the big, soft and spoiled churches will get what they need and not be allowed to childishly make preachers over forty-five the exclusive victims of hardship.

The Witness goes on to say its say about this fad.

"There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but the fact remains that the most useful period of the average minister's life is just beginning at forty. Churches that ignore this fact often learn its truth the hard way. It is not fair, on the one hand, as stated above, to handicap a young man by loading him with too much responsibility too soon: on the other hand, it is unfair to deprive a minister over forty of a chance for greater service just when he is ready for it."

Now, that makes sense, even if the Lutherans did have to tell us about it. There is a lingering suspicion that this fad for "youth in the ministry" as it has developed among us is due partly to infants instead of elders at the helm. Juvenile elders and a youth in the pulpit interested mainly in seeing that "our young people" are properly entertained can certainly mess up a church. When the New Testament pattern is applied to it, there are too many "Dutchman's joints" grinning at you. It doesn't fit close.

This is a time of fads in religion. "Youth Movements", "Youth Churches", "Youth Revivals" and "Youth" this and that. Glory be to youth! Did we get it from the New Testament? NO! There could come a time when somebody may take a notion to start a movement to something for the forgotten common people in the church, the ones who are old enough to shave and bear children.

It looks as though churches that take the New Testament as their guide should not go hog-wild over sectarian and worldly fads. We have young, middle-aged and old in the church. We have young, middle-aged and old preachers. They all have their needs and their abilities' and work. There is a place for all of them. Class consciousness should not be encouraged in any age group. If a preacher is needed let one be secured who can meet the legitimate needs regardless of his age. To arbitrarily set an age limit is short-sighted and unscriptural besides being downright stupid.