I have always attempted to surround myself with the best possible people for the church that our budget can afford. It hasn’t mattered to me whether they were old or young in years of experience, I look for people with an aptitude for leadership, a love for people, and progress. After someone passes the character test, a fit into our culture is just as important to me as any other factor.
In church planting, sometimes our budget forced us to look for people willing to take entry level pay. That’s all we could afford. Now that I’m leading an established church, I’ve found myself surrounded by people who have been in ministry much longer than I have. Both scenarios have worked.
Some pastors seem to believe they have to be the oldest staff member on their team. I disagree. In fact, I think they could be missing out on some of the best staff members if they only look for younger leaders.
How do you lead people when they outrank you in years of age and experience?
Here are four considerations.
- Understand their different needs – When a person is 10, 20, or even 30 years older they likely have different expectations from the church. They may need different benefits, different work schedules, and even different leadership styles, depending on their stage of life. For example, I would be foolish to expect to offer the same level of input into how a person does their job with someone who has 40 years experience versus a person entering their first career job.
- Respect wisdom – Naturally there will be things the more experienced person has to offer the church that I don’t. I can’t let that intimidate me. Instead I should glean from their wisdom and let it work for the benefit of the church and my leadership. I need to be honest when I don’t know how to do something and learn from them.
- Don’t play games – When the leader is intimidated by the older team member, he or she sometimes dances around an issue or fails to handle conflict that develops. People with significant life experience can usually see through that type behavior and it leads to disrespect of leadership. If you are in the position, then do your job. Shoot straight with them. Stand your ground, but do it respectfully.
- Be patient with them – Sometimes the older team member may not be as culturally, technologically, or trend savvy as younger leaders—and they know this—but he or she will make up for it by adding to the team in other ways. They may need a different form of communication, or you may need to explain something in a different context.
When an older team member grasps your vision and believes in you and your leadership, you’ll have a loyal, hard-working, experienced team member. Don’t shy away from leading those with more experience than you.