In 1988, the movie Young Guns hit the big screen. It was a story about a brash group of young cowboys who frequently caused more trouble than they solved. One has to wonder if they had included just ONE older, experienced, wiser cowboy how much more they could’ve accomplished.
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has formed a network exclusively for young pastors (40 and under) called Young Pastors Network. It’s worth asking, “Is this a good idea? Is this group destined to do some good but may end up doing just as much harm, like the Young Guns?” While I do believe that this network is not just a good idea but an essential idea, let me start by addressing the potential dangers of such a network.
Why Shouldn’t We Have a YPN?
- Danger of Idolizing Youth. I was sitting in a nursing home in 2015 with one of our church members. He was depressed because no one visited him. In the course of our conversation, he looked at me and said, “America doesn’t know what to do with old people because it idolizes youth.” As I’ve walked the hallways of many nursing homes, I’m afraid I have to agree. Inherent in having a network devoted to young pastors is a potential continuation of this idolatry.
- Disconnecting from Older Generations. We are gathering a group of inexperienced, unproven, untested pastors to encourage one another—what could go wrong, right? This network by design doesn’t include gifted seasoned leaders. Although our gatherings actually give that older generation an opportunity to invest deeply in this group, a liability in connecting younger pastors to one another is failing to connect them to wisdom a few steps ahead of them.
- Discounting Longevity. It’s my opinion that the true heroes in the pastor-world are the guys who’ve quietly served their churches without recognition or praise for 40-plus years. The YPN could give the impression that we are holding up a model of ministry that sees success as flash and Twitter followers. This unfortunate aspirational model of ministry has undoubtedly fueled some of the pastoral burnout, blowup and implosion we’ve seen.
So given these dangers, why should we press forward with YPN?
- Longevity in ministry is directly connected to friends in ministry. Breaking news: pastoral ministry is tough. Really tough. The only way you make it is if you forge those friendships with guys that are “3 a.m. phone call” people. The most dangerous place for a pastor is to be without pastor friends. The YPN provides a way for pastors to forge these friendships.
- “Seminary didn’t prepare me for this.” While this quip is common pastor talk, it’s actually not fair. Seminaries aren’t designed to prepare you for every potential reality of pastoral ministry. Instead, they give you tools that help you live out your calling as a pastor. YPN connects pastors to resources that help them learn how to pastor, and connects pastors relationally. Connecting young pastors to other practitioners helps fill the “seminary didn’t prepare me for this” gap.
- The Boomer Pastor statistics are scary. There’s a cliff coming, and we better start raising up young leaders. According to Barna, the average age of a pastor in America was 44 in 1992. As of 2017, it’s now 54. By this, I don’t mean to imply that older pastors should not be in leadership, but as this group retires, we need young pastors ready to step into those roles. YPN tries to lean into this problem by engaging this new generation.
- Autonomy can be our undoing. While I believe our autonomy is biblical, isolation in the SBC is real and in some ways is baked into our system. Our churches VOLUNTARILY cooperate. No mechanism requires pastors to connect in relationships. The YPN provides an attractive hook to pull guys into the fold.
- The future of the SBC and denominationalism hangs in the balance. State conventions do have value to add, and networks like this are a case in point. In a season when denominations seem to be taking it on the chin, initiatives like the YPN are actually ways to advance the kingdom.
- Substantive impact in a denominational structure. I have nothing against serving on committees and trustee boards (I’ve done both), but most younger pastors are looking for ways to connect beyond these structures. Social media engagement, promotion and production of events, blog posts, and regional networking with other young pastors are just some of the ways guys can be unleashed through the YPN.
- Gathering point for investment. I mentioned the danger of disconnecting from older generations, but I’d like to turn that one around. I think the YPN encourages pastors to connect with the wisdom of generations ahead of them. A clearly defined group of guys facilitates the connection with the wisdom of more seasoned pastors. Through events, cohorts, and mentoring relationships, the YPN can actually do more to connect pastors to wisdom than disconnect them.