Written by: Dan Steel
Dan Steel serves as the senior pastor of Magdalen Road Church in Oxford, England. Before returning to his hometown of Oxford, he helped plant Grace Church Stirchley in Birmingham, England. He and his wife, Zoe, have four children. You can connect with him here.
This following content was originally published on Acts 29’s website, linked here: https://www.acts29.com/avoiding-the-potential-dangers-of-midlife-ministry/
On May 26, 2022, I’ll hit 45. There’s no getting away from it: I’m well and truly middle-aged. I’ve been in paid ministry for over 20 years, and God willing, with his help I hope to have a similar amount of time left.
Our broader culture idolizes youth. People spend lots of money on skincare products, gym memberships, Botox, and plastic surgery. But we don’t quite know what to do with the middle years. We speak with slight embarrassment about someone going through a “midlife crisis,” in which our perception of who we want to be or how life should have been and who we actually are doesn’t match.
But how does growing older affect pastors? What dangers might midlife lead to for church planters and ministers? As I’ve read, thought, and prayed over the past year or so, here are three potential dangers I’m aware of when it comes to planters and pastors.
Danger #1: Stewardship (It’s OK to admit you’re getting older)
“The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair” (Prov. 20:29).
A simple fact of getting older is that our bodies and capacities change. Maybe it looks like taking a little longer to recover after exercise or not having quite the same bandwidth to drive so many projects simultaneously. It’s OK to admit weakness—indeed, it’s good to acknowledge we’re getting older.
As Solomon puts it in Proverbs 20:29, a younger generation’s glory is in their strength, while the older’s is in their gray hair. Although we often seek to pretend it’s not there, gray hair isn’t something for which we need to be embarrassed. Rather, according to Solomon, it’s a crown of splendor. Proverbs 16:31 tells us it’s “attained in the way of righteousness.”
As we age, we need to rethink how we steward what God has entrusted to us. The seasons of multiple plates to spin, late nights, and early mornings fade in our rear-view mirror. But now, we might have a bit more wisdom to share with others—not simply wisdom from books, but wisdom from a life with the Lord, and even wisdom learned the hard way. We can warn others of what we’ve learned.
Danger #2: Sin (Don’t think you’re out of the woods yet)
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).
When I was younger, I naïvely thought that the older you got, the easier it was to follow Jesus. Of course, now I realize we won’t see an end date (this side of heaven) on fighting sin. Thirty years down the line as a follower of Jesus, I still see sin in myself that I hate—perhaps even more now. It can be demoralizing.
Why such little progress? Why am I still struggling with pride, envy, or selfishness? The call to put to death the sinful, earthly nature is not just a call for the young. There’s never a time when we don’t need to keep mortifying sin.
I’ve noticed in myself that there can be, at times, almost a Christian midlife mediocrity. Whether it’s complacency, exhaustion, or despair, it can be easy to get used to ongoing, indwelling sin—to think, If things haven’t changed much in the last 30 years, why bother? Perhaps that’s why so many Christians, even pastors, end up walking away from their faith midlife—they stopped fighting sin.
Danger #3: Succession (It’s still not about you)
“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:1–2).
In the beginning, we can easily recite the mantra, “Preach the gospel, plant churches, die and be forgotten.” A young church planter fired up for the Lord is a thing to behold! Yet there’s something very powerful in us that desires to be remembered and leave a legacy—to make a name for ourselves. As the work grows, the church develops, and lives are changed, it can be too easy to find our sense of worth in how the church is doing.
But friends, every pastor is an interim pastor. This is not your church; it belongs to the Lord Jesus. It’s still not about you!
Raising others up ought to already be a core part of your ministry. But if it isn’t, start thinking now about how you can raise others to surpass you. Discuss a wise succession plan with your eldership. I’m convinced that one of the reasons pastors sometimes stay in place too long and end up finishing so poorly is because these conversations either don’t happen or happen too late.
Whether you’re a young pastor feeling like you’ll never reach middle age, an older pastor reflecting on a long life of ministry, or a midlife pastor seeking to minister faithfully as the years pass, these warnings are for us all. May we embrace whatever season of life we’re in to plant and shepherd gospel-centered churches for God’s great glory.