Young elders

Our family attends a Presbyterian church we appreciate with good preaching, concern for evangelism, discipleship and so on. But the philosophy behind electing elders seems to be to get young men (of the last three, none were over 35, and one had a child on the way but no others).

The sociological factors seem to sway this decision, i.e. younger men draw a younger demographic, and while I can see this as working, I can’t help believing it’s a betrayal of the biblical standard, and an ostracising of older men (of which there are quite a few).

I have been asked a couple of times by members of the congregation and some elders to stand, but for a couple of reasons I declined. I am now firmly in the “older man” category.

Our family is moving to revatilise a new church, so I thought we’d get more balance, but the two youngest elders are coming as well, so the problem will follow us.

I’m interested in people’s feedback. Do you think it problematic having young elders, and if so, what do you think the downstream problems may be?

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The downstream problem will be: sheer lack of experience. I’m well past 35, and I would be quite intimidated if someone asked me to be an elder. I was elected onto a church board (functional equivalent of a deacon) in my early 30s - on the pastor’s suggestion, I should add - but I didn’t say anything for the first year or so as it took me that long to work out how things worked.

OTOH in the ancient world, 35 was the equivalent of middle-aged, and about the mean life expectancy for the time.

Life expectancy at birth in the ancient world factors for horrific child and infant mortality. If a child lived to 12 months, his life expectancy had improved dramatically, and anyone who lived to adulthood was likely to have what we’d consider a pretty normal lifespan: 60, 70, 80. Witness the length of days of men recorded in books like Kings and Chronicles.

So while it is true that 35 was a typical life expectancy at birth in the ancient world, 35 wasn’t considered particularly old, and finding men of 40, 50 and 60 to elder wouldn’t have been terribly hard.

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When I was in my mid to late twenties, I was on sort of a loosie-goosy track to eldership at a church we are no longer a part of. In hindsight, I am very grateful that God protected me from becoming an elder at that time.

I had a great zeal for doctrine and preaching, but little care for the people of God. I was naïve as to the real work of pastoring. Compassion for widows? Calling a man to repentance for his sin against his wife within his marriage? Meeting with the sheep and knowing them, and being equipped to help them navigate the real issues of life by the wisdom of the word of God? Counseling married couples concerning their intimacy? Caring for the children of the church as they grow? Praying for the sheep, pleading for their souls constantly, and suffering the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in them? None of these kinds of things were on my radar at all.

Neo-Calvinism, baby. The doctrines of grace were alive to me. I was zealous for the things of God. I would have fancied myself to be a pretty fair preacher, but full of pride and loving the accolades of men. I was eager to “minister,” but with a very evangelically view of what that even meant. I wanted to be the ivory tower theologian who descended from his high place once a week to deliver a captivating oration and recitation of the truth, then go back to my high-minded study.

I am 36 now, and God has changed me greatly in all of these things.

Is there a place for a young elder? Probably. But we have a great need in the church to recover what eldership is, and what church even is. A young man with zeal for the Scriptures and a dazzling intellect does not an elder make.


This is a pet peeve of mine, although I don’t know if it’s quite the same as using the charisma of young men as a draw. It seems there are a lot of conservative young elders running around right now. They are zealous about dealing with problems in the church as older men teaching younger men. However, they are in their early 30s (mostly) and they are not actually wise. They seem to think that knowing about older men teaching younger men makes them the old wise one, instead of the young strong one. I may be overly sensitive to this but I find it to be a strange trend. I do notice that the serving young men are humbler over on the “outdoors deacon” side where you can’t imagine you have decades of knowledge about painting, landscaping or HVAC.


Funny and true.

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Nevertheless, somebody once said do not let anyone look down on your youth.

I was only 26 or 27, I think, when I planted a church. Sometimes I marvel at those who were willing to sit under my preaching and listen to my counsel and rebukes. I feel today as though I knew nothing back then. Nevertheless, was it humility on their part, or foolishness to have a young pastor?


Increasingly thought past few years that the hardest work of the pastor is leading the session. If he doesn’t discipline the elders, no one will. Lots of churches are ruined by the absence of the pastor’s leadership, including admonition and discipline of session members, both during and outside of their meetings.

So it probably makes sense that I’m not worried about young elders if they are under a good pastor (who, in Presbyterian polity, is moderator of the session). It also helps if there is an elder who is older and the pastor’s right-hand man who assists him in this work with the other session members, both during and outside session meetings.

Finally, after a certain number of years of tenure, proud elders old or young are the pastor’s own fruit. So I guess I’m saying that young elders don’t bother me if they’re wise and humble and teachable, and led by a good pastor. Love,


… Is there a place for a young elder? Probably. But we have a great need in the church to recover what eldership is, and what church even is. A young man with zeal for the Scriptures and a dazzling intellect does not an elder make.

Someone like that is valuable to have on deck, but not as an elder. Looking back at your comments, it strikes me that what an elder needs to have most of all is the virtue of compassion. What in my Pentecostal days was called, “a heart for people”, which might explain why many of their pastors are “promoted from the ranks” (that is, lay leaders who have shown that they can care for the flock, rather than looking for any degree of theological smarts).


Agreed, Ross. That’s what pastor should constantly be forming in his elders. As the Apostle Paul did.

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I’ve been a pea-green young elder with smooth skin and now I’m a wrinkly wizened elder with plenty of scars. For what it’s worth, I think that chronological age is only one factor, that youth is not necessarily a bar to admission to the office of elder, nor is a weight of years necessarily a guarantee of righteousness and wisdom. Men both young and aged can be found who have executed the duties of that office with distinction. Also, with appalling failure.

My chief weakness in my youth as an elder was lack of insight and skill in the politics of leadership. My chief weaknesses in my old age have been a vulnerability to discouragement and increasing degradation of my bodily strength to the effects of the Fall and the Curse. One of my recurring prayers these days is that the Lord will grant me to die with my boots on rather than in a medical cocoon.

When considering cylindrical age alone, I’d wager that a mix of old, middle-aged, and youth allows a body of elders to capitalize on all those things which age bracket brings to church ministry.