Maybe its just my age-maybe it’s watching those around me get older within our organization. But I am observing that there is a mutual tension between organizations wanting to retain good people and those same people desiring to be significant contributors till the end. It’s a common refrain in our organization that we do not do a good job with older staff. It’s also a fairly common refrain from our older staff that they do not feel maximized. I think one of the critical issues is the continuum between commitment and contribution.
When you join with an organization, especially if you do so at a fairly young age, you often do so because of a commitment to the cause or the vision. And I think this is correct. Your commitment should be high and you should be willing to learn a broad array of skills and tools. My organization, Campus Crusade for Christ, does a good job of developing young laborers and leaders by forcing them to become well-rounded in ministry understanding and skills. You are asked to do a lot of different things as part of a hands on training program. It stretches you and allows you to find out what you truly enjoy and are gifted to do.
As you enter your thirties you ought to be narrowing your skill set down. Sure, you are able to do twenty different things for the organization. But some are not near as motivating as they once were and you begin to realize that certain aspects of the ministry give you more life and energy. This is a normal maturation process for anyone in ministry. It was your commitment to the organization and your willingness to try anything that allowed you to better discover who you truly are. And up to this point you have probably followed a fairly predictable career path. Maybe you have changed roles once or twice and taken on greater scope and responsibility.
Howard Hendricks, a distinguished professor at Dallas Seminary, once remarked that your best years of ministry are between the ages of 40 and 65. He went on to suggest that these are the years where you should make your strongest contribution and potentially have your greatest impact. I think that this is also correct. The main reason, hopefully, is because your character matches and undergirds your abilities-and provides you with a credible foundation for ministry. But here is where the continuum should begin to shift. By the time you reach this stage of your life you should have a much more clear picture of what you are good at and what you are passionate about-so that you can have maximum impact. But it is at this very point where organizations (churches and other mission agencies) fail. They are still honoring total commitment to the vision and the cause-when they should be honoring a person’s unique contribution out of their gifts, abilities and passions. You see at this point, if a person has maintained their integrity and foundation for ministry, they are able to utilize their gifts and abilities in a number of ways-and with a number of different organizations. Their narrowing could actually broaden their opportunities. But the language you will often hear from the existing organization is “just stick with us, something will work out.” But often that results in only being offered “plug and play” roles and mid level leaders can feel devalued and stuck in less than meaningful ministry.
Ministry organizations that want to retain their people should actually narrow as the people narrow. The organization should pay closer attention to their people who are 40 and beyond so that they truly understand what they have to offer and steward it well. It doesn’t mean they have to move up the title ladder-many leaders at that stage are not caught up with that. But they do want to make a unique contribution that taps in to all that they are. Most still believe in the cause and the vision that brought them to this point-but contribution should rightfully trump commitment to an organizational cause. Ultimately they understand that God’s Kingdom is what truly matters-and they want to contribute well out of who God made them to be. It would behoove the top organizational leaders to pay close attention too.