Nazarene Pastors are old, white and male

13164455_848285413720_8989139978775525704_nThe above graph (thank you Joe Foltz for posting it) is from Pensions and Benevolence Office of the Nazarene Pastors Age distribution in the USA.  When I look at this graph I see some disturbing trends.

  1.  Nazarene Pastors are white.  Every pastor in the picture is a white guy.  The USA is changing.  If we aren’t reaching other ethnic groups we will continue to lose our influence in society.
  2. Nazarene Pastors are male.  We are losing our top female pastors (Tera Beth Leach is the lone exception).  I believe of the top 100 churches in the USA only one (Pasadena First church and Tera Beth Leach) has a sole lead pastor that is a woman.  We need our women pastoring and speaking into the life of the church.
  3. Nazarene Pastors are old.  The largest group of active pastors is over 65.  I’m thankful for the wisdom of these pastors but if we are not calling and using our young women and men we will be in trouble in the next few years.  The church is dying and will continue to die if we do not have young women and men serving in our churches.

What this graph tells me (again) is that following the status quo will kill our church.  We need fresh ideas, new vision, and a mission strategy to reach younger adults.  The above graph gives zero indication that the Church of the Nazarene in the USA will rebound from our flat-lined (at best) attendance and growth numbers.

On this Pentecost Sunday, I remind you of a portion of Peter’s sermon:  “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people, Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”  (Acts 2:17-18)

Lord, let it be so!



22 thoughts on “Nazarene Pastors are old, white and male

  1. Richard Barriger

    I may be mistaken but I think the graph is simply showing age distribution and not race or gender distribution.

    1. Rob Prince Post author

      You are correct Richard– but the pictures they used to describe Nazarene pastors are white and male. I think there was an unintended message saying– this is who we are: We are white. We are male. We are old.

  2. Charlotte Moe

    I have two young family members who started out in the ministry in the Nazarene church who have left, one for ministry in another denomination and the other left the ministry and the church. I think this is happening too often. I’m a nurse and we have a saying that “nurses eat their young”, but I think this is relevant to what’s happening in our church. I love the Church of the Nazarene, but I do fear for its future.

  3. Rodney Reed

    I would like to know more about what “active” means (as in “active pastors”), but assuming it means what we think it does, could one of the reasons the demographic looks like it does be the fact that so many Nazarene pastors reach the age of 65 and realize that they cannot yet afford to retire because they and the churches they have served have not adequately prepared for their retirement?

  4. Andy Lauer

    I’m all for more diversity amongst pastors as the Holy Spirit calls and leads, but I find it ageist, racist, and actually questing of God’s calling on their lives to use “old, white men” as an example of what’s wrong with the Nazarene church.

    What a simplistic graph like this doesn’t reveal are things like the majority of our churches are in small towns and communities–whereas most of the diversity is in metropolitan areas–are women and diverse people willing to accept pastorates in little podunk towns in the middle of Indiana, hours from the nearest city? Also, since we know that callings arise out of local communities, then it stands to reason that the pastorate will reflect where churches are located–chicken and egg. Also, how many women are seeking positions as senior pastors? And where are the women mentors helping to raise them up? Additionally, because there are a lot more women and minorities in support roles, aren’t we actually denigrating their ministries by pointing out that they’re not “senior” pastors? What’s wrong with serving on staff–is it less godly than being a lead pastor? Finally, the graph seems to represent a natural progression of age–the older one gets, the more likely he or she is to take a leadership position–apart from the tech industry, I bet the graph reflects Fortune 500 company leadership nearly exactly. In general, with age, experience, and wisdom come responsibility. I certainly wasn’t ready to lead a church in my 20s or even early 30s.

    Again, I’m just asking some questions here and challenging a notion that belittles the faithful contribution of thousands–without whom, most of us wouldn’t be in ministry to have this conversation. What really needs to be said is praise God for the faithfulness of these “white, old men of God” and I hope we see a continuation of their faithfulness plus a whole bunch more women and racially diverse pastors rising up alongside them as the church grows.

  5. Brian Farmer

    I appreciate your thoughts here, Rob. A few notes of feedback from one of the 279. 🙂

    –With all due respect, drawing conclusions on race and sex based on an age distribution chart that some office worker was (a bit misguidedly, admittedly) trying to make more eye-catching is both misleading and academically irresponsible. That’s not to say that the majority of American Nazarene pastors aren’t older white males; but, present that assertion based on a valid data set. With this particular chart, “white” and “male” are statements of conjecture.

    –I wish you had clarified your thoughts a bit in point #2. I feel confident (or, at least, I hope) that you don’t think that Tara Beth Leach is the only female pastor left in our denomination, or that the top 100 churches in a denomination with roughly 30,000 congregations are the only ones worth mentioning. If anything, we’re ordaining more women in here in Georgia than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. More African Americans, Haitians, Koreans, and Latinos, too. Not that we can’t or shouldn’t see more, but still.

    –On that note, the Church of the Nazarene is currently in over 150 world areas. Since we’re talking about statistics here (granted, there’s *so* much more to the Church than stats, which can be made to say whatever we want, at the end of the day), the latest statistical report available online shows a decrease in worship service attendance, yes; but, it shows increases in church membership and SDMI responsibility lists and attendance. I find it a bit hard to declare that “the church is dying” based on a mixed statistical report; nor do I think it’s a responsible conclusion to draw on an international church based on the stats of one country.

    –Again, with all due respect, while the church does play a part, it’s ultimately God who does the calling to ministry, not us. He hasn’t stopped calling, either. I’m certain there are multiple reasons why the numbers are lower in younger demographics (not the least of which, by the way, is the current age distribution of the U.S. population itself), but perhaps just as valid a question to ask is, “Why is the younger generation–my generation, and the one following it–either not listening to the Spirit’s call, or choosing to say ‘No’ to Him when they hear Him call?”

    One last thought: many, if not most, of these “old, white males” answered God’s call on their lives forty years ago, when they were young white males. They represent more than just “wisdom.” They represent faithfulness to Christ and dedication to His calling and to His Church. Many of them are doing, perhaps literally, the only thing they know how to do (much less can afford to do) in this world, and that’s shepherding God’s people to the best of their ability. To sweep them out to make room for the younger generation isn’t the answer here. And, before we say that’s not the tone of this report, we’re basing this conversation on active, sole lead pastors, as stated in the blog. Whether intended or not (I don’t think it was), that’s the implication that’s given.

    Again, thanks for your thoughts here. Certainly, our prayer is that God will continue to raise up workers for His field. Appreciate all that you do!

    1. Rob Prince Post author

      Brian, let me clarify a bit… of course I know that the graph was not intended to show age or gender statistics. It was showing age stats. And while it may have been a misguided office worker that made the graph, it speaks to the perception that ministers are white and male. There are plenty of non white and female pastors doing outstanding work in the kingdom. That’s my point. This graph with its illustrations does not show that.

      Of course, I don’t think that Tera Beth is the only female pastor, we have several females pastoring on my district too. Again they are doing an outstanding job. My point in #2 is that there is only one female at a top 100 attendance church. Until we have more females in some of our outstanding churches we will not be the church we can be. We need to give women the opportunities to display their gifts and abilities. I think I’ve been around long enough to know that the biases against female pastors are real and it’s sad. God calls male and female. He doesn’t call females to only pastor churches under 100. There are many, many gifted female preachers and pastors. We need to utilize them better. That was my point.

      Moreover, the graph was intended to show the age of our pastors and to not see the aging of our clergy as a troubling trend is shortsighted, in my opinion. We could be in real trouble in the next 15 years if this trend continues.

      I think there will be opportunities for second career ministers– which is great! But we also need to see our young men and women responding to the call. I think that is up to we seasoned ministers to foster and mentor and help as the Spirit leads these young men and women.

      Thanks for your comments. I am not claiming to be an expert on all of these matters. Just opening up some thoughts for consideration.

      1. Brian Farmer

        We’re going to have to agree to disagree on the aging of the clergy being a troubling trend. 🙂

        Aging is an inevitability, not a trend. The aging of the clergy reflects the aging of our membership and the aging of the population. More people are working in America beyond 65 because, if they want to reap the full benefits of what they paid into the system, they have no choice.

        We’re going to be seeing death in droves for all three of the aforementioned categories in the next 20 years as the massive generation of a Baby Boomers passes away; and, as they do, the population, membership, and clergy will remain in balance as a result.

        Of course, there’s always the need for more laborers in the fields; and, I’m grateful that there are laborers of all kinds filling multiple positions of service including and beyond lead pastorates in our denomination.

  6. Brit Bolerjack

    Thanks for posting this. Where is it originally found? I’d love to see the breakdown of men/women, urban/rural, too! Do you know if this is only senior pastors?

  7. Abner

    Try to get information about how the Hispanics churches are growing in North America and how much we need to change our toughs about how we, the nazarene in EEUU need to change their treatment tonhispanics Pastors. Compare how is salaries and benefits formhispanic pastors and you will see so much injustice and, also, you will see how women work hard in the Hispanic church.

  8. Dan Boone

    On the other hand, look what a remarkable opportunity we have to reinvent the church with massive numbers of retirements on the near horizon. With what I see in our colleges and seminaries, if we give youth and diversity a chance, we might have a good future.

    1. Rob Prince Post author

      I hope you are right. This chart shows we haven’t given our young adults opportunities (or they haven’t wanted to serve in traditional pastoral roles). Either way, we must communicate “we need our young men and women answering the call and leading the way into the future!”

      Thanks for your input!

      1. Andy Cherry

        Agreed Dr. Boone,
        Something will have to be done about salary though or there won’t be any youth that can handle the long term. My case in particular, I took a full-time Associate position after graduating in 2004 and my salary was less than a year’s tuition at Trevecca, and I had to pay my own housing. I stress the full-time piece of that, because it should have been classed part-time and I should have been bivocational until I was able to be at a church that could provide a living wage.

        We have to start training prospective clergy for the economic reality of what ministry looks like in the 21st century. I lasted a year and a half before I took a job that could support my family and try to do ministry on a volunteer basis.

  9. bruce a.

    The church needs to either encourage more bi-vocational pastors (which typically congregations do not like), or pay more to live off of. My father in law is a Naz pastor and the congregations he has had do not pay him a living wage to take care of a family and he has had to seek outside employment which the congregations do not like. My wife has held a district license many times, yet many congregations do not want her as a pastor, as they hold on to the “old traditions” they basically do not want a female pastor. From my personal story. I have an Mdiv, and yet many churches do not want a pastor who is covered in tattoos. I have a hard time finding somewhere to even serve in the church. I believe the congregation (and church board) actually want the older, white, male and that is why their are so many.

  10. Wendie Brockhaus

    Props to Joe indeed, but also to Elizabeth Criscuolo for calling out the graph initally (recognition is important, as well as having women preaching and leading worship and teaching more than children every Sunday).

    After browsing the comments I noticed a lot of defensiveness from those I am guessing are also older, caucasian, and male. I could share quite a few stories about my experience in the Church of the Nazarene, but I think I’ll just offer this: When I was in my last year of seminary at NTS (which I experienced as being a very affirming institution), I was told by more than one mentor not to seek work as a pastor in certain districts around the country because they were not friendly to women. Many of my male colleagues were being courted (that’s not hyperbole) by congregations nationwide who were interested in hiring them, but it wasn’t the same for my female colleagues. Many of us struggled for years to find work and even basic encouragement/support, but now I can name at least six of my female classmates who felt they had no choice but to leave the denomination, given the toxicity of so many biases against women.

    If the language of worship is not inclusive, why would ministry or anything/anyone else be? I heard (and unfortunately believed, until my mid-30s) the message of that implicit curriculum for most of my life.

  11. Zee

    I really don’t think this graph is trying to show anything disturbing at all, in the way it has been presented. Someone has taken this way out of context.

    1. We need the older pastors because young adults are NOT ready to take on the Senior Pastorate positions. The risk of killing the Church with young and inexperienced pastors is just as serious as having only the older pastors running everything. There needs to be a balance.

    2. We need our older pastors(male and female) to mentor the younger men and women who are coming up behind them. But, the younger ministers need to humble themselves, and in patience, place themselves under the spiritual guidance of their elders.

    Likewise, it is good for the elders to swallow their pride and listen to the younger ministers. They should be equipping the younger ministers to eventually take their place.

    3. We need to take a brutal and honest look at what is happening today.

    Many churches are going through serious change that includes the silencing or replacement of the so called “older” church leaders(in all positions) and congregants. This is currently happening today.

    This move to silence or diminish the important leadership of the older pastors is very wrong. And I believe we are seeing God’s chastisement with the church because of this. The decline of our attendance numbers is just one consequence of this horrible trend. We are called to honor our elders, NOT to silence them because we think they are “old” and “outdated”.

    1. Rob Prince Post author

      Zee, in no way am I suggesting that our older pastors do not offer wonderful leadership and wisdom (my goodness many consider me an older pastor). My concern is that the 1480 pastors that are 60+ will be retiring or “promoted to glory” in the next 15 years and who will fill their pulpits? If we only have 217 pastors under the age of 35, then the numbers do not add up. Look around the halls of NTS and ask the students how many are going into traditional pastoral ministry roles. Not many will say that is their calling. My concern is for those churches that have faithfully served the Lord and made a difference in their community but in 10 or 15 years will no longer be able to have a pastor or will have a “circuit-riding” pastor. I’m afraid if we maintain the status quo we will be closing multiple churches and the good folks who have given their lives in service to the Lord their will find themselves without a church home.

  12. Joe Shreffler (@joeshreffler)

    We could argue with the presentation of this graph or the supposed lack of underlying numbers to sustain the proposed takeaway, or we could just quit kidding ourselves. Speaking as a 64 year old, white male pastor of two congregations, the truth is RIGHT THERE!

    We are losing women called to ministry because there are few good role model/mentors to provide proof of opportunity in the COTN. Many churches refuse to consider a female lead pastor. Focusing on lead pastors does NOT denigrate the work of those in subordinate roles, but the lack of women in those roles constitutes a “glass ceiling” that DOES exist in our denomination. On our district, we listened to Tom Nees and stopped requiring same gender mentors for our ministerial candidates in order to expand the good soil of opportunity within the denomination. That’s still not enough.

    We are losing younger ministers of both genders because of our apparent grass roots movement toward Fundamentalism. Younger pastors are not demanding that we change every rule to accommodate the Progressive climate in which many of them live and minister, but they are increasingly not even being allowed room for a conversation about those controversial issues. The outflow of younger clergy parallels the outflow of younger people in general.

    We are losing wonderful younger ministers of color because of our obsession with our own past, a past in which many of their ethnic forebears had no part. We face a wonderful, diverse future which is coming at us faster in some areas of North America than others, and we cannot be successful by only seeing these other cultures as potential numbers to be gained. For them to “come in,” we’ll need to change to accommodate their presence, and many of us don’t want to step outside our comfort zones or even our vocabulary and acronyms to make them feel more welcome.

    Old, white and male IS a good description of our clergy. Dr. Boone’s generous observation that coming retirements (he really meant deaths, but thanks for giving us a more pleasant sounding future, Dan) constitute an opportunity for the church is not actually being walked out by those experiencing sooner rather than later.

  13. Cam

    What district/region are you coming from? I have been to many districts that have a variety of ethnicities from their pastors and it was pretty evenly split between male and female pastors.

    1. Rob Prince Post author

      My comments are regarding the graph itself. We have several female pastors on our district and a some non-white pastors too. The graph shows only male, white pastors. The unintended message (in my opinion) is that Nazarene pastors are white and male. Although, In my article I attempt to point out that women haven’t had the same opportunities as their male counterparts (which I think if you were to ask any female pastor with a M.Div degree, she would agree with that statement). Of course, that wasn’t the graph’s point. The point was that we have an aging clergy. I see a storm coming if the Church doesn’t address these concerns.

  14. Dan Flowers

    The Nazarene Church definitely has a problem with trying to figure out why it currently exists. The USA market is not ‘church’ friendly at this time and Christianity is being denigrated and attacked from all sides. Pastors are no longer ‘respected’ members of society, but are sort of looked upon as people who cannot relate to the lives most people have to live. Income is a very real issue and it is going to get worse for most of our churches. The leadership at the highest levels of the church are not involved in ministering to normal people. I have not heard a GS preach a sermon in well over 30 years, and have only heard 2 sermons from DS’s in the last 40 years, and both of those times they were guests speaking at a church other than the Nazarene. Mentoring is a joke at best when the supposed ‘finest’ men of God in our denomination are too busy to preach the word. Young people can and will be inspired when they see the people at the top are on fire for winning the lost and personally ministering to the diverse and the needy.

    By the way, whatever happened to evangelists?

    We are getting very stale as a church. We need to seek the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and our leaders and ‘old white guys’ need to lead the charge.

    Just the thoughts of an old pastors son, grandson, nephew, uncle . . . the beat goes on . . .


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