Contribution and Old Age
The LORD said to Moses, “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the Tent of Meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the Tent of Meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. Numbers 8:23-26
The new U.S. President is 70 years old. His election opponent was 69. The average age for the new cabinet candidates is 64. Why the large number of older leaders? Is it because their generation, the Baby Boomers, tends to vote more frequently and out-number the Millennials? Is it that those who are older are clinging to power and reluctant to give it over to the next generation?
From the passage above in Numbers we see that those who served in the Tabernacle, the Levites, were conscripted to serve from age 25 to 50. At the age of 50 they were released from their regular duty, but were to still be available for helping those in active service. Many believe that this restriction was due to the heavy physical demands of the role – setting up, tearing down, and transporting the Tabernacle and all its accompanying accessories across the desert. Regardless, it is interesting to note that the Lord Himself set age limits for this service.
We can also observe that Moses was 80 when God appeared to him and called him into service. He served as the leader of Israel for 40 more years until his death at 120. Tradition tells us that the Apostle Paul served into his sixties and that the Apostle John wrote the book of Revelation in his nineties.
Certainly these examples are descriptive rather than prescriptive for us. But we must be cautious that as we focus on next generation leadership, we don’t automatically dismiss the contribution of those who are older. While it is wise and strategic to intentionally focus on a transition to younger leaders, we must not develop a corresponding prejudice against those who are older. Youth has its advantages, but so does age and experience.
Just because someone is younger does not mean that they are wise. But neither does having gray hair (or no hair) mean that someone is better qualified to lead. Discernment is needed to determine best fit and contribution, regardless of age. Better health care and nutrition means that what is “old” is an escalating age range.
Wise leadership will not automatically default to the younger or those who are older by assuming one is better than another. Good leaders are discerning on who is best qualified to lead and trust that the Lord will anoint them for their responsibility.