Ligon Duncan on the Minimum Age of an Elder

In this video, Ligon Duncan offers a variety of insights on the age at which a man can be ordained as an elder. He differentiates between chronological age and someone’s maturity in Christ, suggesting the need for a church to spend time digging deep into a young man’s life before ordaining him, allowing him to experience more of life, and not hastily pressing him toward ordination due to our culture’s idolization of youth.

People often ask how young a person should be before he’s an elder of the church. I was ordained as an elder in the church right at 30 years old. And I think that you have to ask the question chronologically, but you also have to answer the question from a maturity standpoint. And the fact of the matter is there are some people that are mature at a younger age than others, and so you need to be able to observe the life, the conduct, and the heart of a person before you can determine whether there’s a sufficient biblical, gospel maturity in a person’s life to be an elder.

One of my ministers was ordained in his mid-20s, and I think, from a spiritual maturity standpoint, he was 45 when he was 25 years old. But he stands out to me as an anomaly. Few guys have that kind of maturity at his age. We live in a day and age that where youth is worshipped and idolized. So, we need to be careful that we’re not laying hands on a person too quickly. Paul’s instruction is “Don’t lay hands on a novice” (1 Tim. 5:22). Now, what “novice” means, you’re going to have to do some work on that, but it certainly means on a person who has not lived the Christian life long enough yet to be ready to help others live the Christian life. And after all, that’s what elders are for. Elders are simply people who devote their lives to help other believers live the Christian life better, and you must have some experience in living the Christian life before you’re able to do that. And frankly, the more experience you have, the better.

I was ordained as an elder before I was married. There is no question that I was a better elder after I was married and had children than before I was married. You have to take into consideration life experiences. I know brothers like John Stott who were never married, who were more mature as a single man about dealing with family things than I probably am now. So there are all sorts of life factors that you have to take into consideration when you’re laying hands on a man for the eldership. But the rule that Paul gives is simply this, “Don’t do it too quickly.”