But then Rubel Shelly applied.
The 72-year-old minister’s resume can easily fill four pages with his decades of experience preaching, teaching, leading and writing.
The search committee and church elders, inspired by Shelly’s passion and wisdom, could not pass up the chance to bring him on staff, although his long career and age made him an atypical campus pastor.
“It just turned out he was the perfect fit for what we’re looking for,” said Russ Adcox, the 44-year-old lead pastor of the Columbia-based multisite church.
“I say, ‘perfect fit for what we’re looking for’ — we didn’t know we were looking for that.”
‘I don’t feel 72’
The new campus congregation, which meets Sunday mornings in the Spring Hill Middle School auditorium, launched nearly a month ago with Shelly as its lead pastor. He laid out the identity of the nondenominational church — where judgment ends and healing begins — during the first service, which drew nearly 180 people.
“I don’t feel 72 and to be involved in this is just the most exciting thing I’ve done in my adult life,” Shelly said in an interview a few days after the first service.
That is saying something because Shelly, whose ministry work has roots in the Churches of Christ, has done a lot.
For nearly 30 years, he served as preaching minister of a Nashville church known now as Woodmont Hills Church.
He actually spoke about 15 years ago at the opening service for Maury Hills Church. Adcox saw Shelly as a mentor and when he was dreaming about what Maury Hills could become he knew he wanted it to look like what Shelly had created at Woodmont Hills. The Spring Hill campus is Maury Hills’ second location.
“What he preached was that inclusiveness message and grace and love,” Adcox said.
Meet the campus pastor for our Spring Hill location: Rubel Shelly! pic.twitter.com/2ErK9BzY7g
— Maury Hills Church (@MauryHills) March 13, 2018
He served as the president of Rochester College, a small Christian school in Michigan, too. Shelly helped lead them out of a financial crisis and boost enrollment before moving back to Tennessee where he put his name in for the campus pastor job.
Not your average campus pastor
Shelly is 30 years older than the typical campus pastor, according to recent Leadership Network research on multisite churches. Campus pastors had an average age of 42 while senior pastors were 52 years old. Campus pastors tend to be younger than senior ones, too.
He’s also three decades older than your average church planter when they start their church, according to a 2015 study by LifeWay Research.
The Spring Hill campus is the first church plant Shelly has helped launch. He was excited by all of the possibilities the new campus’ blank slate offered.
“You can see he’s on fire for this thing and he’s excited about it,” Adcox said. “He’s pushing me. I’m not worried about his age.”
Together, they can build healthy traditions at the Spring Hill campus that make sense for their congregation while demonstrating that the gospel is intergenerational.
“I have never thought about retiring. I want to die with my plans on my desk and in my head of what I intend to be doing the next day, week or month,” Shelly said. “I don’t want to rust out. I’d rather wear out.”
His enthusiasm and experience swayed the search committee. They were looking for a young pastor or a recent seminary graduate in part because it was all they thought they could afford, Adcox said.
Rarely is a campus pastor hired for an off-site congregation straight out of seminary, said Warren Bird, research director at Leadership Network.
Most campus pastors take the job with about 6 to 12 years of ministry training and experience under a veteran pastor, said Bird, who co-authored the two leading books on the multisite movement.
The perks of experience, age
“One reason the multisite movement has grown so explosively is that it’s delightfully adaptive,” Warren said by email. “If a campus opens in a senior adult community, often the campus pastor is an older adult. If it opens at a college, the campus pastor is typically quite young.”
Young families are a part of Spring Hill’s recent growth, but construction on a large senior living facility is underway in the community and the gospel is for everyone, Adcox said.
One search committee member explained to Adcox why she thought Shelly could make an impact in Spring Hill.
“She said, ‘If I was having struggles in my marriage or if I was having trouble parenting my daughter and I needed somebody to talk to, that’s the kind of guy I’d want to go talk to. I would want to talk to somebody whose been there done that. That’s lived through these situations,'” Adcox said.
Shelly’s administrative and preaching experience also means Adcox can be more hands off with the campus’ every day decisions. Shaping the weekly message and writing their own sermons is more of a collaboration, too.
Four days before the launch of the campus, Adcox called Shelly to see what he needed him to do.
“He said, ‘Nothing,” Adcox said. “‘Pray. Pray for him that all goes well, but we’re good. I’ve got everything covered.'”
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Inset Image: AP Photo/File