4 Reasons Your Church Needs Senior Christians
AUGUST 19, 2018 | TIM COUNTS
Tim Counts is the pastor of Northshire Baptist Church in Manchester Center, Vermont and a graduate of The Master’s Seminary (M. Div). Tim serves on the Board of Directors for the Baptist Convention of New England. He is married to his best friend Melanie, and they are the proud parents of three young children. His writing has been featured on For The Church, The Family Research Council Blog (and the Aquila Report), Top Christian Books, and on his personal blog, He Must Become Greater. Tim loves to see the power of the gospel at work as people come to know Christ as their Savior and Lord, and as believers grow in their understanding of how the gospel affects their daily lives. You can follow him on Twitter @timothycounts.
A couple of days ago, I received an email from a church member in his eighties, letting me know that he’s moving. We have known for some time that it’s best for him to move closer to his family due to his health and housing situation. But the news that the move was finally happening hit me unexpectedly, as if I’d lost a dear friend. I felt it in the pit of my stomach and the tears in my eyes.
Then I realized that is exactly why I felt that way: I was losing a dear friend, and a grandfather in the faith. And our church is losing him, too.
Sometimes senior saints question their usefulness in the church as they age. That’s unfortunate because they’re an essential part of the body of Christ. Although we trust in our sovereign and wise God to add and take away from his local body as he sees fit, church life is different without them. As pastors, therefore, we need to remind our elderly members that they’re not only loved by their Good Shepherd and Savior—they’re also loved and needed by his people.
Here are four reasons every local church needs senior saints.
1. We need your prayers.
My 80-something friend often leads our congregation in prayer on Sunday mornings. Visitors and members regularly comment on how his prayers are a blessing to them. We need older members to pray out loud during worship services, Bible studies, and prayer meetings. We also need their private prayers.
Sometimes, I’ll see God work in a way that can only be explained by a work of his Spirit in somebody’s life or in salvation. When this happens, I think, “God has answered the prayers of one of my sisters in Christ,” because I know there are several elderly ladies who pray for our church, our community, and my pastoral ministry regularly. Even if you’re reading this on your tablet from a nursing home—I visited an elderly lady doing just that the other day—we as the church need your prayers.
2. We need your practical, biblical wisdom.
My grandpa taught an adult Sunday School class until Parkinson’s robbed him of his voice. I’ll never forget a seminary professor who taught class using a special microphone because health complications made it difficult for him to speak. I’m so thankful that these men continued to pass on their biblical knowledge and life experience until they literally could not anymore. Whether through teaching a class or sharing a comment during a Bible study or encouraging a young mom during fellowship, every church members needs the wisdom that comes from decades of studying the Word mixed with decades of life experience.
Senior saints, please continue to speak into the lives of younger believers with love and truth and grace. The church needs your wisdom not simply because you’re older, but because you bring the practical, biblical wisdom that only comes from marinating in the Word and walking with Christ in both life’s joys and sorrows.
3. We need your encouragement.
My friend recently raised his hand at a business meeting as I was almost done explaining a new initiative, and simply said that he saw God’s hand in this and that the congregation should be supportive of where God was leading me with this initiative. We could have just stopped the explanation right then and gone straight to the vote. As a senior saint, your words of encouragement matter.
I’ve seen young, sleep-deprived parents light up when an older person in the church tells them, “Your kids are a joy.” I’ve seen discouraged empty-nesters, struggling with change, rediscover hope as they remember God’s faithfulness in your marriages of over 50 years.
As the Psalmist exclaims, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4). Don’t hesitate to share your stories of provision and grace and forgiveness, and to remind us of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Senior saint, we need your encouragement.
4. We need your presence.
We know it takes a lot of work for older folks to get to church. We know that there will come a day that we need to come to you, rather than you coming to us. But until that day, we need your presence.
There’s something particularly special about the redeemed people of God coming together for worship and seeing a spectrum of ages. There’s something about coming together to worship with people who are different than us—even generationally—that points to the beauty of the gospel and the glory of God. There’s something about knowing fellow saints who can speak of God never abandoning them through decades that powerfully reminds us of the faithfulness of God.
We don’t call you “senior saint” because you’re perfect or because you don’t have struggles like the rest of us. We call you “senior saint” because your faith in Christ in your senior years points to the fact that the same God who saves is the same God who sustains. Lift your heads, dear senior saints.
You’re needed. Please don’t stop serving.
SHUT DOWN THE BUS TOURS: WHAT OLDER CHURCH MEMBERS SHOULD REALLY BE DOING
Carey Nieuwhof is a bestselling author, speaker, former attorney, and he hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts. His podcast, blog, and online content for leaders are accessed over 1.5 million times each month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth. Carey and his wife, Toni, live north of Toronto
So how do you engage older church attendees… say people over age 50?
The question’s been around a long time. And—as most church leaders could tell you—it’s a bit of a loaded question.
It’s also a question I’m hearing again and again, particularly from churches that are doing a great job reaching young families. Some leaders want to know how to keep older members engaged, especially when a church is doing a great job reaching young families.
As someone who turned 50 last year and whose kids have moved out of the house and into university and life, I can tell you I’ve thought about this question both personally and from my vantage point as a church leader.
The default in many churches is simple: provide programming for over-50 adults that caters to their needs: potluck lunches, Bible studies and social gatherings for their demographic, and, of course, bus trips.
The purpose of this post is to ask one simple question.
As in really—this is as good as it gets for people moving into their prime and then into their senior years?
I don’t think so. I don’t think so at all.
If I have to spend the next thirty years taking bus trips, I want the first bus trip to be straight to heaven. There’s a much better way for 50+ adults to spend their time, influence and energy.
Let me explain.
Here are four reasons it’s time to kill the bus trip mentality far too many churches adopt for their over-50 attenders.
1. LIFE ISN’T ABOUT SERVING YOU
What I struggle with most about the North American dream of how to spend life in your older years is this: it’s all about serving yourself, not others.
I’m not saying you can’t take a vacation or enjoy the life God has given you, but a thirty-year vacation? Seriously? How many rounds of golf can you play? How many beaches can you lie on? How many 4:30 buffets can you eat?
Too many churches have played into the trap of trying to cater to the needs of perfectly capable over-50 adults in their church, as though they were a demographic to be appeased, and not mobilized.
Over-50 adults are not a demographic to be appeased; they’re a demographic to be mobilized.
When church leaders cater to appeasing needs, they miss the mission potential of a generation.
You aren’t the mission. The mission is the mission.
You can fill your life with activity, or you can fill your life with purpose. It’s your choice. I’m choosing purpose. You aren’t the mission. The mission is the mission.
2. THE NEXT GENERATION WANTS AND NEEDS THE OLDER GENERATION
Perhaps one of the greatest surprises to Gen Xers (that’s me), Boomers and Elders is that Millennials want to spend time with people older than themselves.
When I was 25, I didn’t want to spend time with anyone over 30. My goodness, has that changed. And I’m grateful for that.
In my work and in my leadership world, I’m surrounded by young team members. Almost everyone on my team is 15 to 30 years younger than me. And I love it. I learn and grow, and so do they.
I’m a big fan (and practitioner) of the Orange Strategy, which not only combines the influence of church leaders and families, but leverages the faith and wisdom of one generation to build into the next.
Biblical community is more nuanced and powerful than hipsters ministering to hipsters and seniors ministering to seniors. It’s about pairing up the generations to learn from each other, serve side by side and build into each other.
In our church, every generation serves alongside other generations. It keeps older adults young and helps make the young wise.
Serving together intergenerationally keeps older adults young and helps make the young wise. It does more than though. Serving together creates significance. I love the way Reggie Joiner puts it: people will not believe they are significant until you give them something significant to do.
By giving senior adults something significant to do—like being a small group leader for 5th-grade boys, 12th-grade girls, young married couples or single 20 somethings—they realize they have a contribution to make to the next generation.
Conversely, when a high school student serves at the food bank alongside a 60-year-old retired banker, they often do something more than serve food—they build a relationship, influencing one another and growing together in life and faith.
Kara Powell, in her research, found that having generations serve together in a way that builds relationships between those really helps teens and young adults find or keep their faith.
People won’t believe they are significant until you give them something significant to do.
3. NOT MOBILIZING OLDER ADULTS SQUANDERS RESOURCES
If church leaders simply pander to the consumer mindset that characterizes an older lifestyle (cruises, relaxation and rest), they deny a powerful reality that could be leveraged for the mission.
First, some workers actually don’t hit their peak earning years until their 50s and 60s. Church leaders should challenge people in that category to increase their standard of giving, not just their standard of living.
As you soon discover by talking to many successful business people, there’s an emptiness that comes with success and money. The reality is that the emptiness they feel in your soul is actually filled by giving, not getting.
Church leaders who are able to help people see that this is what they’re missing will be able to leverage resources to fund the next generation.
Increase your standard of giving before you increase your standard of living.
It’s more than money, though.
While foolishness plagues both old and young alike (some people don’t grow wiser in their senior years; they just grow older, there are decades of accumulated wisdom that get wasted if it’s not leveraged for the sake of others.
There can be a significant wisdom that’s lost if years get spent only in business, at the lake house, eating potluck lunches and taking trips.
As I already mentioned, Millennials love being around older adults and are wide open to insights, questions and conversations about faith and life. Leverage that dynamic, and you will see powerful transformation happen, not just in the life of younger people, but in the lives of older adults as well.
Fulfillment is found in giving, not getting.
The older I get, the more I prioritize being around young people. In my case, it’s mostly to ask questions, learn, and enjoy the relationship and insights. Being around the young keeps you young.
Ultimate fulfillment is found in giving, not getting.
4. SACRIFICE KILLS ENTITLEMENT
Given the current decline in church attendance and engagement in North America and the West, passing the faith onto the next generation has never been more urgent.
In fact, I believe the greatest thing this generation can do is sacrifice to bring faith to the next generation.
This is not the time for older adults to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight given the fact that the flight is potentially headed for a crash landing.
What if this one generation actually just sacrificed for the sake of another? What if they gave up their preferences in music, style and taste so that others could come to know Christ?
What if they changed their methods and preferences to preserve the mission?
Leveraging time, wisdom, insight, relationship, money and influence—essentially, your life— for the sake of the young is the greatest legacy you can leave.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I realize this is a counter-cultural argument, but I think it’s an important one.
No generation in history has had more resources than the current generation over 50. Leveraging them for the sake of the next generation is perhaps the best thing we can do with them.
What are you learning about this?
Scroll down and leave a comment!
My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments:
For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.
Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:
So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3: 1-6)
He Shall Direct Thy Paths
English poet, John Wilmot wrote, “Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories.” The scripture passage above is some sound advice for our children. It is advice worth taking, if only we could get our children to take it.
King Solomon is traditionally given credit for writing the Book of Proverbs. When this verse is compared to his behavior in 1 Kings 11 we might suggest he should have added, “but do as I say not as I do.”
That is the whole problem though, isn’t it? We are creatures with the marvelous ability to firmly believe and confess one thing while easily behaving differently or completely the opposite. A large part of Jesus’ message is directed at our tendency towards this arrogant hypocrisy. It may be our greatest obstacle to spiritual fulfillment.
It is a paradox, that we can become so aware of a shortcoming so as to advise against it, with advice that (if self applied) would relieve us from exercising the shortcoming! This verse (if applied) overcomes many shortcomings. It advises that at the core of a person, “on the table of thine heart,” in “thine own understanding” — allow God to provide direction, not self.
When one does that, the individual can provide no advice that is not exampled by one’s behavior. Of course, no individual credit can be taken for the sincerity either. It is God operating through the instrument of The Believer.
Perhaps that is why we feel our children avoid taking this advice to heart. They, like us, have the same tendency. We prefer to be our own instrument — to follow our own paths. Jesus’ advice to both parent and child is well given and (if taken) well received. “…first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7).