Aging in the Church: 4 Ways to Remain Vibrant in the Church and Your Faith
- Stacey Monaco Contributing Writer
- 2021 23 Dec
Written within the pages of my prayer journal you can find this simple verse,
"Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me." Psalm 71:18
The Psalm resounds with the very heart of the Great Commission given by Jesus to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Found in Matthew 28:19-20, this commission is the heartbeat and express purpose of the Christian church at large and of every person who would call themselves a follower of Christ, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or age.
As Christians advancing in years, we may find that changes both personally and within church dynamics have left us with a sense of confusion and dismay as to where we fit in and our relevance as valued members of the church. The good news is that the Good News hasn't changed, and our vital commission, even as older adults in the church, is still to share the gospel in word and deed and to live in such a way that others will see and know our love for God and each other.
Here are four ways as you grow in years that you can continue to remain vibrant and vital in the church and your faith.
1. Live Your PurposeSlide 1 of 4
Some church dynamics may seem to indicate that the golden years for a Christian are a time when they should be catered to and relegated to senior luncheons and bus tour events. Author and pastor Carey Nieuwhof disagrees. He states, "Over 50's adults are not a demographic to be appeased, they are a demographic to be mobilized." While the aforementioned community activities can build valuable relationships among the senior age group, they can overlook the great worth and usefulness of seniors in the overall growth and vitality of the church.
Age is not an indicator of value, and purpose and spiritual gifting does not suddenly change as we cross the threshold from our 40's to our 50's or from our 60's to our 70's. The essentials of our design and gifting in Christ still remain. As seniors, we may have to adjust or modify how we serve to accommodate physiological changes that may come with age. Nonetheless, continuing to cultivate a mindset of ministry is essentially life-honoring and energizing for those who serve and those served.
If you have spent your younger years working and perhaps raising children with little opportunity to volunteer in the church, now may be the time to take that spiritual gifting assessment and find a place to make your hands and your heart useful. Those with the capability to mentor and teach should seek opportunities to do so, and those who have the gift of hospitality can continue to use their talents to welcome and embrace a hungry world. Whatever your design, activating your skills, gifts, and purpose is biblical, and though the pace may change with age, our heart to serve should remain.Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio
2. Span the Generational GapSlide 2 of 4
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to serve on the staff of a small denominational church. The younger staff members often came to my service when I had questions or concepts I wanted to bounce around for consideration. They were open to my new ideas and occasional hard-won wisdom, and I, in turn, sought them out for their depth of knowledge and education in my many areas of lack.
A willingness to open myself to serve in an intergenerational dynamic and dignify the innate value of all generations led to a strong, trusted friendship with a couple a full three decades younger my junior. This relationship brings a delightful element of youthfulness to my faith and enhances my understanding of the church in an ever-changing world. We can choose to learn from and be influenced by each other, and therein find the dignity and significance that defines the concept of a faith that "does life together."
When discussing intergenerational service, author Nieuwhof notes, "Serving together keeps older adults young and helps make the young wise." I can honestly add that my relationships in the church with those younger than me keep me young and make me wise. Developing strong intergenerational friendships within the church is a crucial component of a vibrant church and can contribute to the overall connectivity and vitality of living out the life of faith. Opportunities to span the generational gap include serving in a ministry alongside people of all ages, mentoring a young married or newly engaged couple, getting involved in a children's ministry, or as an adopt-a-grandparent. The options are endless.
One dynamic octogenarian I know of runs the entire food pantry for a church of over 10,000. With a smile and a volunteer team of students and adults of all ages, she offers up a bi-monthly grocery store that fills the cupboards of the underserved of her community. Her team respects her, and church life is never more evident than when you see the strong relationships built as they serve side by side and do life together throughout the week.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Sneksy
3. Be a Life-Long LearnerSlide 3 of 4
Science and the wisdom of Scripture advocate the value of living life with a growth mentality. Proverbs 9:9 encourages, "Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning."
A vibrant and vital faith in the church and personally is most often accompanied by an openness and willingness to learn new things. From studying Scripture to deepen and grow your personal relationship with Jesus to learning a new concept or skill, life-long learning leads to a vibrant faith and human experience. Our pastors will grow younger than us right before our eyes giving us the opportunity to honor them rightly and enter church each Sunday with a mentality that God, who is the same, will teach and grow us through the church we choose to attend.
Listen well to people of all ages, and ask questions with a true interest. Open yourself to new ideas and experiences. My mid-fifties offered me the opportunity to attend seminary. I stepped on the campus with a clear understanding that the bulk of these young seminarians had a much greater degree of knowledge than I did. The experience was one of the most valuable of my life. One of my professors, who is a good fifteen years my senior, planted a church alongside her husband as a part of their retirement plan. Another friend and fellow church member went on his first mission trip in his late sixties.Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Viktoriia Hnatiuk
4. Adopt a Biblical Mindset on AgingSlide 4 of 4
Learning and opening ourselves to new opportunities and relationships both in the church and beyond can truly highlight the vulnerabilities of our increasing years. At times, aging in the church may mean that the elder generation feels out of step with the younger. Adopting the biblical mindset that transformation in Christ is an ongoing process and that God calls us to usefulness in his kingdom for all of our days on earth informs a vital and vibrant faith and church experience.
A lack of understanding of the aging process by church leadership or younger generations can lead to ageism and subtle marginalization of the older generation. Wise and righteous seniors should confront ageism and marginalization with grace and honesty, remembering that the quest of our faith is always to proclaim God's power to this new generation. Older church members can advocate for themselves and others through sharing felt needs and voicing concerns and vulnerabilities while avoiding self-segregation from the intergenerational church dynamic.
The senior population may at times have a greater need for pastoral care due to illness, loss and grief, or changing capabilities and financial status. This can add to our sense of vulnerability, amplifying our need for a vibrant and vital faith and church experience. A healthy church will provide opportunity for both the needs of the senior church member and what they have to offer as older Christians.
While aging may seem to limit some of our capabilities, it also often has the effect of pruning away the things of life that are of little value. Consider what you have to offer toward the fulfillment of the church's mission as valuable. From a full-orbed prayer life to a kind and wise word for a younger person fresh in their faith, actively look for how God is prompting you to grow and serve in whatever capacity your age and stage will allow.
A beautiful dignity results within church settings when each member is rightly valued and is functioning within their gifts and purpose. Interrelationship between generations of all life stages is a natural outcropping of a healthy church environment and confers true significance on each Christ-follower, regardless of demographic. Remaining vibrant and vital in the church and our faith is a daily decision, and the changes that come with age can offer a rich opportunity to give an answer for the hope that is within us. (1 Peter 3:15)Photo credit: ©Getty Images/monkeybusinessimages