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The Blessings of Tending Relationships with Seniors in Your Church

  • April Motl Crosswalk.com Contributor
  • Updated Apr 03, 2019
The Blessings of Tending Relationships with Seniors in Your Church

When I was first serving in ministry as a Children’s Ministry Coordinator, I remember that an older gentleman (who was generally of a contrary nature) came up to me one day while I was preparing some materials and said all the Children’s and Youth Ministries could get dumped right out and the church would be, to summarize his words, all the better for it. I was horrified. I was brokenhearted. I was indignant. I was also a bit younger then.

Some years and experience have taught me to hear people between the lines a little more. He watched all the Vacation Bible School and Youth Camp hubbub, and I think deep down, the grumpy words really were more akin to a toddler’s pouting. And I say that with all respect.

No matter how old we get, somewhere inside is our five-year-old, ten-year-old, fifteen-year-old, and twenty-year-old selves.

The only hubbub the church served up for the seniors was help for the widows or funerals. And when you have a five-year-old and a fifteen-year-old tucked inside—that feels pretty lame.

I’m not saying that it’s the church’s job to create a party for the seniors every time they turn around (I don’t think it’s the church’s job to do that for any age group). But I do think the church, as the Bride of Christ, besides its purpose for worship and witness, is meant to be a source of life sharing among believers. In that sharing of life, we are meant to hear one another. And in our Western culture, our elderly often feel unheard. (So do the young people, and those in the middle too, but that’s for a different article).

And my more-seasoned brother was communicating the need to feel a part of things besides funerals or needing help with the yard work.

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Weaving Generations Together

Weaving Generations Together

While my husband and I are on the younger side of our middle years, we serve a church made up primarily of young or approaching seniors. When you’re in seminary, you’re taught to make every effort to create a church that is appealing to young families. In truth, for some time we wrestled with this other calling the Lord had entrusted to us. We cringed when generationally off-putting things happened in the service or testimony times. We were concerned when the young families felt overshadowed by the Baby Boomers in our church.

Eventually though, we realized this was our sacred calling: to serve this generation and their needs.The young families that the Lord was calling to our church family would be ones that needed a strong tie to older family in Christ.

We saw how God’s purpose was weaving generations together in this congregation.

My grandmother, who has gone on to glory now, was an old school church gal. She could barely wrap her heart around worship without a hymnal in her hands. A guitar leading the music would always feel just a little bit wrong to her. Drums? She had no idea what they were doing in the sanctuary. In her widowed years we would pick her up and bring her home with us for a few days at a time. She came on all sorts of youth events and eventually, despite being unused to the contemporary worship styles of the churches we served, she loved, prayed for, and encouraged the ministry that she was, at first, getting hauled around to.

She joyfully admitted that while it wasn’t her first choice for her personal church experience, she could see the Lord’s hand working and moving in things that weren’t culturally her cup of church tea. Church wasn't meant to be a place of personal comfort or expression of one person over another. It's a gathering of souls coming together to worship, serve, and grow in Christ. It's about glorifying God, not our preferences.

When it comes to the church’s cultural needs of one generation or another, we’ve realized the people the Lord calls into our congregation are the ones who prioritize the blessings that come with a multigenerational service more than the ones who want a service full of people who are just like them and who enjoy things just like them.

The blessings of having extra big brothers, sisters, parents, and grandparents are many! And as our hearts opened to this, I began to pray differently over our church family. As I prayed differently, my eyes were opened to some pretty amazing things about having seniors in our church family.

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1. The senior season of life offers a unique opportunity for fresh devotion to God.

1. The senior season of life offers a unique opportunity for fresh devotion to God.

As seniors are retiring or approaching retirement, they are the demographic that has the most available time. About half our members are constantly traveling and living up this new-found retirement, but for some, it is a precious opportunity to give their lives fresh dedication to the Lord. When we are all caught up in child-rearing or career life, our focus and energies can feel strained.

But many of our more senior members are able to devote a sweet season of undistracted dedication to the Lord that is all the more fervent because they longed for it in their earlier seasons and are now living it out. I love that.

One couple that will forever be tucked in our hearts was part of a church we briefly served on the East Coast. This precious elderly couple came to a fervent, personal relationship with Christ later in life. When we knew them they were approaching their eighties. Every evening they read Scripture out loud and helped each other practice memorizing Bible verses. We never spoke to them without a Bible passage being sweetly and most appropriately recounted to us. Their lives were a treasured encouragement to us and their witness was something we tucked in our hearts to strive toward.

It is vitally important for the younger generations to see a seasoned witness. It seems more common for books and conferences to highlight testimonies that are geared for more youthful life issues. And yet, some of the most inspiring testimonies to my spiritual walk have been from those who were bent or wobbly with age, but powerfully strong in spirit. I have even been part of events geared for widows or seniors and thought, “What a missed opportunity for the rest of the younger women.”

When someone lives through all that life dishes out over the course of decades and remains passionately in love with Jesus, or falls freshly in love with the Lord, the gold of that life witness rings deep, true, and powerful.

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2. God has a habit of working with, in, and through seniors.

2. God has a habit of working with, in, and through seniors.

Our youth-focused culture often encourages and looks for the potential in our young people. But potential does not rest on the number of years a person has yet to live. It rests where God sets it.

  • Moses was 80 when the Lord called him to one of the most monumental tasks in Biblical history: freeing God’s people from the Egyptians.
  • Abraham was in his senior years when he and the Lord started their great adventures. It wasn’t until he was 100 that God fulfilled the long-awaited promise to him: making him father of many nations.
  • Noah was more than a little seasoned in years when God called on him to build the ark, at over 500 years-old.
  • Caleb was young when he answered God’s call, but aged when the Lord fulfilled it, as he was 85 when God brought him new territories to conquer.
  • God heralded the arrival of His son Jesus through older people: Elizabeth, Anna, and Simeon, whose testimony was crucial to the courage and faith of Mary as she mothered Jesus.
  • Paul and John both lived to serve the New Testament church into their graying years. God used both of them to write great portions of Scripture in their older years.

That list is merely a handful of the seniors God used in Scripture.

When I was little, I came home from church one night and while I was getting in between the covers asked my mother how a person got to be in the Bible because I wanted to get in. As is often the case with little ones, my words failed my thoughts. She explained that the Bible was done being written, no one else could “get in.” What I really meant was, “How can God use my life like the people in the Bible?” The wonderful news is that God heard my little girl heart and had me tucked into His story already.

He has you tucked in His story, too. No matter how old anyone of is, our days are meant for His story. And there is not a day we live not designed to be part of His story, no matter how many we’ve already tallied. And the seniors in our churches need to be encouraged, just as much as the youth, to grab hold of all the purpose God has for them.

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3. Biblically, the growth of the church just might start with the elders among us.

3. Biblically, the growth of the church just might start with the elders among us.

I read a sermon by John MacArthur highlighting this point. When Paul exhorts Titus and Timothy in their ministry to the church, he always starts with the elders. And from that, MacArthur suggests that perhaps the growth of the church depends on the growth of the elders among us.

I had always perceived that Biblical order of address to be simply a gesture of respect. But it is a point worth considering.

When Paul talks about looking for seasoned men to entrust the work of the church to, he uses Greek words that denote age along with a solid, seasoned walk with Christ.

While I think ministry to all the age groups is biblically mandated, and Scripturally leadership is laid by the Holy Spirit on people in all seasons of life, it is worth noting that Scripture hones in on this demographic for leadership. If development for leadership within the church is focused solely on younger generations, we are missing something important for the overall health of our churches.

My husband has learned to temper his ministry labors by watching to see where God is already working and to throw his time where God shows him His hand is laboring; rather than trying to bang down every heart door and drag God’s hand over to a place or person that might not be ready for the Lord’s work. When we see someone who is seasoned in years, but also open to learning, that is a huge, positive flag waving at us. God is working in that brother or sister’s life, and it signals that this is a time in their life very much worthy of our prayer and service.

Some people who have been the best investitures of leadership training have been the ones who had walked through the fire and were still faithful to Christ after decades of loving and serving God from lesser visible places. 

In light of the possibility that perhaps Scripture places a spotlight on the seasoned members of the church for leadership as a church we would be wise to watch carefully for the Lord working in this manner.

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4. Being connected to the godly elder members of our congregation allows us to see the Lord’s promises fulfilled

4. Being connected to the godly elder members of our congregation allows us to see the Lord’s promises fulfilled

God promises fruit in the later seasons of our life (Psalm 92:14), so as a church if we don’t lean in to watch His hand, we will miss seeing Him fulfill his promises. Sometimes, as age reduces our physical abilities, we are less able to attend all the church events we once did, yet that doesn’t reduce the work the Lord might plan for an elderly person to accomplish in the body.

We have watched as the Lord brought people for various reasons to the doors of some of our very precious, wise, older housebound church members and how even during this season of less mobility, God had a vital plan to use them in others’ lives. Watching those gifts and plans of God unfold was a precious treasure of encouragement and inspiration to everyone who was leaning in close enough to catch sight of His handiwork.

In closing, tending relationships with the senior members of our church family is designed to be a blessing for both the younger and older generations. Embrace those more advanced in years than you. You will both be blessed for it!

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April Motl is a pastor’s wife, women’s ministry coordinator, and homeschool mom. For more encouraging words, visit:http://www.motlministries.org or pick up one of April's books at her Amazon page.