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The Forgotten Link Between Seniors and Church Growth/Discipleship

  • Janet Thompson Contributing Writer
  • Updated Feb 25, 2019
The Forgotten Link Between Seniors and Church Growth/Discipleship

“Where are all the young people and young couples?” I asked when visiting a church largely comprised of seniors.

I’ve also asked the reverse question when attending a church comprised mainly of younger people, with very few grey-haired seniors noticeable. “Where are the senior adults?”

When we moved to a new area, our relator cautioned us, “You don’t want to go to the “white-haired” church.”

We joined that church, but my first question was how is the church going to keep growing without younger families? What will happen when the seniors are gone? Today, we have a youth minister and younger families in the church.

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Sadly, many churches compartmentalize the congregation by age, but it was never God’s plan to have generation gaps in the church.

Sadly, many churches compartmentalize the congregation by age, but it was never God’s plan to have generation gaps in the church.

Throughout the Bible, God commanded one generation to pass down His truths to the next generation. But in many churches, the gap between generations is so wide the only thing passed between the two is mistrust and misunderstanding—all in the name of Jesus.

God knew this might happen, so He gave us a timeless link to intertwine the generations in the church: mentoring and discipleship. The spiritually older teach and train the spiritually younger. It was God’s plan for the continuation of the church.

We find a perfect example of following God’s plan in Titus 2:1-7 where the apostle Paul advises young pastor Titus, who is starting a church plant in Crete comprised of all generations.

You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith,in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. -- Titus 2:1-7

Pastor Titus followed Paul’s instructions and his church plant grew. These verses should be the foundation of every church today. Paul understood mentoring and discipleship. He had been mentored by Barnabas and then Paul took the time out of his busy ministry to mentor not only Titus, but also Timothy and Mark.

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What causes a generation gap?

What causes a generation gap?

Could it be that the older generation tends to want everything to stay the same—same music, same way of doing things, same church service, same church activities. . . . Many churches relegate the young people to their own groups, and their input—whether in music or new ideas or using their talents and gifts—isn’t welcome in the main sanctuary.

Then the church wonders why the youth and young adults are leaving in droves and the church doesn’t grow.

The purpose of worship isn’t solely to focus inward, but outward. We don’t attend church solely for spiritual feeding—although an important aspect—we’re to take what we learn and pass it on to others.

I will utter hidden things, things from of old—things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us.We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. – Psalm 78:1-4

If we want to stay relevant in the lives of the next generation in the church, we need to learn how to embrace their style of worship . . . their way of communicating . . . their world. If we want to have an impact in their lives—to help guide them in the ways of righteousness—we need to speak their language, care about the things they care about, and reach out to them in love with a desire to understand what’s important to them.

A church that refuses to include and adapt to the younger generation will soon get smaller and smaller as the older generation goes to be with the Lord. Yes, it may have been more comfortable sticking to the “old way of doing things,” but soon there will be no one left to carry on the legacy of the church.

Church is a spiritual family, and just like our personal families, we welcome the younger members as the family grows and expands from generation to generation. 

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Mentoring and discipleship is a privilege not a burden.

Mentoring and discipleship is a privilege not a burden.

Do you remember when you were the next generation full of hope and ideas and ready to leave your mark on the world? I do. I also remember feeling misunderstood and unappreciated when sharing thoughts and ideas with older adults. Yet repeatedly in the Bible, the Lord uses the term “generation to generation.”

As we grow older, we may think we’re not relevant anymore or the younger generation doesn’t want to hear our thoughts or opinions, but seldom is that the case. In my book Mentoring for All Seasons, Tracey, a young twenty-something mother voices the cry of many younger people who are looking for guidance and direction in how to live a Christian life in a culture that is forsaking God. Everything she expresses here also applies to a young man looking for an older man to disciple him.

I plead for so many others, and myself, who have no idea what it looks like to be a godly woman. If I could share one truth with an older woman interested in investing in a lost generation, it would be—we need your commitment and honesty. Don’t feel inferior or believe in the “age gap.” We need advice on everything! Since older women have experienced much more in life, younger women look to them as examples.

I beg the older generations to please be the mentors God called you to be—take up your cross and invest in the future. It takes patience, perseverance, and Christianity. The women you invest in today may turn around and invest in tomorrow’s generation. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24).

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What Is Your Generation Doing?

What Is Your Generation Doing?

Each generation must ask and answer: What does God call believers—you and me—to do today? How can we invest our lives in the next generation—the future of our churches? Each of us must answer in a personal, prayerful, and introspective way.

“One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.”  -- Psalm 145:4.

*Parts of this article are excerpts from Mentoring for All Seasons, used with permission from Leafwood Publishers.

Janet Thompson is an international speaker, freelance editor, and award-winning author of 20 books. Her passion is to mentor other women in sharing their life experiences and God’s faithfulness, which is the subtitle of her latest release, Mentoring for All Seasons: Sharing Life Experiences and God’s Faithfulness.

Everyday Brave: Living Courageously as a Woman of Faith is due out September, 2019. She is also the author of Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten; The Team That Jesus Built; Dear God, Why Can’t I Have a Baby?; Dear God They Say It’s CancerDear God, He’s Home!Praying for Your Prodigal Daughter; Face-to-Face Bible study Series; and Woman to Woman Mentoring: How to Start, Grow, & Maintain a Mentoring Ministry Resources.

Janet is the founder of Woman to Woman Mentoring and About His Work Ministries.

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