I love old people. Their shelf life is so much longer than we, or they, often think. Actually, like a lot things, they get better with age.
Here’s my crazy theory: a graying congregation has the greatest potential to reach the world for Christ.
I know. Insane, right?
It certainly cuts against the grain of modern ministry assumptions. What are those? Look at the advertising and budget allotment of a lot of churches. Bright, colorful, well-equipped nurseries. Children’s ministries that put Chuck-E-Cheese’s to shame. And a youth program so active that parents don’t have to see their kids any night of the week or for most of the summer! And that’s who a lot of this stuff is for – the parents. Specifically, that 30-something couple with the 2, 6, 8, and 12 year old, who want to make sure that this church has something for their kids.
I mean, speaking cynically, to a pastor, that’s gold. If that’s you, and you’re visiting a church for the first time, you’re about to get a lot of attention. We will bend over backward for you. We will play your music, speak your language, wear your styles, and reference your favorite movies in our sermons.
All we need old people for is to bankroll our ideas. Or, better yet, to bankroll an established mother church to fund our young, hip, urban church plant.
Cynicism aside, a lot of ministry today seems to be content shepherding seniors to the grave, with a couple of stops in Branson, MO, along the way. I happen to think that’s wrong. I’m probably in the minority. There are probably plenty of older folks who are content to go quietly, their routine of doctor visits and church functions uninterrupted until the very end. They probably wish I’d shut up. (They’re probably not reading this.)
I’m a young guy, but I happen to think that those gray hairs hide an untapped reservoir of spiritual power that could turn this world upside down.
Look, I have no statistical evidence to back up what I’m saying. But based on articles like this, in a few years, old people may be all the church has left. On the other hand, thoughts like this and this mean that statistics really aren’t telling us that much anyway, so who really knows? My theory has to be at least as good as the next one.
Why? Because I think that everything we think is necessary for successful ministry can be done by seniors as well as or better than anyone else.
The Oldest Youth Pastor on the Block…
Consider the youth ministry for example
Why in the world we think that a 23 yr. old, fresh out of college and (maybe) married for less than a year is the best spiritual leader for our teenagers, I will never understand. And I used to be one!
I know, there’s that whole “They’ll relate better to a young guy” thing. Maybe they will, and relationship is a key component to any ministry. But what would such a relationship be based upon? Age? Until things like bullying, peer pressure, and cliques don’t exist, I’m not going to buy the idea that age is the basis for any meaningful relationships. Common interests? If you love someone, you learn to appreciate their interests. I don’t see why old people can’t do this.
I suppose old people just don’t have the energy that they used to (or so I hear). And if youth ministry was all about laser tag, paintball, 3-on-3 tournaments, rock concerts, all-night lock-ins, and beach parties, then they would be disqualified. (Anyone for horseshoes? Don’t laugh. It’s harder than it looks.) And if that’s what youth ministry is all about, are we surprised that youth stop coming when they turn 18?
Honestly, for all the good young youth ministers out there (and I know some), wouldn’t you prefer someone who knows a few things about a lasting marriage, walking with the Lord through dark valleys, facing death, raising children and even grandchildren to serve Jesus, and has been around long enough to discern the difference between truth and trend?
Here’s the thing: Old person, the Psalmist said that God had been teaching him since he was young and he had always shared with others what God had shown him. Now that he was old, he asked God not to let him die until he had showed the next generation(s) how awesome God truly was. (Psalm 71:17-18) Have you nothing to say to the youth of today?
If you know and love the Lord, you must. And the youth will listen if they know you love them.
“Can’t” isn’t in the vocabulary…
And the youth ministry is but one example. I don’t pretend that it’s as simple as I’m making it out to be, but old people often have more time and money than young people. And they ought to have a few things that we can’t possess like they can: experience, wisdom, a deep personal relationship with the Lord born out of decades of devotion and faithfulness. If Moses’ face shone after being on the Mount for 40 days, some of our seniors should be glowing in the dark! I’m telling you there’s power here.
Why can’t old people be missionaries? Many of them have the money and the time to go anywhere in the world and start or assist missions works. (BTW, our church supports one couple who are still serving on the mission field in their 80s!) With a paid-for house, a retiree’s schedule (often busy, but usually controllable), and no kids living at home, many old people are poised in the prime position to reach the nations.
And for those who stay at home – mentors and small group leaders and evangelists and others. No need for them to stand behind a pulpit, but seriously, to whom can an old person not talk? Is there anyone with whom they cannot confidently share the Gospel? Everyone’s either a peer or younger! They’ve got age, rank, and experience on all of us.
I love old people, and I believe that a congregation of gray hairs may hold greater potential than all the millennial church plants combined. They have so much ability and opportunity to reach the men, women, and children of every generation, and if they love the Lord, that’s exactly what they’ll want to do. If they keep graying, that’s only because they want to. And that’s not a sign of sickness; it’s a sign of rebellion.
Which – ironically – is supposed to be a sin of youth.
So, here’s to the hoary heads! May your path follow the Lord and your white hairs be a crown of glory. (Prov. 16:31) May you show us how not to waste our lives. And may God not let you rest till you have shown the next generations his great might.