I wrote the following for/to some preacher friends of mine. Many of them found it helpful. I post it here because at least one thought it needed a bigger audience. If you find that it speaks to your own church, especially your own preacher, please share it. Today’s church often thinks of its older members as nothing but a drag on progress. I’m sure that’s true in some ways, but it doesn’t have to be. Let me know if one or more of these thoughts helps the older folks at your church.
1. Remember they usually have a much longer time, energy, and money investment in the congregation than pretty much anybody else. When you want to change things, consider this. If you don’t think this is important, you would be wrong.
2. Remember that they have lived through several preachers before you arrived on the scene. Every one of those preachers wanted to change things. Most likely, every one of them wanted to change different things. Be patient while they figure out if your ideas are any better than what they’ve already heard, and had to change every few years.
3. Remember that chances are you will be gone in a few years and they will still be there. Yes, even the older folks. It’s quite possible you will be gone, and they will be left with whatever it was you created while you were there. It’s quite possible some previous preacher(s) left them a mess. They’re wondering if you’ll do the same.
4. Remember that some of them have heard some pretty good teaching and preaching for longer than you’ve been alive. Drop the idea that you’re the smartest, best-informed person ever to occupy a pulpit (even if you are, which is doubtful). They are suspicious of such attitudes.
5. Remember that most missionaries go through extensive training in how to deal with culture and social norms wherever they go to work. Too bad preachers here at home forget that our communities also have some long-standing cultural and social norms. You would do well to understand them.
6. If you’re a new preacher, figure out as quickly as possible where the power is in your church. It might be the elders, but maybe not. It could be a seldom-heard widow, an elder’s wife, or a businessman with lots of money. Then figure out how to interact positively with that/those person(s). If you don’t do this, plan on being frustrated.
7. Instead of complaining about your older folks, understand that they are just as much a part of your congregation as the younger crowd. Avoid setting them in a corner or counting them as irrelevant. You’ll regret that!
8. Understand that older people have many different needs, both physical and spiritual than younger folks. If you’re unwilling to minister to them in meaningful ways, then hire someone who will. You will be a hero if you’ll take care of the aged.
9. Rather than dividing your church into age-based sects, figure out how to use your older members to mentor the younger folks. That usually takes a lot of effort and encouragement because for years, older people have been told they have nothing to offer, and many of them now believe it. Counter that lie.
10. Never discount the wisdom that comes with age. Older people often have insights into human behavior that you might not. I’ll change that to: that you probably don’t. A few of those older folks will have amazing insight. Spend time learning from them.
11. Be aware that some of your older folks are just tired. They have fought the worship wars, fought the doctrinal battles, fought the irritable members, etc. They manned the Sunday school classes for decades. They lived through the series of preachers, each of whom came with a new pocket full of “what the church must do to be what God wants”. They’re tired. Give them a reason to press on instead of complaining about them.
12. Love them. This may be the key to everything. They’ve lived through a steadily declining season of respect. Younger people (including younger preachers) can make them feel unappreciated, unwanted, and unnecessary. Is that really what you want to do? Didn’t think so. But you’ll have to convince them. So love them – in more than words.
13. Keep in mind that if you think they have negative attitudes, bad understanding of scripture, awful concepts of church, etc., they likely got that (or at least some of that) from the preachers who came before you. That should cause you to think about what your own attitudes, your teaching methods and concepts, and overall influence are doing to/for them (and the younger folks too for that matter).
14. One important idea for older folks is to help them understand that they have much to contribute. You’ll never convince them if you treat them as if they don’t count, and that everything they’ve ever done must now be discarded. Yes, some things need to change. Not everything. If your older folks are still part of your church, treat them as if they are.
15. Understand the above fourteen points aren’t the last word, but they are pretty good words, even if I did write them. Remember, I didn’t write these as a young preacher. I wrote them as an older preacher. You can ignore me. If you do, I’ll reserve the right to consider you a brash young whippersnapper who doesn’t know what he/she is doing. See how this negative stuff works both ways? Now, smile at this and go forth better armed to preach and minister even to the old folks at church.