14 July, 2024

Climbing the Mountain Together

by | 1 July, 2024 | 0 comments

The Crucial Role of Older Believers in the Church’s Future

By David Faust 

As the church heads into the future, we may be overlooking one of our greatest resources: senior adults. In many congregations, people over age 50 are a sleeping giant—an untapped reservoir of ministry potential. Seasoned saints have wisdom, experience, spiritual gifts, time, and financial resources to share, but they struggle to find their place in God’s family. In some cases, they have been “put out to pasture” by leaders who overlook them or tacitly communicate that the church doesn’t care about them. 

It’s a mistake to ignore this demographic. By 2030, when the last of the Baby Boomers move into older adulthood, more than 71 million residents over age 65 will live in the United States. That number will rise to more than 85 million by 2050—roughly 22 percent of the U.S. population. In other words, more than one in five Americans will be age 65 or older, and about one in three will be over age 50. It’s vital for the church to have a robust ministry with children and students as we nurture the next generation, but at the same time, we must not neglect our older neighbors. According to census data, by 2034 older adults will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. 

It’s counterintuitive but true: The future will be shaped not only by the younger generation, but by the attitudes, actions, and faith of the older generation as well. 

What Should the Church Do for Older Adults? 

Older people need the same things everyone else does.  

Love them. If you are young, ask yourself, “How will I want to be treated when I am in my sixties, seventies, or eighties?”  

Disciple them. If church membership means little more than showing up for an hour on Sunday, listening passively to a sermon, and dropping money into the offering, it is no wonder many Christians lose their zeal. Like their younger brothers and sisters in Christ, older adults need to be involved in one-on-one and small-group discipleship.  

Challenge them to stay engaged in service. Older believers still have gifts and abilities to use for the Lord.  

Listen to them. We shouldn’t cater to senior adults’ whims, but we should heed their wisdom. Wise leaders keep lines of communication open and seek the counsel of mature believers who have the church’s best interests at heart. 

What Should Older Adults Do for the Church? 

Listen to and learn from younger generations. Yes, older people have wisdom to share; but it works the other way as well. Timothy was a young preacher, but older members of the church needed to respect him, learn from his example, and listen carefully as he taught them the Scriptures (1 Timothy 4:11-16).  

Speak well of others. We should empathize more than we criticize, listen more than we lecture. The apostle Paul described his young friend Titus with glowing terms like enthusiasm, initiative, partner, and co-worker. He called his young friends “representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ” (2 Corinthians 8:16-24). He considered Timothy and Titus his “dear [true] sons” in the faith (2 Timothy 1:2; 2:1; Titus 1:4). Let’s be “balcony people” who cheer on the next generation, not “basement people” who drag them down. 

Mentor someone. Many young adults are eager to connect with older men and women who love them and serve as positive role models. Leadership expert John Maxwell says, “Many people go far in life because someone else thought they would.”  

Engage in “culinary diplomacy.” Why do government officials host state dinners for diplomats from other countries? People tend to open up and talk when they share a common meal. If you are an older adult, invite your church’s student ministry leaders out to lunch and ask how you can help them and pray for them. Invite young adults over for dessert and conversation. 

Pass the baton. In their book Growing Young, authors Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin talk about “keychain leadership.” They point out, “Keys provide access to physical rooms, as well as to strategic meetings, significant decisions, and central roles or places of authority.” Keychain leaders are those who are “intentional about entrusting and empowering all generations, including teenagers and emerging adults, with their own set of keys.” 

Be firm about what matters most, but be flexible where you can. Jesus was full of both grace and truth (John 1:14). Christians need to stand solidly on the truth of Scripture while showing lots of grace to others and being flexible about our personal preferences.  

Stay in the game. You can “still bear fruit in old age” (Psalm 92:14). 

Climbing the Mountain Together  

At Glacier National Park in Montana, my wife, Candy, and I considered hiking a trail to a well-known site called Avalanche Lake. A park ranger told us, “Altogether, it’s about six miles—three miles up and three miles back.” That didn’t sound too bad, except for the part about three miles up. The path uphill was even steeper than we expected. 

Several times along the way, we thought about turning back. An interesting thing happened, though. Other hikers on their way back down the trail kept offering words of encouragement. “You’re halfway there.” “You can do it.” “Don’t give up.” “It’s worth it when you get to the top.”  

If not for the encouragement we received from the hikers ahead of us, we wouldn’t have kept going. After making it to the top and enjoying breathtaking views of Avalanche Lake, it was time to head back to our car. As we trekked back down the trail, an interesting role-reversal occurred. Now, we were the ones encouraging exhausted hikers coming up the hill, just as others had done for us. We told the weary walkers, “Don’t give up. You’re almost there. It’s worth it when you get to the top!” 

The church should be an intergenerational family where those who have walked a little farther up the hill encourage others coming along behind them. Whether we are young or old, Jesus invites us, “Come, follow me.” Let’s climb the mountain together.  

_ _ _

This article is adapted from David Faust’s new book, Not Too Old: Turning Your Later Years into Greater Years (College Press, 2024), available in print, audiobook, or e-book form through College Press.com or Amazon.  

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