Eight Ways for Younger Pastors to Minister to Older Church Members:
1) Take an interest in knowing your older church members personally. Older people want to know whether you actually care about them, or whether you plan to cater your ministry to young people and leave the elderly behind. Even though you’re younger and they’re older, you’re not just their preacher—you’re their pastor/shepherd. Care for them. Love on them, affirm them, and encourage them in the faith. Try to visit them at their homes or to call them on the phone, because that’s meaningful to the older generations. Get to know them and discern how you can best minister to them through prayer and the ministry of the Word.
2) Soak up the wisdom of older Christians. Having lived many more decades of life than you have, most older people have lots of wisdom that will benefit you. Listen to their stories. Hear about how God has carried them through career changes, church difficulties, trials, parenting, marriage, and the joys of being a grandparent. Learn from their mistakes and also from their successes. Ask the Lord to help you apply their wisdom to your life, so that you might avoid many unnecessary pitfalls, and instead walk in the way of righteousness.
3) Honor the elderly Christians in your church. You can honor elderly Christians both formally and informally. Perhaps you can honor them formally by having a weekly prayer time for seniors, by offering community groups or classes targeted toward issues facing the elderly, or by planning an annual dinner for them that’s organized by the youth group. You can also honor older Christians by humbly seeking their counsel about important church decisions and the direction of the church. Even if you don’t use all their ideas, most will appreciate that you took time to seek their input.
4) Share what you love about the history of your church. Instead of viewing your ministry as an “undoing” of the past, you want to view it as another chapter in the story God is writing for your specific church. Understanding this point will help you and the older people to see that you value, and perhaps want to reclaim, the historical, gospel-centered distinctives of your church. In order to do this, you first have to learn the church history. Some older churches have their history in writing. Additionally, learning the church history from older members is a great excuse to get together with them. After learning about the historical vision of the church, leadership changes, key transition points, and ministry successes, you can look for the central missional threads that tie your church’s history together. Celebrate those historical themes and events with your church from the pulpit, at vision meetings, and in one-on-one conversations.
5) Find ways for your older church members to serve in ministry. I know a number of older saints who faithfully attend church and support the leadership, but they sadly feel that they are “old news” and don’t have much to offer the church anymore with their limited energy and resources. We must counter this mindset by identifying service opportunities for our older members and by expressing our need for their help. Older members can thrive in ministry in the church through the greeting ministry, follow-up ministry, prayer ministry, card-writing ministry, sewing ministry, mentoring ministry, nursery ministry, and even the youth ministry! Think about ways that you can help your older church members connect the dots between their skill sets and the needs of the church.
6) Don’t assume that older members are spiritually mature. While age can definitely be an indicator of spiritual maturity, it is not a definite indicator of spiritual maturity. Just as there are spiritually immature and mature young people, so also there are spiritually immature and mature older people. Regardless of age, all Christians are still in the process of sanctification, and we won’t be perfected until Christ glorifies us in the future. While we surely want to shepherd and honor the elderly Christians in our churches, we must also realize that just like us, many of them still struggle with all the sins of the flesh, including gossip, lust, anger, bitterness, slander, and malice. The more experience you have in ministry, the less likely you will be surprised when you learn of sinful patterns and behaviors of those in your flock, regardless of their age.
7) Rebuke older Christians carefully and gently. As a pastor/elder, God has selected you through the vote of the church to shepherd all the Christians in your flock. As a younger pastor, it can be quite stupefying and awkward to confront an older Christian man about his sinful behavior. In his letter to young Timothy, the apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:1, “Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers.” Note that Paul does not say that it is inappropriate for young Timothy to rebuke the older men in his flock; rather, Paul instructs Timothy not to “sharply” rebuke and older man. In other words, young pastors should be prayerful and careful and gentle about when and how to rebuke an older Christian man. Sometimes, it might be more helpful to have one of your older elders to come alongside the older church member and rebuke him as a peer. Other times, depending on the type of rebuke, it might be most appropriate for you to meet with the older man and lovingly confront him in private. As much as it is up to you, take time to pray about the situation beforehand, to seek counsel from your other elders if appropriate, and to humble yourself before the Lord, so that you can work hard not lord your authority over any Christian, young or old.
8) Incorporate sermon applications that will serve the older Christians in your flock. It’s a natural temptation for a preacher to find and utilize illustrations and application points that only pertain to people who are near the age of the preacher. Avoid this pitfall by putting yourself in the shoes of your parishioners, young and old. What are they going through in their lives? What are their fears? What questions are they asking about God and His Word? The more that you get to know the individuals in your flock, the more precisely you will be able to apply God’s word to them. The last third of life is especially difficult for most people, because their bodies are wearing down, their energy level is far less than it used to be, their peers are passing away, and the reality of death and dying is ever-present. While you shouldn’t pretend to know exactly what the older people in your church are thinking and feeling and experiencing, you can ask the Lord to help you point the older Christians in your care to the promises of the Bible that can best encourage them and sanctify them and equip them to use the remainder of their lives for the glory of God.
Dan Hallock is the lead pastor at Cedarhome Baptist Church in Stanwood, Washington. He is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and Denver Seminary. He loves music, fishing, and hanging out with his wife and three kids.