“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Elders Part Deux

For those that stop by this outpost in the blogsphere, I apologize for being gone for a while. I had a number of things going on, and it was quite busy around here; I didn't even return phone calls. However, my 2006 is finally off and running, and I have some time to post again!

In my last post I touched upon elders and government within the church. I wanted to examine elders in a different light this time. The elders to which I turn my attention are also called: senior citizens, older adults, etc. In other words, the elders in this case are those within our body who have a few years under their belt.

I have been led to write this because I see a disturbing trend within the church. There is a propensity in the modern and 'relevant' church era, to discard or sideline our elder statesmen and women. Whenever I go to a 'hip' church, either via website or actual visit, I notice a definitive lack of age and maturity within the church. I am not necessarily talking about the well-known, and well-dissected megachurches out there; these have been meticulously gone over with a fine-tooth comb by every critic in the world.

No, I am talking about the average church 'down the street', be it AG, Baptist, Presbyterian, whatever the flavor. Here is how it often goes:

Pastor -- "We are going to be relevant to our community"

Translation -- "We are going to throw out everything that smacks of church"

Pastor -- "We are going to bring in the lost"

Translation -- "All those silly things like our tradition, our songs, our sermons, anything that offends the lost, must go"

And on it goes, until the people who kept the church alive and going for many years are so alienated that they finally drift off; either to another church, or they simply stay at home. I am NOT saying that we should continue singing hymns accompanied ONLY by Ethel the pipe organist, and her sister Mabel on piano. Nor am I saying that EVERY tradition is good; some should be done away with. And you ARE going to alienate some within the church anytime you monkey with the mechanisms. However, what I find disturbing is that many churches seem to go out of their way to alienate the older Christians in their mix, throwing out EVERYTHING without any discerning look at what is good and what is simply a hindrance.

What a loss to a church when their elders leave! Some are cranky and a pain, but so are some of the young and hip (actually I have found the young and hip to be much more narcissistic than the older folks). What do we lose? Well, how about someone who has persevered through many years of pain and loss? How many of our elders have suffered through the loss of a spouse, or even a child? How many have suffered through the loss of a parent? And how many have walked faithfully with the Lord for decades?

Young, hip pastors could learn a lot from their elders! When tragedy comes along within the church, wouldn't it be nice to have someone who has lived through the situation to assist us, and/or give perspective? We are FAR too enamored with youth to be of much good when it comes to situations such as "How to cope with THE diagnosis", or "How to survive the loss of a loved one", or "What do we do when we are SO lonely; who do we turn to?". The church seems to be infected with the American disease of "Everybody is beautiful; and those that aren't need to be discarded". Take a look at some churches, it seems everyone that comes to the church is young, beautiful and vibrant -- where are those who have faithfully served the church for 30 years, 40 years, more? We are far more shallow, and superficial without our elder brothers and sisters.

I tell you, I have always found the older Christians to be of great comfort to me when life-defining situations come up. They have been there, and been through it. They bring perspective, love, concern and honesty to situations. Unfortunately, we have far too few in our congregation; I fear we are too non-traditional. That is not something we aspire to, it is simply how we are.

Even pastors have been infected with this young disease; I have seen older, more seasoned, pastors cast aside in favor of the 'cutting edge' pastor. And that selfsame cutting edge pastor, quite frankly, ignoring the sage advice of his predecessor. What a tragedy; we could avoid a lot of mistakes if we would simply heed the advice of great men that have gone before us. And now, the church is divided into so many parts that even if you have elders in your church, you send them to 'Seniors' church, and send your children to 'Children's' church, therefore ensuring that the older and younger never meet!

It is time for us, pastors and leaders within the church, to reach out to our older members. Let them know that not only do they matter, but they have something to contribute, and we value their perspective on life.

We have a wonderful lady at our church, she is 70+ and puts many of the younger people to shame wioth her energy. She NEVER forgets anyone; sending goodies, flowers, or a card to people when they are having a hard time, or to congratulate them. We have placed her in charge of our hospitality ministry; she has a lot to teach me, and the others within our church! I am so grateful that the Lord saw fit to place her within our midst.

How can we reach out to our elders? Well, as I said, we do not have to continue to do things the way we have always done them, but how about we use some discernment when picking and choosing our direction; not everything that the church has done for hundreds of years is wrong! how about giving them some responsibility at church, and not sidelining them to the nether regions of the sanctuary?

Here are some (not exhaustive by any means) things we can do:

1. Don't throw out the great hymns that have carried the Church for many a year! -- If you want to have a bit more of a contemporary sound, then redo the hymns in a more modern approach -- NOT in a way that they are unrecognizable! Simply more updated. Also, pick GOOD hymns -- just because something is a hymn, does not automatically make it good! You can mix modern worship in with hymns, but it seems, all too often, that we are more concerned with how 'rockin' the worship is rather than what it says! Mix it up!

2. Maintain GOOD traditions -- We are iconoclastic in our approach to traditions; throwing everything out without making a judgment call on what is good. I don't care if the younger people don't understand what an invocation or a benediction is -- maybe they should learn. I close with the Aaronic Blessing every week, and one week I missed it. One of our older Christians approached me immediately after the service and told me that the Blessing meant so much to her, and she was concerned that I had thrown it out! I have not missed since!!

3. Don't isolate the Seniors -- Don't give them their own little church so they don't have to mix with the 'others'. It allows pastors to be lazy and only preach to those that they want to, and it brings up walls between the age groups. We younger folks NEED the older folks as much as they need us. Bring them in and make them a part of the body, not an appendage that is only called upon for bake sales (which no one does anymore anyway!).

4. Put seniors in an advisory role -- Why is it that pastors seem to think that they don't need older, wiser, advice? We should consult our elders; they have often been there, done that, and may know something that we have not considered!

There are many other ways to bring the age and wisdom back into our churches. Far too many churches look as if they are run by self-centered adolescents who are now 'getting back' at their parents for making them sit through dull sermons all their life.

BTW -- if you are a senior -- don't blame everything on the pastor. I have seen some who will not mix in with the church and want to be catered to: to the exclusion of everyone else in the church! Also, speak up, a pastor does not read minds -- if something bothers you, say something to the leadership. If you have suggestions, or see the church heading for a train wreck, don't just sit and smugly smile. The elders must make an effort to be part of the church as well....

Let me leave a couple of Scriptures with you: both for the senior and for the younger. Also, do not forget that Moses was 80 before the Lord called him into ministry, and his brother Aaron was even older! --

Psalm 71:17,18: O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.

Leviticus 19:32: You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

Proverbs 22:23: Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.

1st Timothy 5:1,2: Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father. Treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.

Titus 2:2,3: Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.


Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Superb post. You make some really excellent points.

Ray said...

Thanks Matthew -- Always enjoy hearing from you...

justsheena said...

Hi Ray, my names Sheena. Found your blog through Matthew's. Wonderful post. I completely agree. I haven't been to church in a long time. I plan to go this Sunday though. The last church I really attented was an Assembly of God and this church was very much like what you described in your post. Everything was more about being popular and the music was about rocking, not about the Lord. I think the elders are the very heart of the church and they have always been very kind to me, and always offer very helpful advice. I have a friend Dorothy, who is great but I love to talk with her Mother, she is always there to answer my questions and give me insight. Great post!

Ray said...


Thanks for visiting... I must say that, as a Pastor, there is a definitive lure to be more 'hip' and 'rockin', to bring in people, but I try to never take my eye off what we are supposed to be doing...

Thanks for your comment...

BugBlaster said...

I really liked this Ray, it is right on. We seem to have fallen over ourselves trying to throw out every thing tried, true and familiar in order to be "relevant."

Ray said...

Hey bugs -- nice to have you visit!

Mike said...

I recall when I heard Henry Blackaby speak. He said that at his home church, he'd begun an "elders by the gate" idea. He, and other gray-hairs, would simply stay in their pews after the Sunday evening service and be available. Available to young couples and individuals for counsel, much like the men of honor (Prov. 31) would gather at the gates of the ancient cities.

I attend a mega church that is 60% 60 years and older. I recently heard a church consultant in no uncertain terms challenge them to lead, "once again," a transformation at our church. It was very cool and he added an ancedote from another church where the seniors took leadership via sacrifice.

Good post.

Ray said...

Mike -- Sounds like you have a good group of elders... I would like to have a higher percentage of older folks at our church (not, of course, to the exclusion of our current memebers, but in addition!) :-)