What Should we Do with our Older People?

Now that I am well into my 40’s, I constantly notice how youthful society seems. Those of you in your 50’s, 60’s and 70’s probably see this even more. Everyone looks young. News broadcasters look younger than ever; people far younger than me have retired from professional sports, many of our famous celebrities are barely out of high school, even pastors seem to be younger than ever. It is increasingly clear that we live in a society that values youth and beauty more than wisdom, age, and experience. In fact, as we get older but still have decades to live, we might wonder if we are being tossed aside for those who are younger. Part of this shift has to do with modern technology. In societies of the past, older people were seen as authoritative, wise, and valuable in the cultural hierarchy. But in today’s society, the information that older people possess is not seen as all that valuable. After all, who needs wisdom or information from older people when we have Google and Amazon?

What do we do with old people?

In my work with churches, I have seen these same kinds of trends in church leadership. Churches in America are aging. Many studies show that fewer and fewer young people get involved in church. In a culture that values youthfulness over age, with churches that are greying, churches have increasingly lost interest in hiring older church leaders. By older, I mean pastors over 50. I have talked to many churches who feel like their only hope of reaching younger people is to hire younger pastors. I recently met with a pastor of one of the largest churches in America who told me that in an attempt to get younger, they were hiring no staff members over 35 years old.

But is this really the answer? Is this really best for churches? And where does this leave church leaders who have trained for and given their entire lives to pastoral ministry?

I recently watched a fantastic TED talk by Jared Diamond that addresses the irreplaceable value that older people bring to a society where youth is prioritized. He shares several areas where older people are invaluable to a society. He says that older people offer things that technology (and young people often) cannot. These things include:

  • Experience that youth cannot replicate
  • Leadership built over time
  • An understanding of human relationships
  • The ability to help people without ego getting in the way
  • The ability and people skills to network
  • Interdisciplinary knowledge such as history, politics and economics
  • Supervising and oversight capacity
  • Administration ability
  • Advising with wisdom gained over time
  • Strategizing
  • Teaching
  • Synthesizing
  • Devising long-term plans

As I watched this, I could not help but think about applications not only for society, but for the church. Technology cannot replace value that older church leaders add. The church certainly needs younger leaders. In fact, as churches age, it may be wise for younger leaders to assume more visible roles in front of people. But even as youth culture dominates, we need to embrace the value that age, wisdom, and experience brings. Not everyone wants to retire and hit a white ball on green grass. Many older church leaders want to use their life experiences and wisdom to continue to contribute. Perhaps churches need to rethink staffing strategies that include both younger and older leaders. And older people need to set ego aside and focus on their irreplaceable value.

What would you add to this? Please comment and add your insight!

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Posted by Brian Howard

My focus is to help YOU move forward one step at a time. I write about church excellence, personal productivity, and family leadership. I coach leaders, start churches, and help organizations break growth barriers. My goal is to draw on this experience to help YOU move forward in life, leadership, and productivity.

  1. I think The Church would see greater influence with younger humans if it met them where they were. How cool would it be if the church van was packed with a few volunteers armed with coffee and smiles as it waited outside the local bar to make sure nobody drives drunk? Imagine the conversation that could take place there.

    I agree completely with making sure we use each individual in our society for the strengths they have, just as we help each individual overcome their weaknesses. I feel that as a (soon to be) 30 year old man I have some good insight and wisdom to potentially share with the late teen or young twenty-something. I’ve been there and I’ve made my mistakes and my relationship with God has emerged all the stronger. But it’s hard to look at that attitude from the flip-side. Someone else has lived longer than me, and made his or her own mistakes. God can use them and their wisdom to help me.

    I am guilty of treating my aging grandpa as if he’s run out of uses. We have moved him from living on his own, to living with my parents, to (now) living in a senior’s retirement community. All the while, he has helped us and our business financially. It seems the only help we felt he could give was the cold hard cash money.

    Good insights, Brian. Definitely a great conversation to have with people.

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  2. Being a in the ministry and serving as a Pastor for the past 34 years, I have to say that I seen a lot of churches throughout the years who have been forced to “close their doors” or, pass the seats of leadership over to people who themselves were reaching their senior years.
    “With age, comes wisdom” (so it is said), however, for the church to be perpetual, we must learn the urgency of investing in our youth!
    I have been bless in the recent years to have my three son to “step up” and answer the Call of God that is upon their lives. Two of the three are now “ordained ministers” in our church, along with my eldest son who work dilengently in supporting the church.
    My youngest son (26) is our active “Youth Minister” who has taken on the responsibilities of covering or 2nd Generation Christian Young Peoples Union and our Christian Teen Intervention Ministry.
    From my experience as a Pastor throughout these years, I’ve discovered that “Sowing into the lives of our youth, training them in The Word of God to do The Work of the Ministry and to live a Saved and Productive life without compromising the message, mission or vision of the church is the key to perpetual church growth.”
    “The legacy of our work in the church, is vested in the vision for our youth!”

    Reply

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