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.