A young pastor recently asked me how to best minister to a congregation where the average attendee was 20-40 years his senior. My advice: minister with gratitude, grace, and eyes of faith. Those are attitudes with practical applications.
You inherited a treasure trove. People who have faithfully attended and given to the church for years have walked the long road and they are still here. That is far more valuable than one might appreciate in earlier decades of life. Whether experiences good or bad, these folks have a lifetime of experiences: ministry experience, marriage and child rearing experience, reconciliation experience and more. A wise person learns from all of life experience and you have inherited a church with hundreds of years of collective experiences and resources. Thank God for these people and tell them so. You will likely learn they are very grateful for you, too.
The fact you are a ‘nice young man’ or ‘nice young woman’ is a plus. Your congregation will love you just for showing up and looking neat and respectful. They will be gracious about your preaching, which is a a win-win for a new preacher. Older people are smart enough to know if you faithfully preach the Bible, it is relevant and meeting their needs.
You best minister to your church members by reminding them of grace. Remind them of all the great truths that have borne them well thus far. Remind them that in spite of the life’s disappointments and failures they still have purpose. Grace got them launched on the journey and regardless of age, they will only continue and bless if they do so relying on God’s grace.
Eyes of Faith
We need a vision at all ages of life. This is harder to maintain as we age because we have so many physical limitations that we can’t do all we can see could happen. That’s where you, the young person come in.
Last June, I heard a message where the speaker shared about several old New England churches that had under 10 elderly members and were looking to shut down and donate their buildings and resources to God’s kingdom. Rather than close, they were advised to prayerfully consider agreeing to stay open and take on a young pastor. Each church did this and within three years attendance had swelled to 60-80 people of various ages. The original congregation had eyes of faith but not the physical energy to do what was needed. Yet through prayer, lending what help they could and having faith to hang on, they helped re-establish an evangelical witness in their communities.
You might be thinking, “Vision? Folks in my church can’t see past their next surgery”. True, it is easy to get inward focused with more of life’s challenges but this is where you remind people how much they are needed. In a world of fractured families, many people are looking for mentors, grandparent-models and aunties. We build based on the resources we have not our limitations. I have friends who ‘retired’ from the mission field and within six months were teaching ESL to immigrant families. They did not let age stop them from serving in God’s kingdom.
It is easy as a young pastor to feel you are failing older congregants if you can’t impart some spiritual wisdom on a regular basis. Unless they are newly saved, older people are well served by simply reminding them of things you might be learning for the first time. The fact is, together, old and young, we are the Body of Christ and His power to work a miracle of growth depends on the prayerfulness, faith, and vision of your church members. It will never be limited by age.