The Blessing of Elderly Saints
Recently, a local pastor in the area told me that the median age of his church was somewhere in the mid-20’s and that he had no one over the age of 50. Many would have been impressed by such a fact. However, I was somewhat saddened to hear it--mainly because my friend is missing out on one of the most wonderful group of believers in the church – the elderly saints. Sure, there are always a few (as with any other age group) that are cantankerous and surly; but, as a whole, I am almost more thankful for this group of congregants than I am any other in the churches in which I have pastored.
I have not always felt that way. Like most, when I was in my twenties I was looking for a church that had other twenty-somethings who I could associate and befriend. This is not wrong per se and is typical for most visitors to a church who are looking for others like themselves. But as I became more involved with the life of the church – both as a lay person and then as a minister - I quickly found myself having a growing appreciation, and most surprisingly, many friendships with those much older than myself.
Here are several reasons why I am thankful to God for the elderly saints in the congregation:
No other group has loved me and my family better than this age group. Perhaps it reminds them of when they were younger, and they had little kids – but there is a bond and affection that they have for us, and us with them. They are genuinely glad to see us, ask us how we are doing and remember my children’s birthdays with cards and small gifts. Many have become like our children’s adopted grandparents. Sure, my ten-year old son may not like it now when old ladies give him hugs or kiss his cheeks, but I think later in life he will be thankful for the family feeling that our church has provided and the love that he has received from such people.
Again, no other group in the church is more dedicated to prayer than this particular age group. Those of us younger tend to think that we can solve most problems and issues through our vigor and actions. But I believe this group has learned the truth of Zechariah, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (4:6). This leads them to be more fervent in their prayers and dependent upon the Lord. My Grandmother was a prayer warrior – when she passed a few years ago - I missed her prayers for me, my family, and the kingdom of God the most. The same is true in the church. When I have an urgent prayer need I send it to this group because I know that they will pray.
Something that is constantly demonstrated in our culture is that we are an immature society. Social media tends to not help with this because it usually become shared ignorance. We need some rock-solid people in our life that are able to give us perspective. Again, this often comes from this group. Those that have seen that there is truly “nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). During pre-marital counseling with couple I urge them to make friendships (outside of their family) with those that are much older than themselves. A relationship with a couple that has been married for 30, 40, 50 years and have demonstrated the fruits of a good marriage is invaluable. Tell them to look for churches that have a good mix of ages. Also knowing that such churches will be generally speaking the more spiritually mature churches as well.
Usually my most reliable and consistent volunteers come from this group. They know the value of hard-work. Some of this is due to their stage of life (retired and without kids), and some might be generational, or goes back to maturity. But whatever it is – I’m thankful. There is not much more draining in the ministry than trying to recruit volunteers for a project or ministry. So it is refreshing when there are those that naturally volunteer or do small-things behind the scene without being asked or looking for recognition. Surely their good deeds will not go unnoticed by the Lord (Mt. 10:42).
5. Focus on Heaven
Lastly, I am thankful for this group because they help all the members of the church keep our eyes on Heaven and the King of Heaven--the Lord Jesus Christ. They know that their days and years on this earth are few. But they do not look at that as a negative but as a positive. With an eager expectation of what lies ahead, they look forward to being with the Lord and being reunited with loved ones lost. What a joy! What perspective that gives the rest of us in church that this life is indeed fleeting. To enjoy every stage of life and to cherish the time that we have. But the greatest days are yet to come when we are present with the Lord.
This age-group will never be the “target” group for church growth strategists. However, if you want a church that actually does the work of the church and gives back to you as a pastor and to the congregants on the whole – then pray for a group of elderly saints. If you already have them - be thankful for them and foster relationships with them. You might find that you (and the church as a whole) are the recipients of such relationships. "Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life" (Prov. 16:31).
Joel Smit is the senior pastor at Smyrna PCA in Atlanta, GA.
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