As I talk with pastors from around the country, there is a growing urgency to move the church toward living missionally. A common theme is the need to update some internal church practices, without watering down the Gospel, in order to better reach and impact the community for the sake of the Gospel.
This means CHANGE.
The old joke that "no one in the church likes change except for the babies in the nursery" is more true than we want to admit.
Often I will hear from some pastors who tell me they feel resistance from the senior adults in their fellowship. This either leads to continuing on with "status quo" or creating an unnecessary battle within the church. Still, the inevitable is true - change is happening.
IN DEFENSE OF SENIOR ADULTS
As a pastor of a "First Baptist Church" who often hears statements like "You're not a typical First Baptist Church" as compliments, I acknowledge we have made some significant changes in strategy and systems over the years. While I have more mistakes in my bio than victories regarding these transitional moves, I have learned some things over the past couple of decades.
One thing that remains clear, our senior adults can handle change and will embrace it, as long as it is right and not superficial.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
I wish I had learned this earlier (and was better at it now.) I have discovered that many of the stereotypical senior adults who are categorized as not wanting change will actually champion it, if they understand the "why."
I have found that for senior saints who long for their children and grandchildren to be active in a local church and more importantly know Christ, they are willing to see needed changes occur. The urgency of seeing lost loved ones, friends, neighbors and others come to Christ melts away most aversion to changes within the church. . .as long as the goal is clearly communicated.
This does not mean that our seniors really enjoy newer music, schedule shifts or other things that are not how they have always been, but those with a heart for missional living are often willing to sacrifice so that more may join the family of God.
Clarity of communication is not relegated just to the senior generation. The age group most resistant to change, in my experience, are those between ages 35 and 50. Perhaps this is due to a strong nostalgia of youth groups and choir tours from the 1980s and 1990s? Maybe it's a desire to remain in their small (or not so small) groups with others who have the same age children or are in the same life stage? It could be the growth of therapeutic deism that many western churches unwillingly propagate. This leads to a self-centric church experience that feels more like a support group and counseling than a faith community. There are many possibilities, but as for seniors, they typically handle change better. . .as long as they know why.
SENIORS CAN HANDLE CHANGE
Again, change may not be desired, but our senior saints can handle it, better than most. Why? I believe it is due to the fact this generation has experienced more change in their lifetimes than perhaps any generation prior.
Many of our seniors have memories of global wars (WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, etc.), the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution and the advent of "the pill," the space race, Neil Armstrong, the energy crisis, the Red Sox finally winning, the introduction of the personal computer, cell phones, smart phones, email, social media, etc.
The world is changing at break-neck speed, and this generation has experienced it all.
In other words - they can handle change.
SOME RESIST, BUT IT'S NOT DUE TO AGE
There is always resistance to change within the church. Every pastor has a Sanballat and Tobiah in the fellowship. I have met with seniors who are resistant to just about everything I propose. However, I have also met with twenty year olds who exhibit the same deference.
As a pastor, I must ensure that whatever change I may be leading the church into is not just my good idea, but a prayed through God idea.
When that is affirmed, resistance will always arise.
Pastors - be careful to not categorize and stereotype every senior adult in your church as a bitter hearted curmudgeon. In truth, those are actually a minority in the family of God. They may be the loudest, but they are the fewest.
INTERGENERATIONAL MINISTRY IS VITAL
In the American church, we have successfully built ministry silos over the years. These silos of age-graded ministries have effectively divided the family and created less than what God intended in His church. While churches build buildlings for children, students, senior adults and others, in order to sequester people by age, we have often missed the joy and strength of inter-generational ministry.
This is especially obvious in our suburban, McMansion worlds where extended families tend not to live near each other.
There is value when seniors in the church begin to view the teenagers as "our teenagers" rather than "those teenagers." The same can be said in reverse. When a student sees the seasoned saints in the worship service as part of their family, the church begins to grow more healthy.
There's no easy answer to this and I'm not suggesting we tear down all our individual ministries, but we must begin to be more strategic in how we do life together.
MINISTER WITH SENIORS
There is a big difference between ministering with someone and ministering to someone. The with connotes togetherness and unity. Many of our seniors are discovering that retirement is not a biblical concept. While it is a good thing to be able to get the gold watch and walk away from the 40+ hour work week, the sad reality is that many have chosen to retire from church service and faith as well.
Thankfully, missional living allows us to see the value in all Christ-followers, regardless of age, and allows the church to affirm that which is being done daily in Jesus name. We have many seniors who refuse to just sit in a pew, and we celebrate that willingness to serve. Some of our folks volunteer at the hospital, local nursing homes and even create golf outings so they can engage lost friends with the Gospel. This all counts!