Society says older adults are a burden.
Do our churches believe that too? Today, many churches focus on children and youth ministries, leaving older adults feeling as if they have no place in the body of Christ. Sermons largely address issues related to youth or family relationships. Events are often catered toward a healthier, younger crowd. Worship teams mainly include younger musicians. Michelle Van Loon, the author of Becoming Sage, writes, “A common temptation in the church is to hyper-focus on the nuclear family instead of embracing every member in every demographic as part of the family of God.” When I look back on my life and how I have been blessed professionally and personally through intergenerational relationships, I wonder how much stronger our congregations would be if we embraced the older people in our communities, even within our own families. “A common temptation in the church is to hyper-focus on the nuclear family instead of embracing every member in every demographic as part of the family of God.” Michelle Van Loon Click To Tweet
As a pastor’s kid in a church plant, I grew up sitting through long services surrounded by people mostly my parents’ age. My friend selection was slim, especially since half of the kids included my siblings. When I reached my teen years, I constantly begged my parents to let me visit the other local Chinese church. Why? That church had a youth service. Their sermons spoke to my teen struggles. Their music fit my style. Most importantly, that church allowed me to be around more people my age.
While we’re naturally drawn to people in our same season of life, intergenerational relationships allow us to experience God in new and meaningful ways. Yes, connecting with people who are older may require more intentionality and effort, but when we seek to love older generations, we see life in a different way.
Here are four reasons our church grows stronger when we love the older generation:
The reality of God’s Word comes to life when we hear the testimonies of those who have experienced it. The longer someone has lived, the more experiences they have to share, the more instances they have of God’s faithfulness in their life. If there are older believers in your church, invite them to share their faith journey. Give them a space to reflect and “tell of all his [the Lord’s] wonderful acts” (Psalm 105:2).
In a time when spiritual fluff turns young adults away from the church, the testimony of older believers has the power to keep them there. A 2017 Lifeway Research survey shared that about thirty percent of young adults leave the church because they feel the church is too judgmental or hypocritical. When older believers share their testimonies, they help us see that God is real. After all, every older person has been through hardship. They know discouragement, disappointment, darkness, and uncertainty. They have experienced addiction, depression, abandonment, and pain. How powerful it is to hear how God was faithful through it all. In a time when spiritual fluff turns young adults away from the church, the testimony of older believers has the power to keep them there. Click To Tweet
When we mingle only with our peers, our perspective is limited. We can easily get caught up in materialism, appearance, popularity, reputation, or relationships. When we involve older adults in our lives, however, we gain a lifelong perspective that helps us focus on what is important. We may be slower to speak. We may consider our choices more. We may be less likely to waste our time scrolling.
When we mingle only with our peers, our perspective is limited. When we involve older adults in our lives, however, we gain a lifelong perspective that helps us focus on what is important. Click To Tweet
The long-term perspective that older people bring can also help us combat the overwhelming feeling of our current circumstances. About ten years ago, when I was newly engaged, I decided to design my own wedding invitations. Feeling giddy, I remember picking up the final invitations from the printer only to be devastated when I realized that I had centered the text on my invitations one inch in the wrong direction. That discovery for this future bride felt like a “near-death” experience. I wanted to sulk endlessly, but thankfully I had a mentor at the time who was older and wiser. Not only did she listen to me, she reminded me that I had not messed up the wedding, nor my marriage.
Our older friends have an abiding perspective that can calm our frazzled hearts and impart wisdom when we need it most.
Rather than being blindsided by hardship, our older family and friends help us know what to expect in life. Without people ahead of us, we are led to believe that life is perfect. But through loving and living alongside family and friends with greater life experience, we learn quickly that disappointment, broken relationships, health issues, workplace drama, and discouragement are normal. Rather than being blindsided by hardship, our older family and friends help us know what to expect in life. We learn quickly that disappointment, broken relationships, health issues, workplace drama, and discouragement are normal. Click To Tweet
Having realistic expectations helps us persevere not only in life but in our spiritual walk with God. When my grandma was one month shy of turning one hundred, her son, my dad, died from cancer. In the months and years after my dad’s death, I spent a lot of time with my grandma. As I sat with her, she would ask, “Why did God take him so soon?” With tears, she would question, “How come God hasn’t taken me yet?”
In a time when I also had questions, my grandma’s presence was so comforting. Sometimes we are tempted to believe that following God involves no wavering, no questions, no anger, and no tears. We will continue to believe that unless someone else shows us what faith really looks like. At one hundred, my grandma strengthened my faith simply by being real. As a church, we need to connect with the older generation. It will help us persevere in times when we don’t understand or even like God’s plan.
Real ways to serve
When we love the older generation as a church, we combat the myth that the most committed Christians must become ministers or missionaries. The truth is, there is life-changing work that can be done here in our own neighborhoods, in our own families.
First Timothy 5: 4 says that “if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.”
As believers, we need to remember that loving grandparents and aging parents is as pleasing to God as serving at a homeless shelter or serving the poor in a third-world country. When our kids and teenagers realize that they don’t need to drive or fly overseas to do God’s work, they will be empowered to serve God right where they are. They can call their grandparent or help an older neighbor take out their trash. All of sudden, serving God is not out of reach. The same is true for us adults. So look in your family, look around at your neighbors, or search for local senior care facilities (they are everywhere) and commit to loving the older generation. When our kids and teenagers realize that they don’t need to drive or fly overseas to do God’s work, they will be empowered to serve God right where they are. Click To Tweet
There are currently 54 million older adults in the United States alone that God has put in here for us to connect with, learn from, and serve. As a church, let us tap into this gift that God has given us:
- Relationships that will help us understand the enduring nature of God’s faithfulness.
- Relationships that will encourage us as Christians and build a stronger church.
 Michelle Van Loon, Becoming Sage: Cultivating Meaning, Purpose and Spirituality in Midlife, Moody Publishers, p.72.