Alongsider Briefings: Reflections of a Life Lived with God

Let’s Go Gray! 5 Ways Seniors Move Ministry Forward

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Covid changed Peggys and my television viewing habits. I’m not sure why or how it happened but we’re now fans of HGTV, the Food Channel, and almost anything British on the Acorn channel.

We’re drawn to the British detective shows. One show was a favorite until they featured a murder in an elderly residence home. As the detectives investigated the murder, they encountered all kinds of seniors — the ditzy elderly lady, the know-it-all obnoxious male, and the curious and dazed bystanders grouped in the hallways. 

Talk about a group of stereotypical seniors! No one was pictured as a person of wisdom, seniors were not trusted witnesses, and the humor was the senior dysfunctionality. The show’s final image was a lonely woman in a befuddled state waving good-bye to the detectives as they drove away. How old were these confused seniors? They were our age!

Pastor and author Warren Wiersbe writes that “No Christian rises higher than the beauty and quality of the pictures that hang in the gallery of his or her mind.” This television show was hanging some pictures of the elderly in people’s minds . . . and Peggy and I didn’t like the picture.

The Bible has a different image of the elderly person; a picture we should be hanging in our minds.

The word “elder” in Hebrew is related to the word for “beard,” “chin,” or “to be gray.” It was usually in reference to the heads of the family but also described people on the basis of age, wisdom, ability, respect, and progress. These were men and women who were naturally as well as spiritually older and more mature than a younger person or a recent convert (1 Tim 3:6). Elders include both a position and a stage of life. Seniors are not afraid of “going gray.”

Elders are the story-tellers, the keepers of history, the mentors/developers of the next generation. We preserve and protect the good of the past so that it lives on into the future. Elders do not necessarily seek position or authority but influence; the ability to help the younger build upon the values and good of the past. Elders look backwards to help others live forward; we’re the influencers of the future.

The influence of an elder is found in his or her wisdom; a wisdom rooted in their length of days (Job 12:12). We may not have a title but we possess the splendor of something else — our “gray hair” (Proverbs 20:29). We must begin living from the biblical picture of the wise elder and not succumb to our culture’s view of the senior. 

But . . . if we assume this identity will our churches and ministries employ our service? Here are five ways to capitalize on the elders in your church or ministry; five ways to go gray!

1. Think beyond the office. Many churches have an office or position of “elder.” This is usually a small group and the responsibilities vary. We must think beyond the office and identify the other wise men and women in our midst. These are not the people who have superb professional competencies — like physicians, attorneys, or successful business people. They are the everyday believers marked by godly wisdom from “living quietly” (1 These 4:9); a quiet life that has won the respect of outsiders.

2. Form a wisdom network. Elders have a life perspective that has “been there, done that.” They’re not quickly enamored by the latest ministry fad, book, or charismatic leader’s vision. Create an informal council or network of elders to consult with on a regular basis. They are not the decision makers but the “sages” who bring a lifetime of experience to a setting.

3. Identify the experts. Experience and expertise have similar root meanings. Experience, which comes from the Latin, means “knowledge or skill [gained] from doing, seeing, or feeling things.” The word expert comes from Latin and means “a person wise from experience.” We become experts by learning from experience, by reflecting on our actions. You have ministry and life experts in your midst that need to be identified. Senior expertise includes parenting, marriage, leadership, employment, disciplemaking, evangelism, etc. Create an inventory of “experts” to use within a congregation or ministry.

4. Pair up every young leader with a senior mentor. Many churches sponsor apprentice programs for young leaders. Pair them up with one of your elder mentors. Every ministry is looking to go younger — this is fantastic. But pairing up young ministry leaders with a senior mentor channels the youthful enthusiasm and vision.

5. Provide training. Mentors do not automatically happen. Wisdom is not always readily apparent in our lives. While seniors have the experience many have not taken the time or had the opportunity to learn how to mentor others. Provide some basic mentor training to build upon the present skills and experience a senior has. For many seniors wisdom is implicit in their lives but it becomes a benefit when made explicit. Help elders capture their lifelong learning — the wisdom — that allows them to communicate life’s insights in principled ways.

As a fellow senior speaking for my elder colleagues, we’re the story tellers, the keepers of history, the influencers of the future, the mentors of leaders. We need to embrace this picture and hang it in the galleries of our minds. Church, ministry, or civic leaders need to wake up and utilize the precious resource of elderhood — a resource that’s often free and readily available. Let’s go gray!

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