The other week, I met with my church's Sojourners group for coffee. The Sojourners in our church family are the people age 50 and up, though most are in their 60s and 70s. They gather together for coffee and social events each month, eating great food, telling awkward-and-hilarious jokes, and sharing life together.
I've been attending the older generation's coffee gatherings regularly over the past year, and I LOVE it. I know plenty of other youth pastors who would be terrified to spend any time with the older generation of their church, knowing that many of those folks are wary (at best) or hostile (at worst) towards the emerging generation. Gratefully, this isn't the case in my church family.
Here are five reasons why I love the older generation:
1. They're committed to prayer. When we pulled our graduating grade 12 students onto the stage last June, I asked our congregation to keep one of their names or faces in mind and be praying for this student as they transitioned into young adulthood. This fall, one eager woman caught me in the foyer and asked about a young man and how he was doing since he had graduated. She had been praying for him on a daily basis for months, and just wanted to hear what God had been up to and how she could continue to pray for him. She couldn't remember his name, but she wasn't about to forget to pray! That's commitment. Ask the elders in your church to be committed to praying for the younger generation.
2. They love to tell stories. When you have 60+ years of experiences, there's always a good story to tell. Since I purchased my 1974 VW Beetle, I've heard lots of great Bug stories from the older generation. They also have plenty of stories about God's presence and redeeming work in their lives. These are stories that need to be told, but often don't have the forum or audience who will listen. Find someone in your church who's been following Jesus for a long time and just ask them: what's your story?
3. They don't worry about the little things as much. While I can freak out about plenty of things--bills, deadlines, overly-full schedules, relational crises, etc.--my elders simply take much of this in stride, knowing that it's not quite as big a deal as I'm making it. Instead of being condescending about it, they assure me that things will work out, that God is bigger than the present circumstances, and encourage me to be patient and endure. Gain some perspective from those with more life experience.
4. They've had years to grow in grace and humility. I once heard Mark Driscoll say at a small gathering of church leaders that the older generation has had a greater opportunity to grow in grace, meaning they should be the most gracious people around. For many churches, this simply isn't the case, perhaps revealing what social psychologist Erik Erikson called integrity vs despair, where an older person retrospectively looks upon their life and either finds hope and grace, or a sense of disappointment and bitterness. I'm grateful that the elder generation at my church leans towards the former and not the latter.
5. They want to see young people know Jesus. More than anything, I see a passion in the elder generation for the young people to know Jesus. When we recently made some shifts in our youth ministry to integrate our young people in the church, the most excited demographic about the changes were the folks in their 60s and 70s. They longed to see younger people worship Jesus alongside them, and are still eager to help them follow God any way they can. They're some of our biggest cheerleaders and champions, and I love 'em for it.
What can we learn and gain from the elder generation in our church communities? Share your experiences and stories in the comments.