I recently visited with some of the senior saints in the church I pastor. I have been asking them this question: “What do you wish young pastors knew about pastoring senior adults?”
The responses have been interesting, but perhaps not that surprising. I want to share some insights from these conversations and provide some practical ways we, as pastors, can love and lead our senior saints better.
I sat with the wife of the longtime pastor of our church. Her husband has since gone to be with the Lord. She has remarried, but this sweet 90-year-old saint shot straight with me. She said, “I’m old, not dead!” During our conversation, I realized the danger of solely focusing on children, students, and families. The Lord has been blessing our church in recent months, and we have seen good and healthy growth. This growth has mostly come from families with young children. As we have seen this growth, we have intentionally invested in children’s ministry. I fear we will unintentionally create age-specific silos if we are not careful. Your seniors have wisdom and experience, not just in life but in their walk with the Lord. They do not want to feel like the old bull being put out to pasture, and sometimes this is the message we send when we focus exclusively on the young families in the church.
Another sweet widow, a woman who is nearly 85 years old, shared with me the reality of loneliness. She lives on a substantial piece of property just west of town. Her husband passed away several years ago, as well as her only child. She has no close relatives and lives alone on her property. I visited her on a Friday and took my wife and three-year-old daughter. This sweet lady was so happy to have someone spend time with her. It is easy to get caught up in the craziness of our pastoral schedules, but dear pastor, do not miss the joys of visiting with your senior saints!
Finally, just a few days ago, I was sitting in a hospital room with our last remaining charter member. She is 95 years old, and her mind is still sharp as a tack! She was joking with me about the music she wants to be played at her funeral. She said, “Don’t play any of the new stuff; I want the old hymns!” Our church does an excellent job at blending hymns of the faith with new, theologically sound music. Her statement was not out of displeasure for what worship sounds like at our church. Instead, it was a glimpse into her fond memories of church as a child. The reality is we will all be there one day. We will think back about how things used to be and will likely have specific songs of the faith we want to be sung because they hold a special place in our hearts. This is OK!
Out of these conversations, I want to give you three pieces of practical advice as you pastor older saints. These three points are areas I have been convicted of over recent months as I have had these conversations. I hope you will find them edifying and encouraging.
Do not forget about your seniors
They are at a point in life where they are being dismissed. They are losing their physical mobility and freedoms, such as living alone and driving. These are huge aspects of life that, as a young pastor, I tend to overlook. Remember what it was like when you wanted a seat at the table? Now think about how you would feel if the chair you had waited for was pulled out from under you. I believe that is how many of our seniors feel, and our job is to pastor them through this challenging season.
Make time for your seniors
We must remember our older saints are often raised with the idea that the pastor is a big deal. We must also not forget our older saints are often alone. If they think you are a big deal because you are their pastor, and if they are generally alone, 30 minutes of your time can significantly impact them. I feel so convicted about this takeaway that my wife and I are committing to spend intentional time with every one of our senior saints in 2023.
Be gracious to your seniors
Generational gaps are significant because each generation has its own culture. This is why we hear things like “back in my day” and “this is how we have always done it.” These are cultural cues. Be gracious to your seniors as you navigate change. Our identity is connected to our cultural realities, and when you change the church’s culture (which is often needed), you threaten identities. Be gracious.
I am so grateful for the senior saints the Lord has blessed me with at our church. They are the cream of the crop! I desire to pastor them well—for their good and God’s glory. Amen!