Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Real Elders Among Us

Beaver Lake Dam - Open Floodgates from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Doug Wertman, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

I sat with my new friend, a sweet soft-spoken woman with graying hair. We were sharing prayer requests and it didn't take long for her share her experience in the church where she and her husband had attended for years. With some hesitation and tears on the verge of spilling, she said this: "In all these years, no one has asked me where I can use my gifts."

Immediately I had a deep feeling of empathy as I remembered one of my own church experiences. For over a year I had been advocating for women but never once during that time did the elders ask me what God was calling me to or where I wanted use my gifts. I got the message.

Don't question where we put you - we are the gatekeepers of the Spirit's work among God's people.

But that's not how I read my Bible. Rather than listening to the Spirit and growing the church toward maturity, leaders can act like a dam on a river that restricts its flow. Asking and listening well to the Spirit AND the people will help to open the floodgates.

On behalf of my friend and others like me who are in this middle place
     between birth and death,
          between our stories of youth and our last chapter of life,
               between the journey of growing into our unique take on life and faith
               and the final journey to heaven:
     God is not done with us yet.

His Spirit is moving, transforming and empowering the elders among us. (Here I am referring not to church leadership but to those in the pews who are 50+.)

In fact, as I wrote in an earlier post, not affirming this hurts the church and grieves the Spirit of God "who more often than not waited until His appointed leaders were well past youth before they were called to enter into their most significant leadership and ministry roles." Remember Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Anna.

This is what I used to hear from the older church population when I was younger and seeking to empower others in ministry: I've done my duty in the church. It's the younger generation that needs to step up.

Looking back I wonder if the problem was not lazy elders but discouraged ones. Elders tired of being used and not known. Elders drained from working in expected roles rather than serving in their gifted roles. Elders used to duty and discipline but not freedom and joy.

Today, with the emphasis on the younger generation and the real need to disciple them well toward maturity, there is a danger of ignoring the elders into the margins, of misinterpreting the movement of the Spirit in their lives, of forgetting that dreams and visions do not die at age 50.

There is a danger that as the population of baby boomers swell within the ranks of the retired, these neglected servants and mentors shrink within the church.

We can't afford the same mistake.


  1. Replies
    1. As you are, Helen! How grateful I am that you have been my mentor and friend for over 27 years!

  2. Thank you, Harriet! The last time I was honored specifically as someone with something to offer because of my age, was in a group of non-believers--sad but not surprising. You are right--God is not done with us yet! And very often, as women especially, we are moving into a place in our 50s and beyond where we have renewed energy, vision, and a true sense of calling.

    1. "And very often, as women especially, we are moving into a place in our 50s and beyond where we have renewed energy, vision, and a true sense of calling."

      Love that!

      I was thinking that it is especially ironic in churches where mothers are expected to devote all their time and energies into the home and their children. When the kids are out of the house, there is not much encouragement for the women to pursue the vision and calling they have set aside for so many years.

  3. I hope you know how hungry we younguns are for age! Not all young people, and probably it's not voiced enough, but I was just saying to Don today how much I NEEDED to speak to the generation-older woman I spoke to yesterday. And I hear this sentiment a lot from my peers. So please know that whatever a wise and godly older person is offering, I'm wanting.

    1. Thank you, Virginia. I have heard that from many young women around me. And from many young men. Cross-generational relationships are so needed today, even more as many have not had meaningful relationships with their own parents.

      But I know it's not easy to find these relationships. I am advocating for churches that have a significant number of young people to engage the older ones intentionally and help make them more visible, and not just as mentors. As one who was a young person once and serious about following Jesus, I would not be especially attracted to older saints who are seen only passing out bulletins or cooking in the church kitchen.

      Thank you for wanting us. I hope you find a wise, godly woman who can walk with you in your journey more regularly.