Seniors have a bad reputation today. They have become known for their grumpiness.
Come to think of it, maybe they’ve (“we” actually, since I am one myself) always been seen as grumpy.
Charles Dickens had lots of grumpy old people in his wonderful stories, and we know that his characters were based on real persons he had met. Television and movies are full of grumpy old people.
Maybe it’s just the natural consequence of losing respect, influence, power and freedom.
As a young nursing assistant, I had the challenge of taking care of some very grumpy old men (women too – but I usually was assigned to the men). Eventually I realized that these men, some of whom had been movers and shakers in their communities, had been reduced by simple aging, or more often by sudden, devastating strokes or other medical events, to a status in which they were being told what to do every moment of the day by completely insensitive persons who were young enough to be their grandchildren.
At 20 years old, I didn’t immediately get it. Eventually, I understood.
But should we allow “grumpy old men” and women to ruin churches, to push them forcefully down the church lifecycle curve to extinction?
Absolutely not. Churches are not the property of young people or of old people. Every church was purchased with the priceless blood of Christ and belong only to the Triune God (Acts 20:28). Every one of them is a mission to a particular portion of the mission field, a candlestick to lighten a dismal corner of an ever-darkening world.
That is why I’m writing about frustrated seniors: So that forward-looking seniors and younger church members who have been thrust into positions of leadership, can help these unhappy saints to change their minds and hearts; to get onboard, or at least out of the way, as in the saying, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”
And yes, we sometimes have to settle for some people just getting out of the way. Some folks will stay in their churches, with bad attitudes, until their dying days.
Here are my “grumpy senior sayings” briefly revisited, and then we’ll wrap this up by considering one more:
“Seniors used to be respected; now we’re despised.” I dealt with this one in my first post on the subject, but here’s one more comment on the disrespect felt by seniors:
Seniors are seen as being hopelessly bad with technology. And yes, they (we) are pretty poor at learning and mastering today’s rapidly changing apps, gadgets and gizmos.
But that doesn’t make us stupid, or even technologically stupid. Our churches all have seniors who are, or at least were, masters of technologies of which their children and grandchildren have no knowledge or competency.
We have unimpressive looking old men who could disassemble, repair and reassemble internal combustion engines with their eyes closed and one hand tied behind their backs. We have ladies who could sew beautiful clothes, while simultaneously cooking wonderful meals, doing the laundry, canning the bounty of their beautiful gardens and nurturing their children. These are technologies which are out of style, but they are complex technologies, nevertheless.
Keep this in mind when you’re tempted to make fun of 70 somethings for their struggles with computers and smart phones.
“Change is occurring so fast. Most of it is bad. Churches shouldn’t change.” I also dealt with this one in my first post in this series, but here’s one more thought on this subject:
Most of us find changes imposed by others to be attitude-challenging. Change is exhausting and smart people tell me that it requires the remapping of the neural pathways in our brains. That’s why it’s so easy to do things on autopilot. It’s a lot easier to do the same things in the same way than to change our ways.
If change is difficult and tiring, consider the fact that senior brains are harder to re-map and senior energy resources are not what they used to be. So give your set-in-their-ways seniors a break; it’s going to be yousooner than you think, driving to the same restaurant and ordering the same items as your wife.
“Our church is shrinking because our children are growing up and moving away. They don’t stay in the area like they used to.” Find more on this here: Your Seniors Are Frustrated, But You Can Help Them, Part Two.
“Younger generations used to accept the way things were; we didn’t rebel against our parents the way these young people do today and our churches used to stay the same, year after year.” I wrote about this complaint in Your Seniors Are Frustrated, But You Can Help Them, Part Three.
“It seems like we’re being asked to do everything in the church to please teenagers. When I was young, everything in church was done to please the older people.” Read more about this comment in, Your Seniors Are Frustrated, But You Can Help Them, Part Three.
Here’s our last frustrated-senior quote. This one is both common and deadly for churches.
What they’re saying:
“If we do the things that we used to do we’ll get the results that we used to get. Young people will come to church and our classrooms will once again be filled with children.”
What they’re thinking and feeling:
“In 1965 or 1975 (you choose the year) we had traditional music, traditional sermons, traditional suits, traditional programs like Sunday School, Sunday evening services and Wednesday night youth groups, and lots of young families with oodles of children. If we would do the same things we did then, we’d get the same results. Our Sunday School classrooms would be full.”
How you can help:
(1) Let seniors know that you also would love it if we could return to the “good old days,” but that’s just not going to happen. The world has changed drastically. Families are half the size they used to be. Athletic opportunities and a host of other activities compete with church programs on Wednesday nights and even on Sunday mornings. Young couples don’t feel obligated to “go to church.” Christians and churches are held in much lower esteem in America than they were in the past. We have to go after people “out there;” they don’t just flow into our open doors, no matter how good our coffee is.
(2) Give seniors examples of churches which care deeply about today’s families and have found ways to adapt to them and reach them for Christ. It is happening, though not in the big numbers that we experienced in the past. Don’t forget to talk about adapting your church so that it reaches their grandchildren.
(3) Invite them to take a good look at congregations which have stubbornly adhered to the conviction described above: “We are going to do things the way we used to, and those young people are going to have to get used to it.” As Howard Hendricks used to say, “If 1955 ever comes back, your church will be ready.” Sadly, you will not have to drive far to show your seniors examples of churches which are clinging to 1955, or 1965 or 1975, and are desperately clinging to life or have already closed their doors.
(4) Making your church all about pleasing its seniors (or any other age group) is not faithfulness; it’s squandering God’s resources for the sake of making a few people feel good.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
- Do you have some seniors in your congregation who are “models” of selfless adaptation for the sake of reaching lost people? How could you hold these people up as examples?
- What is the average age of the people in your mission field? What is the average age of the people in your congregation?
- Which age group do you seriously, honestly, believe your Sunday services are best suited to? (Which age group feels most “at home” in your church?)
- What needs to be done soon to adapt your church to reach its God-given mission field?
- Is there a congregation or two in your area which has held fast to Scripture, while adapting itself to reach younger people?