Written by Mary L. Williams
My widowed, 80-year-old mother used to say, “I had to help the elderly person in the grocery store.” She remained active and healthy until her mid-eighties. Her wisdom and understanding of God’s Word was astounding. Her years in the church and her divine encounters through prayer and fasting became a comfort to many, both young and old. She learned to trust in Jesus Christ and His finished, atoning work on the cross. My mom was certainly an overseer in the church and in her neighborhood (as well as an ordained minister). Her spiritual enlightenment in Christ came through years of growth in wisdom, knowledge and understanding of God’s word, purpose and plan. As an elder, the imperative is to help others grow and avoid pitfalls by sharing wisdom and experiences—to oversee as a shepherd to a flock.
Are elders trivialized in the modern church structure? Young people seem to be recognized more as leaders of the church and needed for expansion of ministry. However, to trivialize a contribution an elder (or the elderly) can make in the modern church structure is indeed a tragic mistake. Statistics site that in American Christian congregations, older adults consider religion more important than adults 39 years of age or younger. Young adults are 10 percent or more less likely to attend weekly worship services and pray on a consistent basis. Millennials tend to give financially to purposes or causes to fight for more than to organized churches or religion. Therefore, the question becomes can millennials substitute for the sagacious directives of the silver hair, laugh lines around the eyes, un-botoxed foreheads of men and women who are proven faithful to family, friends and the church? Absolutely not. We need both.
Paul needed young Timothy in furtherance of the gospel, yet, Timothy needed Paul as a spiritual father and instructor on “How” to establish the church and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Timothy was admonished by the Apostle Paul to “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity (love), in spirit, in faith, in purity.” I Timothy 4:12. Paul’s advice to the church overall is to grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and to wait before ministering to develop in ministry. He is not time specific about age, but more so about being conscience of the time for development before ministering.
“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.”(James 5:14)
In the previous biblical examples, the young and the old were able to mutually work together to effect change necessary for the Body of Christ to exist today. Therefore, the question is not “Do we need elders or should the young and energetic (not restless) lead in the magnitude we’re experiencing today?” The vital question may be “Are elders discipling the young and are the young receiving discipleship?” In both cases, the giving and receiving must be done with love and mutual respect of each other’s place and calling in the Kingdom of God.
Therefore, call for the elders of the church and do not despise the young. Teach, preach and encourage all people to prayerfully embrace their season of purpose with meekness to the glory of God. There is no such thing as retirement in the Bible while we are still on the earth. To be finished means to no longer exist in this life in view of biblical standards. At 80 years old, Caleb told Joshua “Give me my Mountain!” (Joshua 14:12) Like Caleb, know your place and occupy it with love, wisdom, knowledge and humble dignity to fulfill God’s mission to build His Kingdom in the earth. He will give you strength in times of weakness (Prophet Elijah outran a chariot; 1 Kings 18:46) and courage with provision in times of trials and every season of your life (in the wilderness Hagar said “ . . . in this place God sees me and cares for me,” Genesis 16:13).
The Holy Spirit can guide us through the ever-changing trends in our society and church programming. God has already set the structure through the five-fold ministry and the gifts and administrations of the Holy Spirit. Young and elders alike are subject to God’s ordained structure to achieve holistic growth in Christ. And when it comes to defining “old,” I agree with the person who said, “Old is always 15 years older than my current age.”
Senior Moments, sponsored by Visiting Angels
918.609.5600 Tulsa or 918.333.7400 Bartlesville