Often, as Youth Pastors, we can be so consumed with the tasks and programs in front of us that the only people we meet with during the week are those between 12 and 25 years of age.
In between all those set times of involvement–Sunday services, youth group, small groups, and other meetings–we often have limited time to meet up with others. Students usually end up getting priority as we seek to follow up any pastoral concerns, or continue to disciple them in a one-on-one context. Online we’re chatting to students constantly, answering questions, checking-in, and generally being accessible. Often, it can be a week or two before we’ve had a decent conversation with someone over 35.
Having grown up in the church, as a Pastor’s kid, I’ve always found it beneficial to sit with those who are older than me. Part of that might have been because there weren’t many others my age, but it was also something that happened at church dinners, Sunday lunches, and after services.
Over the last few years I’ve found it incredibly helpful to meet up with older saints. Whether they are part of my church, retired ministers, or my grandparents, I always walk away encouraged and feeling privileged to hear the stories of those closer to ‘home’ than I. So, as a Youth Pastor I’ve come to observe five reasons why it’s a good idea to have a cup of tea with ‘the olds’:
(1) Older saints enable a greater perspective on what it means to follow Jesus through the whole of life.
When meeting with an 83-year-old who began following Jesus long before you were born you suddenly realise the commitment required. You realise the faith, wisdom, and commitment that comes from one who has walked the path for so long. And you hear what’s involved in growing and walking with Jesus year after year, decade after decade.
Through hearing the story of an older saint you learn that life is not easy, that the hardships along the way are real and painful and take years to grow through. Yet, they continue to say with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my strength and my shield, my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him” (Psalm 28:7).
(2) Older saints give historical context to your church and ministry.
Unless you’re serving in a church plant that has only recently launched it is more than likely your ministry as Youth Pastor begins at a certain season in the life of the church. The church may have been around for decades before you got there, and I suspect it will be around long after you leave.
Meeting with those who’ve been in the church for many decades provides a greater understanding of the church, its culture, and how it has got to where it is today. There are stories, significant events, ministers, and people who’ve served faithfully across the life of the church. These things aren’t known when you begin at a church, but over time you can gain a better picture of the church’s culture and history by meeting with older saints in the congregation. This can help you understand why the church operates the way it does.
(3) Older saints provide encouragement and inspiration to help you keep going.
If we constantly surround ourselves with young voices then we miss out on a wealth of encouragement and perspective. Hanging only with those who have particular ownership and understanding of the youth ministry will simply add more pressure. We will begin to focus on the short-term and forget the long-term.
Meeting with older saints helps give a long-term perspective, and in doing so they provide encouragement to keep going. There have been Youth Pastors before you, and it’s more than likely there will be others to come after you. The older saints have seen people in the church longer than you. And, more importantly, it is likely they themselves were once the youth leaders and Sunday School teachers in the church. They have a rich history of teaching the Bible and seeking to grow young people, albeit in another time. They know what it’s like to serve and serve and serve and wonder whether they are achieving anything for the Kingdom.
(4) Older saints will pray for you and the youth ministry even more because they now have a better understanding of you and what you’re doing.
I’m not sure about you but I always look up to those older saints who are constantly praying. Meeting with those that are older provides an opportunity for us to learn and get to know the saints of our church. Furthermore, they also get to know us and understand more about what we’re trying to do.
It’s an example of inter-generational ministry.
Out of these conversations these older saints can take more specific prayers to our God. They will be helping in sustaining us personally, and the wider ministry of the youth, young adults, and church.
And hey, I suspect they’ll come up and ask you after a Sunday service how this issue or that problem is going. Suddenly you have an advocate for the youth ministry!
(5) Older saints help you realise what a privileged position you find yourself in.
Hearing anyone’s story is a privilege.
To have someone open up and tell you their life story, their walk with God, and what is joyful and painful for them is a privilege. And meeting up with an older congregational member is just that, a privilege.
It helps us realise that the role we have in discipling others is a privilege. It helps us realise that hearing the story of one person’s life is a privilege. But more than that, the week-to-week, month-to-month ministry of being involved in someone’s life, old or young, is a privilege that we often don’t realise.
And perhaps, as we walk from the cafe to the car, post-conversation we ourselves will begin to realise what a privilege it is to spend an hour or two in front of one of those older saints.