Thursday, August 23, 2012

Ways I am encouraged as a young Pastor by having an older congregation

I am a young pastor of a congregation with a median age of 60+.  While most young Pastors would not want to Pastor an older congregation, I actually love it.  Not that I do not also want to Pastor people who are in my age bracket and younger and so on.  I simply have no preference as to whom God sends me to shepherd.

Recently I've been thinking through the issue and would like to encourage other young Pastors with predominantly older congregations with some ways that you can actually be encouraged in your work by your people.

1.) Love: Say what you want, but the "senior" adult Christians in most churches have the market cornered on loving on others. Our folks are really good at loving on each other and embracing all the younger folks that come in. I'll just go on and say that I've never been in a more loving church than this one.  There is warm fellowship amongst believers in most churches, but there is something unique about that type of love you feel from an older saint.

2.) Prayer: Now, it would be foolish to suggest that senior congregants have the market cornered on prayer, however, more often than not when they tell you that they have been or will be praying for you, you can count on it that they will be.  They tend to trend towards being prayer warriors.  They have often been taught the need for consistent prayer because of seeing the result of neglect.  This brings me to the next benefit.

2.) Wisdom: Obviously they've "been there, done that" many times over and so they'll typically be able to offer up helpful insights on the ideas of the Pastor. I understand that there are those in every crowd who are just "naysayers" and they want to say no to everything, but it is foolish on the part of the Pastor to qualify every disagreeing elderly member as a naysayer...

Something any Pastor (young or old) will hear is "We've never done it that way before".  True, this can be a frustrating remark, but don't dismiss it quickly because it can also be a very helpful remark.  Knowing you will hear that comment at some point shouldn't make you sigh with dread, it should help you think through the things you want to lead your church in BEFORE you begin to teach them and talk to them about your idea so that you are able to present your ideas in the most Biblical way possible and in a way that is going to be edifying and healthy for the church.

It is arrogant to hear "We've never done it that way before" and instantly dismiss that person as being obstinate.  Older saints, for the most part, have likely been members of that church for many many years and while you may see them as obstinate (and admittedly sometimes there are obstinate people), in all likelihood their concerns or comments are born from a sincere love for the church and a desire to see it continue to be there to disciple many generations of saints to come.  Plus, you never know when perhaps something you want to do HAS been tried and failed and their objection is keeping you from making a major mistake.

3.) Resistant to quick change: I realize this is the unpopular point. But I think that the resistance to quick change can actually be a very very good thing sometimes.  I know that every new pastor (present company included), especially ones who are 45 and under, come in thinking that as we find things that need to be changed we need to do it as quickly as possible.

I'll concede that sometimes there are really pressing issues that are matters of Gospel purity that need to be dealt with promptly.  Essential matters of primary doctrinal issues must be dealt with as quickly and as biblically as possible.

But let's be honest, a great majority of the changes we want to make when we begin at a new church aren't pressing primary matters, they are secondary preference issues at best.

Paul's word to Timothy on how to apply the Word to his flock was "patient instruction" (2 Timothy 4:2). Overtime, it may become possible for you to make those secondary changes. But you must remember that pastoring any church is like navigating a large vessel. If you try to force a turn very quickly you will risk tearing the ship in half.

But if you set your course, an end goal, then turning is more gradual (patient & truthfully loving) and the chance for damage is considerably less. Patiently instruct your people with a course set, an end goal, of Christ-conforming discipleship.

This is the best way to best disciple your people and not simply get them doing what you say and it will also help you make decisions for the church that are in accord with God's Word and not your hobby horse.

An "older" congregation is typically more resistant to quick change, BUT they are open to more slow change over time.  I have found that if you labor in the text (as Scripture instructs Pastors to do - 2 Timothy 2:14-15 ) that your congregation will not only affirm the change but they will eagerly seek out ways to help the project come to fruition.  Remember you are to shepherd them towards Christ, not shove them in the direction of your ideas.

This may mean, Pastor, that you have to have special meetings with your church members who serve in a particular area.  You may have to write some letters that explain things in great detail and then meet with the whole church at a special time and explain some more.  That doesn't mean that they don't understand and it doesn't mean that they hate the idea or won't budge.  It simply means that you are not taking for granted that they see the need for what you see.

You spend your day in your office, studying Scripture, seeking the Lord, and thinking about the best way to lead the church towards Christ-likeness.  They are home tending to the things in their lives.  If they are still employed then they are tending to jobs, if they have persistent medical issues then they are seeing doctors regularly and watching how they eat and what they do and such.  They are doing other things and you cannot afford to mistakenly think that everyone does what you are doing.

It can be a very good thing because it will help you, the Pastor, to be a thorough and deliberate teacher, a caring and thoughtful shepherd.  And I'll speak for myself here when I say that it helps me to think through what changes are needed verses my preferences. Some hills simply aren't worth dieing on.

Now, all of this aside, I know that you may be able to recall many instances of the obstinate type of person of any age who is just trying to be a fly in the ointment.  I understand and have dealt with those types.  However, my suggestions wouldn't be any different in how you proceed.

Continue patiently, lovingly, and truthfully teaching and shepherding the church that God has entrusted you with.  Proclaim the Gospel from the pulpit.  Preach Jesus.  Have a servant's heart that ministers to your congregation's needs, model repentance to them when you find yourself in error, encourage discernment and mutual accountability amongst all the people, and be prepared to exact church discipline in a Biblical way when necessary.  Trust God that if you are pursuing His will, He will guide you and supply the needs.

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