By Mark Dance
“Do you have any advice for a young pastor serving a predominantly older congregation?”
The pastor who recently asked me this question revealed three important dynamics we can all benefit from:
1. He understands the importance of shepherding those who called him there. In our passion for reaching the lost, we mustn’t inadvertently overlook the faithful who’ve held the line through the years.
2. He understands connecting with older members won’t be easy or automatic. Younger pastors can get intimidated by older members, which is unfortunate since most older members desire to cheer their pastors on. Most adversarial relationships can be avoided by consistent pastoral care and showing old-fashioned honor.
3. He understands the importance of learning from those who’ve gone before him. It takes wisdom and humility to ask for advice. I’m always eager to leverage my 32 years of pastoral ministry mistakes to help younger pastors avoid them.
Younger pastors sometimes feel like they’re at a disadvantage when most of their church members are older, but the opposite has been true in my experience. My biggest supporters of change in the church have been those who are closest to heaven.
Yeah, that surprised me too.
Their musical tastes are usually different from mine, their dress code more formal, their stories longer, their arrival time sooner, etc. These generational differences are predictable and inevitable in any family.
I’ve noticed most senior adults have the perspective of time, which helps them discern what really matters. Many of them care more about reaching the generations ahead of them than we realize.
My primary advice to younger pastors who want to connect with older members is to love them like they’re your family—because they are. Spend time listening to them on their turf, and they’ll love and follow you to the ends of the earth.
Here are a few ways you can connect at Christmas that will bring joy to their world, as well as yours.
Take Communion with home-bound members.
I found it best to block off two or three days in December to make the rounds with their group teachers or deacons, who set all of the visits up. This time will be priceless for all of you.
Crash Christmas parties.
Most pastors can’t and shouldn’t try to attend every adult Christmas party in their church, but you can drop in on a handful each year. I guarantee you the food will be better at these parties than in the younger classes.
Give away poinsettias.
If you have extra Christmas flowers, plants, or treats—invite your seniors to take them home after your Christmas services. You can also deliver a few to those who weren’t able to come.
Share a picture.
Younger adults like to share and celebrate photos on social media, but most of our seniors have taken comparatively few pictures of themselves over the years.
I would suggest you use discretion with your selfies on social media. Pastors can come across as grandstanding, even when their motives are the exact opposite.
There’s nothing wrong with taking selfies with your seniors, just ask for their permission to share it. If you want bonus points, bring them a framed copy on your next visit.
MARK DANCE (@markdance) speaks at churches, conferences, and retreats—often with his wife Janet. Mark has contributed to several books and offers weekly encouragement at MarkDance.net. He’s currently serving as director of pastoral development for the Oklahoma Baptist Convention.